Has Rock Music Changed?

People are always complaining about how things have become so much tamer. People aren’t wild enough. They don’t take enough risks. They don’t step out of home, or their comfort zones.

It’s ubiquitous enough a complain, but it really seems to roar louder in the world of rock music. There are reasons for this.

Since the demise of the grunge movement following Nirvana legend Kurt Cobain’s death, the entire rock music scene lost momentum and spiralled inwards. By the end of the nineties, only the bands that survived the chaos of the younger half of the decade would go on to make it into the next era. The others would be lost, and so would their fans.

Kurt Cobain on stage, Ireland, 1991. Credits: Pinterest

As a kid of the aughts, bands from the zeros seem closer and more familiar to me, but on the grand timeline, it could be argued that they were definitely more obscure than rock musicians have been in past decades. For those that did prevail though, the set of problems they faced were a little different in nature than their predecessors.

Of course, those who grew up in the ‘golden ages’ of the sixties, seventies, or even the nineties, claim that they don’t make it like they used to. The nature of showmanship has changed. The faces of venues have changed. Artists’ demeanour is more closely scrutinised than ever before, and they’re everywhere, all the time.

This is a big change. Earlier, the only exposure you’d have to your favourite artist would be through an interview they did with a music magazine, or an MTV special on the late night telly. You’d hear from them when they dropped their music, and of course, in their music, where they’d always be with you. None of these have changed, although as a compelling article in Spin Magazine argues, the interviews have become rarer, and the music has broken itself into smaller and smaller pieces: from albums to singles, and singles to snippets and breadcrumbs (a phenomenon I recently explored and outlined in this article).
What has changed though, is that in addition to this, you can find your favourite bands on YouTube, their personal Instagrams, Twitter, and for younger artists, even Snapchat. Like every other person, they find these platforms ideal to express their own thoughts and opinions. Of course, for a fan what this means is that your favourite stars are now living in your face, having comfortably nestled there after building themselves a little fire and drinking hot chocolate.

Metal exposed to free air for too long begins to rust, and the same is true of your interest in your favourite musicians. The tabloid has exploded, and everybody can be a reporter; heck, the artists themselves can do it. As you scroll through your news feed in infinite scroll mode, there’s too much stuff to catch your eye, and soon enough, the fifth reposted promotional picture of favourite artist becomes boring. You cast a momentary glance at a gothic, high-heeled, heavily made-up picture of that band you like who would swear to be so strictly folk rock that their getup would be otherwise shocking. But then you move on, because you just saw another picture yesterday.

Rock music was built on the social foundations of ‘rebel and shock’, but what used to shock people is either seen so often that it’s just not shocking anymore, or it’s simply unacceptable.

If Iggy Pop were a rising musician today, he’d have had a tough time.
Iggy relied heavily on the effects of the shock he could have on people, and do it more subtly than contemporaries who would proclaim themselves rebels. (See: MC5)

In particular, Iggy used to cut himself up with a blade live.

Today, he’d probably be cast as having mental health problems. He’d be told, it’s okay, everyone has darker days, and it’s great that you’re putting it out there for everyone to see. Self-inflicted harm? Total sign. Do talk to someone though, please!

And he’d have been a mental health advocate, broken by the stress we all face, a product of that system, with all our respect and our sympathy.
Rebels don’t get your sympathy, and that’s what endeared young rock and rollers to him. That’s what shocked people, and what made him a rebel. It simply wouldn’t work today.

In the face of this, the Noel Gallaghers of the world say that bands simply don’t have it in them anymore, that they’re not dangerous enough. They don’t wake up stoned or turn up drunk onstage (au contraire, only a month ago I witnessed a bassist down seven cans onstage). Artists do what they do. Only the implications of their actions have changed.

Of course, this also makes a band like Coldplay so likeable. In short, Coldplay are anodyne rock and roll: maybe a gateway band to artists more rock and roll, but also a band that you, your mother and your puppy can bond over. They aren’t out to offend and mum and dad won’t hate them. They won’t be in the news for the wrong reasons. In fact, all Coldplay have done to iff anybody is make more mainstream, pop radio-friendly music, and that seems to piss you off more than it does your mum.

But they’re hitting the charts alright.
This is something you’d see showing up all over the charts. Softer pop rock and more mainstream friendly artists are dominating the rock airwaves. Imagine Dragons, Coldplay and Twenty One Pilots are the biggest things rock on the charts. Oh, and probably Billie Eilish.

So is this the changing face of rock music? Has it become so mainstream friendly that it’s no longer friendly to those who created it in the first place? (Case in point: Greta Van Fleet. You either love them, or you love to hate them.)

The short answer is it’s not the end. The rock music scene was always stronger underground. A quick glance at Billboard’s archives tells you that rock music seldom dominated the hot music charts. There were moments when artists shone bright before being replaced by hotter tracks. The limelight was never meant for endurance, only an upthrust. And all legends are written in hindsight. Maybe we’ll be looking back on something we may have missed in our Instagram feeds and think it an incredible display of rock and roll showmanship.

