Good Isn’t Actually Great/The Feeling Is Everything

After I published a recent blog (parenthetically entitled ‘My Manifesto’), I received a lot of comments regarding one particular assertion I’d made.

The assertion I made was this; no one has made a truly great piece of popular music in years.

Many people were infuriated by this statement. From some of their responses, I got the sense that what I’d written was being taken as a personal affront (or perhaps, a suggestion of lacking taste).

After all, the world has literally been drowning in new music over the past 10 years. How can it possibly be that absolutely none of it is brilliant?

In addition (chimed in many of these irate respondents), there is a tremendous variety of music being made outside of the mainstream (a lot of it indie or underground) which is terrific. Right?

Recently, I had lunch with a friend who I (and many others) consider to be a luminary in the music world. We hadn’t seen one another for a few years and got caught up. As is often the case, the conversation turned to our collective occupation/infatuation and it’s current doldrums.

As is also often the case, I felt compelled to state my feelings about the condition our condition is in. My surface agenda in doing this was to discuss new approaches to music production/facilitation.

My hidden agenda in addressing these issues was to construct a short cut to the creme filling inside (aka, a solution). I believed (in all my naivete) that as two highly intelligent gentlemen, my friend and I could find a common ground and potentially solve a few of the world’s problems over a staggeringly expensive hamburger (oh, how I love LA).

As we spoke, my friend made it clear he felt similarly- that there are indeed issues beleaguering the world of popular music.

However, he seemed to feel the issues were mainly those which plague the recording industry (and pertain to how few records are being purchased by the public sector).

It turned out that he did not agree with much else I was saying. He found the notion that popular music is in trouble (or in any type of a decline at all) to be absurd and laughable. In fact, he categorically disagreed with every statement I made regarding contemporary popular music (and how it is lacking feeling or emotional resonance).

Instead, my friend asserted that there is an ample quantity of great music being made these days- as there has always been. His feeling was that music sales are dropping because music is readily available for free on the internet. It was his opinion that any perceptible decline in music could be ascribed to cyclical changes in musical sales, quality and styles (all of which have occurred similarly, in times {and governed by conditions relevant to those times} bygone).

He further suggested that my assertions were not unlike those of all the disgruntled, disenfranchised individuals (in other words, ‘grumpy old men’) down through time immemorial (who disgustedly refer to the music of successive newer generations as ‘noise’).

From his perspective, the issue I was addressing was more indicative of an ‘age-gap’, as opposed to being of a ‘quality-gap’.

I like this man a great deal- moreover, I admire and respect him immensely. His life achievements are as noteworthy as some of them are downright historic. Additionally, he’s one of the smartest people I’ve met in our collective field (as well as being an absolute gentleman).

None of this had any bearing on our conversation (or on our points of disagreement).

Here, I will reiterate my original statement, which is; no great records/music have/has been made in the last few years. For argument’s sake, I’ll say it’s been within the past 5 years- it could be more like 7, even 10.

Now please note; I’m not speaking about ‘good’ records. I am speaking of ‘great’ records; superlative records. Timeless records.

There are plenty of good records being made now- even a few mainstream records are ‘good’. There’s good music everywhere- you may have to dig a little, but you’ll find some.

However, good isn’t actually great.

In order to qualify that statement, I will define exactly what I mean when I use the term ‘great’ in the context of popular music. To do this, I will now provide a miniscule assortment of examples which absolutely define what is ‘great’.

‘The White Album’ is great. ‘Are You Experienced’ is great. ‘Exile On Main Street’ is great. ‘Astral Weeks’, ‘Harvest’, ‘Led Zeppelin 4’, ‘Highway 61 Revisited, ‘Electric Mud”, ‘Disraeli Gears’, ‘Five Leaves Left’, ‘Another Green World’, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Raw Power’, ‘Never Mind The Bollocks…’, ‘Desperado’, ‘London Calling’, ‘Innervisions’, ‘Computer World’, ‘Bitches Brew’, ‘For Your Pleasure’, ‘Tejas’, ‘Back In Black’, ‘Aja’, ‘Let’s Take It To The Stage’, ‘Poppa’s Got A Brand New Bag’, ‘Got My Mojo Workin”, ‘Evil’, ‘What’d I say’, ‘Liege And Lief’, ‘Nevermind’, ‘Substance’, ‘Vol 4’, ‘Rumours’, etc…

This is all undeniably great music. You don’t even have to like any of it, but its importance is indisputable.