In the meanwhile, do us all a favour and hit your local club, or a bar. There’s tons of good music buried under the unassuming air of carefreeness there that’s just itching to be discovered.

Tip: If you are looking for new music right now, here are some artists I could suggest.

Looking for some laidback surfside Cali blues, and generally a good time? Check out the Beach Goons. In their own words, they hate the beach. San Diego based surf blues-with-a-dash-of-Mexican-rock and roll, they’re my age.

Looking for something with the punk attitude but with catchier tones? I’ve said this before, but check out SWMRS. They’re also a lot better live than their records suggest.

While we’re talking punk, check out PUP. Even Pitchfork seems happy with them, which either means they’ve all caught the flu, or we have a rare conciliatory two seconds before they’re back.

For a classic throwback, try Greta van Fleet. For some good alt rock, try Wolf Alice, or even Royal Blood.

Wolf Alice

Looking for some old fashioned indie rock? Come on, there are tons of bands out there, I won’t even try. Just go to a club, for goodness sake.

Looking for some hard hitting garage rock? Do, do, do check out Phono Pony. It took me forever to remember their name right, but it’s all worth it. British Columbia based duo hitting it in the vein of the White Stripes. Also, in the words of their drummer, “We’re not the White Stripes”. As a bonus, if you happen to be in Toronto tonight, hop down to the Horseshoe Tavern, they’re playing a midnight set.

Then come back and answer me, is rock music dead?

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In The Punk Neighbourhood

That girl thinks she’s the queen of the neighbourhood

Well, I got news for ya— she is!

This is currently my favourite lyric and it just hit off with me immediately.

I’ve heard waay too many “that girl thinks she’s a queen/ when she’s just a nothing cog in the machine/ Trying hard to live a dream/ Don’t you know no one can hear you scream”, this was oddly uplifting!

(Is that an actual song? I just made those lyrics up. It’s a close approximation for some stuff I’ve heard. Female bands aren’t always very kind when it comes to their own kind, I suppose!

Well, what mattered was that it rhymed, didn’t it? Didn’t it? Weren’t you  in the least bit sure that was an actual song?

Okay, then I’m on track to become a songwriter. Now to quit my metaphorical job.)

The lyrics above are from the Bikini Kill song Rebel Girl, and I love it already. I’m glad the band’s reuniting. The world can do with some good punk music right now, and with some female rock bands too!

Speaking of good punk music, I’m really getting into SWMRS. They’re a bunch of young Californian punks,  and they sound good to the ear. They’re nearly my age, and it almost feels like I have reason to be proud seeing them come up. I read an interview with Rolling Stone that they’d done, and I felt, wow, they’re growing. It’s partly unsurprising, given Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong happens to be drummer Joey Armstrong’s dad, but they’re a band growing in their own right.

Sample some of the stuff off their latest album:

What’s more, I’ve just got to know they’re likely playing a gig in my city just next month! It happens to be in between two big important finals that I have, but they’re also a week apart. Hopefully, I can spare a few hours an evening?

I wouldn’t mind.

I’m itching to get back to my own music real soon, the real soon in question being anywhere between two weeks and a month. It’s a hard life!

But anyway, coming back to the main point of this post, if you think you’ve got it, you’ve got it. Just remember what Kathleen Hanna said! (If you forgot, look above. I’d have linked back to the top of this post, but that would be recursive. And I hereby declare, I’ve had enough recursion for one night. I’m off to bed, goodnight.)

The Death of The Album

Circa 2014, rock band Muse declared the album dead. One of music’s most lasting legacies since the emergence of recorded music, the longest format, with its relative simplicity, the band claimed, in the face of the digitalisation and ubiquity of music on the internet, had perished. 

They weren’t entirely wrong. A statistical study published on the website Statistica recorded the annual music album sales from the year 2007 to 2017 (with ‘album’ including “CD, CS, LP and digital albums”). Most years, total album sales fell lower than their preceding years. Between the years 2016 – 2017, album sales dropped by 9.4 million units from 205.5 million albums being sold in 2016 to 169.1 million in 2017. In fact, only in the year 2011 did album sales see a marginal bump up from its predecessor (from 326.2 million to 331 million, a rise of only 1.5%). Overall album sales had fallen from just above 500 million units in 2007, to under 200 million in 2017. With streaming today giving many people the choice between paying $20 for 12 tracks or $10 a month for access to a seemingly infinite music database, the shift is hardly shocking. 

In today’s age of digital music, where the number of streams and views on a song online is bigger news than an album’s garnering platinum success, the standalone single has emerged as the most popular format. It’s almost logical: give a time-pressed world a short three-minute catchy song with a video that looks good on YouTube (but perhaps not in your mother’s hands) and sticks in their head, and the world will reciprocate with its attention. It’s as simple a thing as giving people what they need. The radio will take care of the rest. 

Will it run for forty minutes?
Credits: thrillist.com

In today’s age, people want variety, entertainment and familiarity rolled into one, and they want it quick. 
The fifty-minute Length Play can hardly keep up with anything less than a traffic jam. The concentration asked of most experimental records won’t keep your eye on the road during your morning jog. And it’s no fun trying to keep up with something completely unfamiliar in rhyme or rhythm in the shower or on the dance floor. This is where the album, with its structure, discipline, and some may say, conformity, loses out in 2018. It’s also where your curated Spotify playlist wins. 

Listening to the modern chart radio reveals a few patterns.
 Either in the contents of the lyrics, vocal and tonic technique, baselines or drum machine patterns; something seems homogenous. Something sounds familiarly like the last fifty songs you’ve heard. Something in the song knows what makes your foot tap from past trials and is here to serenade you again. 
Out-of-breath crooners are back in fashion. Trance baselines have been in for a few years and stubbornly refuse to leave the charts alone. Acid bass drops get you moving. Minimalistic drum taps interfere the least with your dance floor groove. (As a disclaimer, this is all terminology coming from a rock music listener who’s spent way too many holiday car trips with the Tops 40’s radio.)
There’s always a story, either vocal or instrumental, that you’ve heard before  and it becomes easier to fill in the rest. 
But there’s always something almost obligatorily new: a synth melody in a new key, a different chord progression (Hmm, perhaps playing ‘A#-D#’ this time instead of playing ‘D-A’ will sound extremely novel), a new instrument thrown into the mix; something to make a case for your argument in favour of variety. 

What this sums up, to me, is a tired, wary society. We like our variety, in fact we’re wired for it, but only in micro dosages. We cling to familiarity and will take our blankets and pillow along with it. This is a generation that has seen more than its fair share  of experimentation and variety in life and wants no more hard surprises. Yes, you can dye the cat purple for all I care, maybe the colour will even look good on her. Just don’t let me know that I can’t afford my rent this month. Don’t tell me my student debt has doubled and that I’ll probably never be able to retire. Keep the papers away. Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t mess with my music. 

Pop music—historically short for popular music—is in this sense still quite a good reflection of society and its current mental state.
 Most of today’s adults the teens and preteens of the mid-00’s, a generation that grew up under the dominant reign of Disney Channel. This decade’s rise in (or perhaps, resurgence of) Disney artists in the popular music charts could well mean a generation of now-grown kids holding onto the last of their childhoods—a time when things seemed simpler, or were at least taken care of, and there seemed a lot more to look forward to in the future than they grew up to realise—through their childhood stars. 

So are we holding on to something that’s over and smearing its remains onto our music– a large aspect of our cultural lives and legacy? Does the ‘death’ of the longest format of music represent a breaking down of barriers, the handing of the reigns to the listener to modify their listening experience to their own comfort, the result of our collective wishes as a generation to find familiarity; or is it the death of music as we once knew it?

Loosest Stuff I Could Piece Together: Anyone Can Write Deep Poetry Series

Come on over and write yourself the next chart-buster. Anyone can do it, no lie!

First up, welcome to the Anyone Can Write Deep Poetry series. 

Have you spent all day and all night, listening to Pink Floyd, obscure French music and frantically pulling up your old English notes from school searching for all the phrases and idioms that may have passed you by in twelve years of worthless education, and sit there scratching your head wondering where deep, meaningful poetry comes from?

Are you walking around town in low-waisted, ripped jeans with shades and a bedhead with a purpose, looking around for someone to pass you a few tabs of acid to unlock the sheer poetic creativity that sleeps passively in your soul?

Are you following all the latest yoga fads and rewatching every John Lennon interview in existence to find the meaning of life and finally turn it into that soulfully-worded song you know you should have written by now? (Come on, you’ve been searching for a year already!)

Well, fear not, for I have ended your woes!
Here is a step by step guide to getting in the frame of mind most fertile for sprouting pearls people will quote for years, read and reread to really grasp the inner meaning of, that people will cry upon deciphering. 

Basically, I’m gonna turn you into Radiohead. 

So let’s begin. Echoes 2.0 ain’t gonna write itself. 

What time is it? 
Did you just get back from work? Are you tired of the structured life, does the hypocrisy of society frustrate you?
Yeah well, you’ve already tried writing about it. 
And yelling, “down, down, down with the governmeeent!” clearly hasn’t helped your SoundCloud grow. 

Try the indirect approach. Orwell neatly shrunk society into a farm. Look at how many musicians quote his books. You want that, don’t you? 
What can you come up with?

Ditch the obvious! The LSD ain’t gonna help your head if it isn’t thinking!

Here’s a start: you think people shy away from self-contentment, don’t you?
Let’s find you something a level beyond “We’re all sad fucks.” 