These are records that changed people’s lives, lit a fire in their souls and under their asses. These are records (amongst others) which literally changed civilization because they managed to alter the way people saw their own world. In so doing, these records also changed how people think.

They mutated (and became a functional aspect of) our collective cultural and societal DNA.

I now present an obvious and natural rebuttal to my original statement (and one which I’ve been confronted with repeatedly- the lyrics are occasionally different but the melody is always the same).

That rebuttal goes a little something like this here; ‘of course those records are great, timeless, earth-shattering. Life-changing. They are classic, brilliant- even amazing. No one will ever be able to top them, therefore, a comparison between these recordings and those made currently is simply unfair’.

Unfair? Is it really?

What’s unfair about making a direct (if arbitrary) comparison between any given contemporary ‘hit” song and something truly classic (oh, how I despise using that term in this context, especially given its current connotation)?

What’s unfair about comparing ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ by The Rolling Stones to ‘Tik Tok’ by Ke$ha? (Besides the fact that Mick Jagger is name checked in the Ke$ha song).

How about comparing a Beatles song to a Coldplay song? ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA to ‘Paparazzi’ by Lady Gaga?

What’s unfair about any of that? Isn’t it all popular music?

Here is what I feel is unfair. It’s unfair that, when there are no fewer incredibly talented, creative people in this world right now (as opposed to any other time in history), none of these talented people are making music which can step to any of these older records. Or even, knock them out of their precarious perches.

And why is this so? Why aren’t very, very talented people making amazing records?

One reason is because the very talented people aren’t being required to do so.

No one knows what a great record feels like anymore (let alone how it sounds), hence how can they demand one?

We live in a society which is a thousand times more apathetic (and probably more psychotic) than was any previous society. People are completely sheltered and yet confronted with their own imminent mortality every single day. Everyone suffers from some degree of ADD and PTSD. We have all been conditioned, desensitized, brutally pummeled and beaten down through years of systematic, socialized and institutionalized abuse.

We’ve been repeatedly subjected to years of commercialized, fast-food culture, video games, bad grammar, bad music and bad movies. People like Puff Daddy/P. Diddy are our new role models. Everyone wants/feels entitled to receiving a million dollars (or yearns to devise a formula to make a million dollars).

We have dealt with death, destruction, the unimaginable and unthinkable on a daily basis via the news (as well as total and constant information overload via the internet) until the communal nervous system has become worn down and shot to fragments.

One might think, that in a society whose denizens suffer as those in this society, quality entertainment would be what saves the day. During The Great Depression, two of the most profitable (and cathartic) businesses were music and film. The movies and popular song filled downtrodden people’s lives with hope- helped them hang on through another day, just so they could make it to the next one.

Not so now. Mediocrity has become the standard, not the exception. We’ve been gradually led down an illusory primrose path of cognitive dissonance where up is down and right is wrong.

We have become brainwashed to accept and finally, to believe that something good is actually something great.

Now, in the interest of equanimity, I’ll open the floor to my friend from the lunch meeting.

Perhaps, (as he suggested) my statement about music no longer being great is merely the familiar echo of every crotchety, grumpy, old-fart generation that ever existed. Perhaps, my point is nothing more than a redux of the eternal complaint which discharges from the collective gaping, stinking maw of every preceding older generation.

This is the perennial complaint which pertains to how abrasive the music and culture of every successive newer generation appears to be.

Perhaps, my point of view and my feelings are sullied by a subconscious bitterness toward these newer artists for any number of reasons which I, myself, am not even aware of.