What’s the least obvious thing that could represent fulfilment?

Yes, now you’re using your 3 AM brain, good work!
Cream cheese.

Why not? 

Satisfaction is cream cheese. You know it’s what Jagger wanted. But none of you can get it, you sad fucks, you’re afraid of getting it! 

What would shake up society more anything else?
That’s right, someone getting it! And not just getting it, but enjoying it!

Attaboy, my Dylan! You’ve got yourself a full verse already! Should’ve come to me last year, don’t you think?

So here’s your first verse. 

Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

What’s more torturous than just getting, and enjoying good cream cheese?
Getting it again! And again! And again! You rebellious soul, what will you do to the planet!?

You loop it. You say the same thing, again, and again, and again. You drive your bloody point home. You’ve got some fucking cream cheese out there. And you’re gonna eat it, period. 

What a symbolic middle finger in the face of the establishment. 

Yeah, how’s your acid working out for you?

Freedom can be trippy. Make sure your listeners—and the damned Establishment—know it! 
Put the trip and the trap into your music: echoes, delays, fades, until you’re so high on your own freedom that no one can hear you anymore. 

You’re a quick learner.
 Let’s put that onto your draft now. 


Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

Yeah, cream cheese tastes good!
Is real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone!

CREAM CHEESE IS GOOD, YEAH?
Good food, yeah?
See me put it in my mouth
And watch it be all gone!

YEAH CREEM CHEEZE IYYY OOODD
EEEZZZZOOOODDD FOOOODDD
PUUUIIINN MAAA MAAAAAUUTHH
TILL ITS ALL GOONNEEE

Now, you and your group break away: there’s strength in numbers! Free your mate, and free your girlfriend, free your neighbour’s dog! Give ‘em some cream cheese. 

(song continued)

And my mate likes good cheese
My girl says it’s good food
We put it in the dog’s mouth
Until my neighbour’s gone

How’s that for emancipation of the people, sir? Could the establishment have an answer to that? Now all you need is to seal this with a kiss. 

I rise up, raid the pantry!
We rise up, raid the factory!
Wake up, eat up, 
Wake up
Wake up!

Who’d have expected that? You’ve got the critics in tears, reviewers raving; you’ve put together something nonsensical enough for the radio, deep enough for the underground, heady enough to score you that dream collaboration with Post Malone, you star!

Take a look at your final product and be proud. 

Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

Yeah, cream cheese tastes good!
Is real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone!

CREAM CHEESE IS GOOD, YEAH?
Good food, yeah?
See me put it in my mouth
And watch it be all gone!

YEAH CREEM CHEEZE IYYY OOODD
EEEZZZZOOOODDD FOOOODDD
PUUUIIINN MAAA MAAAAAUUTHH
TILL ITS ALL GOONNEEE

And my mate likes good cheese!
My girl says it’s good food
We put it in the dog’s mouth
Until my neighbour’s gone

I rise up, raid the pantry!
We rise up, raid the factory!
Wake up, eat up, 
Wake up
Wake up!

Now, about the music, jeez, aren’t you exhausted? This song’s already a chart buster, why don’t you send your A&R guy to sample the neighbour’s dog pissing? It’s so meta, I can’t even. It probably even sounds good on record. About the actual rhythm section? Scratch some pads, man, anyone can make music. 


(In case the point was lost, this was pure sarcasm. If you actually do write a song about cream cheese, and if it actually does hit the charts, I want in.

This is not a generic attack on lazy songwriting, and is neither a diss on any of the songwriters mentioned above. 

Except maybe Post Malone. But whatever.)

I Can’t Hear Myself Think

I don’t know if that’s physically possible, but I’m feeling it right now.

My ears are ringing out of sheer shock. I have not heard a band play louder. (But then again, it may be argued that I haven’t had a chance to see Muse live. Yet.)

So every once in a while, miracles do happen.

(A little recap for context) After coming to know at 3:30 PM that British grunge/alt-rockers Wolf Alice were in town and playing a gig in the city at 7 PM, I had a long two-hour theatric on why I should be going.

It touched upon everything, a very versatile and diverse argument, I must admit.

I’m the science student, I’m paling because I’m in here studying, (absolutely irrelevant to a night gig– unless we’re talking about “darkening” due to pollution), how with me soon to be a full-time computer science student, I may just die before I get a whiff of life (… I don’t know if this is true, but I do not want it to be. Can anyone vouch for that?) how we’re not risk takers and are just not game for life, and why does it matter that we’re booking a few hours, and not a few days, before the gig?

Mum was particularly concerned about leaving my sister to study on her own for a few hours (and being unable to reach her because her phone’d Ben in aeroplane mode).

Anyway, I won’t bore you with gory details (according to my English teacher, I’m guilty of that often… to be fair, it was a chapter involving murder. But to get to the point now.)

Somehow, things worked out, and I have now bright prospects of a career in acting.

I went for the Wolf Alice gig.

Mum wouldn’t let me go by myself, but she did end up tagging along. She ended up spending her time taking a good long hour’s walk around pavements!

As for me, I was in.

Wolf Alice came on at 7:30, their set lasted nearly jour and was a good mix of new old stuff, though leaning on the side of songs off their latest album released on 29 September 2017, Visions Of A Life.

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Early on. (I’ll admit, phone photography isn’t the best, but is that the point of a live gig?)

The band was in the city for an Amnesty International awareness event, on violence against women online.

There seems to be some sort of trend, bands touring here for a cause (remember Coldplay and the Global Citizen fest, anyone?)

But anyway, it wasn’t amazing to see that they have a pretty neat following here! I could estimate around five hundred people, maybe more.

They have so much energy, they rock out like crazy. Second best new(ish) band I’ve seen! (After Royal Blood, of course. Seeing them live would be super cool, though!)

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Ellie Rowsell was tireless as the band kept belting out track after track, with just the occasional pause to interact with the crowd. Speaking of engagement, bassist Theo Ellis was incredible: the guy didn’t have a dead bone in his body!

Jumping around, inciting the crowd, grooving as he played his bass, he was in his own element.

There was only a slight hitch in the middle when guitarist Joff Odie’s guitar temporarily went dead as he helplessly tried to shake some sound out of it and ended up swinging it around for the rest of the song, annoyed, till he could make a swap for the next song. (My best bet for why he didn’t doc that before is preset sounds and settings.)

Personally, there was only one thing I wish was better, apart from which the band was perfect: they rock hard, take that from me. They’ve blown my ears out. Every hair on my arms was reverberating with the loud music, it was almost a wonder to me that the band was so comfortable, the speakers being right behind them. They were owning it.

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One of my personal favourite of this band’s gimmicks is towards the end of You’re A Germ, when Ellie’s vocals descend onto a manic, deranged laughter. It’s beautiful, and it’s perfect where it is in the song. But live, the intensity was a bit lower, and the laughter sounded kinda mechanical.

No fault of Rowsell’s, I can’t  imagine recreating that manic laugh every gig, and that’s what studio recordings are for, right? You go for a live gig for the experience, the emotions, raw and unfiltered, not polished or perfected over four takes.

But you can hear the manic laugh, and the rest of the song for yourself and decide!

The gig lasted roughly an hour, and it was one of the best hours of the year for me!

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(Do I sound like a music journalist here?)

Man, after seeing these guys live, my will to be up there on stage doing just what they’re doing has gotten even stronger. It’s back to my beloved piece of wood an month’s time! I’ve got a lot to catch up on.

This band rocks out almost like bands did in the nineties! And that’s a good thing.

We like them ‘cause they’re pure
We like them ‘cause we know they’re cool

(My little play on You’re a Germ’s lyrics,
He likes her ‘cause she’s pure
She’s likes him ‘cause she’s heard he’s cool

Minus the creepy connotations.)

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Lessons learnt?

Don’t ever pass up the gig. And don’t ever underestimate the power of a good argument. And the good bands will eventually come to a city near you– with their dedicated group of globe-trotting fans! Sure saw a lot of those today.

I have quite a few video grabs from the gig, from songs I am ore familiar with. Trust me, I’m a fan, I love these guys, but i haven’t been listening too much this year— not to much of anything, in fact! Catching up to do.

I can’t upload them, however, WordPress on my current plan doesn’t let me. Oh well. What’s YouTube for, right?

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(The videos were mostly for my sister, who did definitely pitch for me good; I don’t suppose mum would’ve agreed if she hadn’t been so thrown off by my sister’s support for my case, but I did mostly try to enjoy the  live experience.)

So with this gig and thousand-word review, (was it really a review? Perhaps not) I’ve ticked two things off my bucket list!

Now it’s back to integrating. The next time I upload pictures, it’s may  of a two-page long sum.

Integration… I currently can’t really hear myself think, and perhaps that’s a good thing!

Until next time!

 

Relevance.

I just realised I’ve been blogging for more than a year.
It’s also true that this is probably the fifth time I’ve realised this.

What it also means is I’m not a baby blogger anymore!
I’m more like a toddler blogger now.
But I’m still crawling.
And I’m still breathing.
(And drooling and puking?)

I stole one of those lines off a moderately new Green Day song, and it’s not the drooling bit!

What do you think of Revolution Radio? Are Green Day back with a bang? I personally felt like Dos and Tré, their last two records (part of the Trilogy) went on a bit endlessly and were not the best Green Day can do. They’ve done better. For a band to make two major comebacks, two back to back concept albums, and still remain relevant is no mean feat, and it’s true, as Billie Joe Armstrong said in an interview last year that the band had nothing to prove to the world.