Perhaps, the true crux of my issue is not what’s wrong in the world, but what’s wrong inside me. Perhaps age is my real problem, as opposed to any ability I might possess to discern expression, or even talent.

Perhaps, I feel threatened by the presence of virile black men grunting, moaning and groaning about wielding their unquenchable libidos over a primal beat.

Perhaps, I feel out of place listening to heavily auto-tuned white boys, snottily whining and whingeing over what appears to be a musical rendition of ‘Sounds From The Junkyard’.

Or, perhaps I feel uncomfortable listening to fragile, wispy, waify, indie-queens singing sans sensitivity about hyper-sensitive meaningless nothings.

Perhaps. Then again, if I’m so thoroughly blinded by ageist subjectivity and resentment, why is it that I hear other people registering the exact same comments as me?

And why is it, that when I hear people other than myself making the exact same comments as I am (about how dull and devoid of emotion popular music is), many of them happen to be half my age and younger? The same younger generation this new popular music has been tailor-made to fit?

And why is it, that (similar to the friend with whom I had an aforementioned lunchtime deliberation) most of the people who appear to be defending the current state of popular music, are in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s? And, why are all of these people in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s -who so valiantly defend the current state of popular music, people who work in (and around) the music industry?

Weird, isn’t it?

I don’t recall kids complaining about popular music when I was 17. I also don’t remember kids being dispassionate or detached about the music they listened to when I was younger.

In fact, I don’t recall kids doing much of anything regarding music, apart from single mindedly arranging their lives around it and devouring it rabidly.

I do recall heated arguments (one of which nearly came to blows) between friends as to whether Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page was the better guitarist.

I do recall seeing large mobs of kids heading toward the 72nd St subway station (in Forest Hills, Queens) so they could catch the E train to Madison Square Garden and see Led Zeppelin when they toured Physical Grafitti.

I do recall many occasions when I would sit with a circle of my friends around a stereo listening to record after record for hours at a time. Doing nothing else. In utter silence.

I do recall laying in the grass, staring up at the night sky and listening to a beat up, gurgly cassette tape of ‘Master Of Reality’ by Black Sabbath through a tinny earphone, plugged into a beat up, gurgly cassette machine. Listening over and over until the tape jammed.

I do recall sitting on the floor of my parents’ living room every Wednesday evening, long after everyone else had fallen asleep. There I was, as still as could be, frozen amidst a massive, labyrinthine tangle of wires arranged just right. I would perform this ritual in order to catch the faintest wisps of the obscure progressive rock I thrived on (which was broadcast from the New Jersey college radio stations WFMU and WFDU).

I remember the day that my mom brought home ‘Sergeant Pepper’. The amazing, beautiful noise which poured out of the beat up stereo speakers and enveloped me was beyond the comprehension of an ingenuous child of 7. I was enthralled, beguiled and my life permanently altered.

All of these recollections will remain emblazoned in my memory until I draw my last breath. All these experiences were sensory, sensual and rich- they augmented, enhanced and reframed my existence. They were life changing and the sensations which accompanied them would recur for me repeatedly as the years went on. Those sensations were (and are) always stirred up when I would listen to a piece of music which harkened me back to another time in my life.

When I was younger, everyone I knew had the exact same experience of what music was and what it did to a person.

How does this parallel the way young people currently experience music or life? Is there any parallel at all?

Perhaps my desire is to see the entire world return to a familiar, more innocent time. Or, perhaps my desire is for other people to experience something amazing in their present that I experienced in my past.

Popular music is wallpaper now. It’s less of a participatory experience than it ever was before. It’s not even a spectator sport- instead, it’s more of a secondary, supplemental experience; a kind of cultural Hamburger-Helper.

Music would be more like a drug, if it could actually alter someone’s perception (as it used to). Instead, video games, celebrity and drama are our new drugs.

Popular music exists now merely as an accompaniment to something of higher priority in a person’s life- a movie, a video, a car ride, a conversation, a change of clothes, brushing your teeth.