On the ‘relevance’ bit, you’ve got to acknowledge the fact that unlike many bands of the age, Green Day haven’t lost their sound to synths and computer-related experimentation. They’ve always stuck to their guns, the classic holy trinity, the guitar-bass-drums, although that could be used to argue against them. You can’t say they haven’t experimented with sound and genre though, that’s something you’d admire about Green Day ventures like American Idiot and Uno, which took Green Day into a delightfully funky upbeat, rhythmic-centric territory, sporadically sprinkled with a guitar solo. (I could mention Kill the DJ here.)

I almost needn’t mention the well-documented, almost famous (in related circles, of course) transition the band took from the (so-called) jaded Warning (’00)  to American Idiot (’04), ditching their would’ve-been seventh studio album, more generic and titled Cigarettes and Valentines after its mastertape was stolen, a retrospective blessing in disguise, to find a new sound, new look, and new direction with American Idiot. (Along with embracing the make-up and rockstar life, a marked departure from their punk Gilman street roots, Green Day also went political on this album, something they hadn’t done ostensibly uptil Warning.)

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Pre- American Idiot Green Day.

 

Such a band has nothing to prove, yet they keep proving, time and again, that they are relevant, a force to reckon with, and are here to stay.

(Just a tiny detour: it’s sad to see that artists who were once powerhouses of influence are struggling to remain relevant today. Take Beck on his new album Colors, which is a sort of resurgence on the maverick’s part, a cry of happiness at being, and a return to, relevance. (From an interview I read, an incident a few years ago where Beck, Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins and Paul McCartney weren’t considered “stars” enough to be let into a backstage event at some awards may have contributed to this fear.)
I’ve talked to people who have never heard of George Michael or of AC/DC. And now with Brian Johnson having stepped down due to hearing problems and original rhythm guitarist and cofounder Malcolm Young’s demise this week, I don’t know what dystopian future we’re headed for. RIP, Malcolm, in a decade it may be better up there!

…so, back to today if we will?)

A band like Green Day has nothing to prove. But looking at their latest stuff, whether it’s just the music, or the music videos, Green Day are more relevant than the morning daily even, which is honestly depressing at times. A lot of times.
Billie’s songwriting is spot on as always, Mike’s keeping a neat rhythm and Tré’s tight rhythm mirroring the guitar is only showing again why the band and fans love him so much.

But then again, that’s my opinion. What do you think? Is Bang Bang as good as I feel it is? Are Green Day back? Or were they never gone in the first place?

The Black-and-White Rainbow That Music is Becoming.

Millie makes her way out of the stuffy Tube and weaves into the crowded streets of London. It’s been a rough day and a tiring ride home, but she’s doing fine, now.

Twenty minutes Underground with the white wires going into her ears, blocking out the noise of the crowds, replacing it with the pristine voice of her favourite artist- she’s got her daily fix of music.

It’s nothing new. From the wandering blues musician in the early days before recording technology to the kids furtively guarding their vinyl collection to the twenty four hour radio to the anywhere-anytime streaming, only the platform has been changing. The music itself, has been a definitive part of human history ever since Homo sapiens discovered that shouting in two different pitches could sound good.

For some, music has been part of their unwinding, de-stressing, relaxation therapy. It’s motivational for some. It’s a form of energy, of expression.

And it has influenced the course of human history.

That’s what makes traditional music such a force to reckon with.

Ever since oppression has been known, protest has been too.

And protest has invariably found itself manifested, to some degree of other, in the music of that time and place.

The folk protest songs of the sixties, complete with the Dylan’s and the Baez’s, come to mind.

Patriot songs in any freedom struggle, national anthems, preservation of ethnicity in the form of niche instruments and distinct music, are all, in the end, a link with history, a link that mustn’t be destroyed.

One reason for this is that freedom was not always, well, a free commodity. This makes the worldwide struggles to lift us all up to a state of being equally free and unoppressed all that more unforgettable, and here music has played its part, in a different hue and shade in every part of the world, but there, because to fearlessly open your heart and sing out loud has always been an expression of freedom.

Protest through music lives, even today.

In light of these deeply rooted, meaningful, varied links, to simply paint the entire world with the monochromatic wash if standardised ‘International music’ (most of which, ironically, is American alone) is to do injustice to the history that has shaped our very state of being, today.

The Māori haka dance.

This isn’t an attack on International music, however. Even monochrome, after all, is bit one of the many colour schemes employed to make the colours of life more vibrant. The emphasis here is on the importance given to each.

We can’t disregard the traditional music of a country, a state, a time, for sure me standardised computer generated generic (which in history, would come to mark this digitalised ago, nonetheless).

The trick is to hold up both without comparison, one representing our present, and the other, our past, and incidentally, our future.

The Art of the Heart

Music is not about how you look, it’s about how you feel.

It’s not so much about the five senses out there, not even hearing.

It’s about the sense in here, in your heart and soul, how the music makes you feel, how you perceive it.

It’s an art of the heart.

So as a musician, or even as a keen listener, it’s not quite as important to, as they say, have an ear for music, as it is to have a heart for music.

Musician Dave Grohl had once talked about how he’d written the Foo Fighters’ Everlong, on the “stone cold alt rock classic” album The Color and the Shape.

He said he didn’t even know what the opening chords of Everlong were. He just treated his guitar like the drums.

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Grohl in action on the drums.

The low open D was the bass drum, and from there, he was lead to go onto the cymbals- the higher 10th fret minor chord- and then dynamically alternate between the two. (I here find my fretting hand fingers subconsciously going out to play the first 5 seconds of the song… Whoops!)

It was because he probably closed his eyes, saw a drum, and then let his emotions, through his fingers, do the talking on his guitar.

So no one can teach you how to ‘make’ music. Exactly how no one can breathe for you, and no one can think for you, this is your own let-loose time.

It is also why, no matter how beautifully and articulately someone describes a piece of music to you, it can never do justice. I’ve read pretty ordinary reviews of albums that have added a fourth special dimension inside my head, (and some thrashing ones. In a savage mood? Pitchfork’s review of Jet’s debut, Get Born, is scathing.) and some delightful reviews and recommendations, tempting me to go listen to some music or other, have lead to disappointment.

I’ll point out, some, not because they were necessarily pathetic but only because they fell flat on my taste. And that’s subjective.

I want to point out that I have a highly charged immune system when it comes to music.

An anecdote: musically, for a few years, I was at odds with my immediate world. They liked trending artists, I listened to stuff they’d never heard of. (But no, it never affected our friendship.)

‘At odds’ is a mild phrase: we were diametrically opposed, North Pole and South Pole, plus and minus, butterflies and hurricanes.

I don’t quite know how it came about to be, but I managed to get one direction listeners to try some punk. Through the ages; proto punk, with the Godfather, and the Stooges, to the Pistols and Clash in England, and the Ramones and the New York Dolls in America, thinking the Saints and the like in Australia, to the underground 80’s punk, (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Public Enemy, the like) to it’s reemergence in the 90’s- the punk revival movement, with the Bay Area scene, the Riot Grrl movement and bands like Mega City Four and Senseless Things in the UK, (sorry, but if there’s one drawback with rock music, it’s that it’s 90% British or American) but we never got that far. It got too loud for my pals. Reverse karma: I was now stuck staring at the prospect of having to listen to five unbroken MINUTES of Taylor Swift. (Wheeze, wow, I can hardly believe grade 10 was that long ago!)

I joked to them, I can’t do this alone at home, I need paramedics around me! But heck, such is life, and I stood out, staring at calming green trees as I got to begin, just in case I suffer my first panic attack. I clicked it. I grimaced. As salvation, my friend had told me, “At least she’s using a guitar there,”. It began. One…  Two.   Three.    Four…  Oh, god! Five.    I paused and gasped. Even today, I can’t explain it. Screw the trees, I got up and ran to the dunny and so very nearly puked.

In five minutes hence, I had rung up my friend, who, in all astonishment at my story, could do nothing but laugh. I swore to her, I am genuinely allergic to Taylor Swift; medically proven today. Told you we might need those paramedics.

She laughed and said, okay.

I have never attempted harakiri again.

So it’s true, as much as I try, I am admittedly not equally receptive to all sorts of music. (There’s some, that I snort, ‘can’t even be called music.’ But hey, that’s my private ale.) That’s everyone’s complain against me, and I am guilty. When it comes to sifting through music, I am sort of like the Cure song says,

‘I don’t care if Monday’s blue

Tuesday’s grey and Wednesday too

Thursday, I don’t care about you

It’s Friday, I’m in love.’

Very picky, I guess!

But perhaps it’s because I can hardly force myself to like a song. If I feel a connect from within, I’ll hear a mental click!; we’re locked in.

And I don’t mean connecting, just lyrically.  I’ve fallen in love with Kashmir’s riff, I’ve fallen for Plug In Baby’s riff; I’ve fallen for the sound of the mellotron in one ear and the guitar’s in the other, on Night Flight; my sister’s a sucker for good drums; one can go gaga over a wah pedal or a pitch shifter, that opening vibrato on Foxy Lady, get mesmerised by the voices, the shrieks of a Mick Jagger, the Plants and the Mercurys, the look of pure happiness on Hank Marvin’s face as he plays his beloved guitar, a quiet lyrical gimmick, a wicked synth arpeggio… it’s easy to go on all day! But something in the song will speak to you, you’ll feel a thrill  and contraction in your heart muscles and you’ll momentarily forget the universe, that’s what music means, and that’s exactly why, over three millennia, music hasn’t died. Because it comes from the heart. It’s what makes music the thing it is.

What does this mean to people as artists today?