The popular music of now demands nothing from a listener. Even at it’s most intrusive, invasive and abrasive, it is the perfect soundtrack for an ADD generation. Music can only contend as background noise to enhance another activity or can be completely tuned out and ignored at will.

The excitement of popular music is only marginally stimulating when compared to the massive adrenalin highs derived from quaffing corn syrup and caffeine-infused beverages (while killing endless multitudes of nameless computer generated soldiers, street thugs or monsters in some nameless video game).

I don’t recall music ever being this disposable before. Is this a cycle we’re going through (as my friend suggested), or is it an aberration that no one prepared for?

It’s significant that much of the older music which I’ve previously referenced is not perceived as being nostalgic by recent generations. This is in very dramatic contrast to how music from 20-30 years previous to my generation was perceived by my generation- sappy, drippy, sentimental, nostalgic (and only to be revisited as some kind of fad)

To many children of this present generation, music from 20-50 years ago is still seen as relevant- certainly listenable, durable and definitely not nostalgic. Why do you suppose that is?

Why do younger generations still listen to Led Zeppelin or The Beatles? Can it simply be (as my friend from the lunch meeting might suggest) because music is so readily available on the internet?

Or could it instead, be because nearly 60 years on, no one has been able to surpass these artists? No one has yet come along to make these artists as irrelevant (or ‘of their time’) as Doo Wop music had been made irrelevant (and ‘of its time’) to those of us growing up in the 1970’s?

Many people born since the 1970’s have heard artists like Led Zeppelin and while they can see the relative value in this music, they also can’t have the same experience that we (who grew up with it) had.

Why? Because Led Zeppelin is ultimately a product of its times- hence, it is also music for its time.

No matter how remarkable their records are, Led Zeppelin (and the other artists I’m referencing) actually have little or no relevance to this modern generation. That is because this music doesn’t truly speak to the generation of now- it speaks to the generation of then. Other generations. My generation.

As sacrilegious as this may sound, the most valuable thing about Led Zeppelin (or any of this older music), isn’t necessarily the music (especially as it pertains to current generations). It isn’t even what the music represents or how reverential we become upon hearing it.

It is instead the vitality- the emotion one gets from hearing it. The soul. The feeling.

This soul, this feeling is what takes Led Zeppelin (and any other great artist) out of the context of simply being another great band which spoke the language of a different generation at a different time and creates a continuum regarding how they can still affect people in the present time.

This is the essence, the true essence of what makes a great record.

Again, I ask- who has made (or heard) a record of this like in many years? If it exists, please let everyone in the world hear it, because, no matter how obscure it is- we all desperately need to experience new music which swims in and exudes feeling.

The feeling in/from music is far more important than the music itself because the music is merely the vehicle used to transmit the feeling. The feeling is everything.

Being able to commune with the feeling of Led Zeppelin (or any of the other artists referenced) is a far greater, more meaningful (and ephemeral) thing than simply listening to it.

How does one commune with music (as opposed to just listening to it)?

It’s entirely personal. This is for certain- once you become aware of being able to commune with the feeling of music (as opposed to merely listening to it), you will be forever changed. When you begin to commune with music, you can alter time and space- all of reality.

There are good records being made all the time. But are they emotionally compelling? Moving? Do they have the intrinsic power to mobilize and bring people together or, (with the possible exception of exhorting others to get tipsy in the club) do they lack this power?

Does the music of now have the transformative power that has always been requisite to and implicit in all popular music of the past? Does it have the feeling?

Over time, we, as a society, have clearly lost our trajectory regarding what defines something as being great (as opposed to merely being good). Ultimately, what makes music great is it’s feeling, the emotion it transmits; it’s power to heal, to transform, to inspire.

Since that feeling is absent from daily life in contemporary society, how can it possibly exist in the popular music made in that same society?

There are definitely new records which are good, well done- even clever. Today, I was listening to a some recent music and I heard the Cee-Lo Green track ‘Fuck You’.