It means that every part of your song makes sense to you, and means something, that adds meaning overall to what you want to convey. So your lyrics may be ones where you have wrung the sincerity of your heart and hung it on a peg to dry, but the rest of the song is just you randomly picking and placing notes, the meaning, significance and relevance of the song may just dim. Because music was never meant to be an “industry” but always an outlet.

(David Bowie talks a bit about it here. (keep in mind he’s being sarcastic since he’s talking about a parody, but the man speaks true words.))

To some people, it may be a balm and therapy, to some, relaxation, it may make some want to get up and, uh, scream! pick up a guitar and jump (… or is the jump part just me?) But it will never fail to push that thrill right down your spine.

(I’ve included some of the songs’ links above, in case anyone wishes to go exploring.)

Still in the Dark?

It’s now been twenty seven years since a walking legend, a cult leader, a “spokesperson for a generation” (as he hated to be called), a way of life for many people who felt just the same as him, grunge rocker Kurt Cobain, had died.

While the music, the attitude and mentality that he and Nirvana had, and the grunge legacy they established speak for themselves, the grey area emerges when things come a bit closer home and personal: the equation between Kurt Cobain and his wife, controversial Hole rocker Courtney Love.

Let’s chalk things out in very brief:

Kurt was a volatile person going down the path of destruction.

Courtney was a volatile person headed down the path of destruction.

That’s all it was.

Courtney hung on longer than Kurt, and that’s all there is. Kurt let go, while Courtney persevered and is somehow still here today, 20 years later.

It seems to be that some people vilify Courtney for this very reason. That she stayed on, and is alive, while Kurt petered out. Some suspect she had something to do with Kurt’s “death”. Because Kurt was the vulnerable, sensitive candle flickering in it’s last flames, the smallest nudge the wrong way from the wind could set it off. Apparently Courtney, however similar to Kurt, was made of stronger stuff than wax. And it’s as simple as that.

Many don’t see it that way.

Let’s flip the situation, hypothetically, and reassess.

Suppose it had been Courtney who’d petered out, while Kurt had somehow found the will to live.

Somehow, I feel that Courtney would never have been the martyr legend that Kurt became. The same anger and suspicion some have for Courtney may not have been there for Kurt. Courtney could never have been raised to the legend Kurt was. And is that simply because while Kurt was the fragile, vulnerable man, done in by the evil woman who supposedly wanted to leave him and was “thinking of” cheating on him anyway, Courtney the biblical Eve leading the man down the path to ruin?

I try to imagine a scenario where a vigil would have been held for Courtney Love. I try to imagine people talking about what a fighter she was, what a hypocritical world she fought and rebelled against. I try to think of where people would shake their head and say, what a shame, Hole’s first album was almost out, and she gave up… Always was such a flame in a wind…

But somehow, that’s not really the scene that sets in naturally, does it.

What I really imagine is, ah, that was bound to happen, she lived too dangerously for her own good. Poor Kurt, left like that to raise his two year-old daughter all by himself, could it ever have lasted? (No, I don’t recall Courtney getting that concern from anyone.)

There are even some, who think Courtney so crude, they may have said, good riddance, or something on those lines.

Courtney was just someone who happened to be involved with Cobain at a point in his forever uncertain, low-melting fuse box of a life. Many say Kurt would have taken his life at some point regardless. That after so many failed attempts, he simply had this coming. Some close to him will even point out that Courtney’s presence may have prolonged Kurt’s life this little bit.

But tell that to those who subconsciously hate Courtney because she was a woman who stood up and made some noise in a man’s world. She may not have always been right about everything, but she was strong when it mattered, and she had it in her to give it one more shot.

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Stickler.

(P.S. I am still a big Nirvana, and a Cobain fan.)

(P.P.S. The reason I don’t believe Courtney had Kurt killed lies in simple psychology, for those still unconvinced. Because no matter how different individuals may be, basic psychology still applies to almost all humans.

It’s been more than 20 years since Kurt Cobain died. (This year would have been his 50th, had he been alive.) Those many years can do some serious damage to people. Suppose Courtney had done what they suspect. Doesn’t one suppose that she’d think of it at times, and over the years, the guilt would have grown? She lived to see their daughter’s face everyday, the living legacy of Kurt Cobain; how could 20 years of living with it not have broken her down to the point where she’d have to tell someone? Confess to the world? It would be a tortured existence! If she really had done it, she would have confessed in three, maybe five, maybe ten years. It’s been twenty years. By her standards, Courtney Love is in fine mental health. She didn’t do it.)

No One Sings Like You Anymore.

R.I.P. Chris Cornell.

Another one in our long line of beloved warriors who braved the world, braved the mainstream, the rut we’re forever stuck in, fought our ordinary, boring lives, and gave us something to look forward to, bites the dust.

Another grunge legend stops in his tracks. Just hours after a Soundgarden Detroit gig concluded.

Another Seattle hero joins Cobain in oblivion. Gone but never lost. The influence lives on forever.

R.I.P. Chris Cornell.