As it began playing, I actually stopped daydreaming for a moment. I began paying attention.

This song is fun, entertaining, vulgar, clever. Cee-Lo has a wonderful voice- he’s a marvelous singer and everything about the way it interacts with the track is terrific. There are background vocals. It’s got a decent groove. The sentiment it embodies is universal- anyone can relate to it.

By all rights, I should have fallen in love with this song.

The problem is, I didn’t fall in love with it. Once you get past the production and how good Cee-Lo’s voice sounds, all that’s left is the joke. And the joke really lasts for less than a minute- no matter how well the little production flourishes help to drag it out.

After that’s gone, there isn’t a lot happening. The joke goes away, the smile gradually fades from one’s face and one is left with a relatively empty experience. It’s a one-trick pony.

Compare this to something of wonderment and insane brilliance, such as- ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, by Bob Dylan. This song keeps you enthralled, enrapt by the power of the singer’s delivery, on the edge of your seat, waiting, waiting for each succeeding line just to feel the sting of his blistering sentiment (even after having heard the song dozens of times).

You can feel how sure of himself Dylan is and, at the same time, he almost sounds as if he is surprising himself by each successive line he spits out with so much contempt.

Each new moment in the song is the first moment of all creation. That is true artistic genius.

What raw, visceral energy. What blinding brilliance. What power. Who is able to do this now?

And then, there’s the music- the track.

Actually, who cares about the track? Sure, it’s great, well done, Al Kooper snuck in to play organ on it, the arrangement is great and the whole thing sounds like a scratchy ’60’s song. What difference does any of that make? Sure, it’s got balls- it’s exciting- even stirring. Yippee.

The most important thing about the song is the part of it that keeps you hooked and stays with you.

And just what is that? Is it the memory of Dylan’s voice in all its scratchy, sardonic and abrasive brilliance? Is it his harmonica playing in the breaks between his vocals? Is it the overall greatness of the song, is it the lyrics, is it Al Kooper’s (essentially jammed, but) brilliant B3 track?

No- it’s none of those things. What stays with you while you hear the song (and what stays with you long, long after the song is done) is the sensation of it. The visceral emotion. The feeling.

The feeling is what makes music live forever. The feeling is what sticks in your brain and your body on every subsequent listen and for the rest of your life. The feeling is what makes you live forever.

The feeling is everything.

Once you find it, you’ll start to look for the feeling in everything. It’s in music, in your soul, in your life. It’s in the very molecules which surround you and make up your world.

When you find the feeling, it will always be there for you. It will always remind you of what is ultimately true for you and what is not. It will teach you about the greatness in the world (and in yourself).

Finding the feeling will ultimately and totally obliterate the delusion that good is actually great.

37 responses to “Good Isn’t Actually Great/The Feeling Is Everything”

  1. I agree with you that music culture has been destroyed. I’ve no argument there. Ditto for the state of pop if we’re talking about the Billboard 100. For the most part, the choruses of those songs won’t be sung to in a decade’s time. They’re requiems to themselves. They just don’t know it yet.

    And a “decade” is an inappropriate length of time. The surge to apathy was gradual at the beginning but has been on a bungee jump the latter half. For that reason, maybe brilliant, genre rock albums from TOOL (Parabola), MUSE (Absolution), KORN (Untouchables), SYSTEM OF A DOWN (Toxicity) and MARILYN MANSON (Holy Wood) should be excluded. But let’s take a little step forward and play devil’s advocate…

    Incredibly clever music is being made. ARCADE FIRE jump-started the indie revolution with their cardboard sleeved, Funeral [2004]. ‘Wake Up’, in particular, was the song that grabbed me. BLIND MELON’s For My Friends [2008] is the best they’ve done; pure, catchy, heartfelt rock. On the prog scene, PAIN OF SALVATION blew me away with Be [2004] and they were almost as brilliant on their 180 degree change of direction, hard rock album, Scarsick [2007]. MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE’s The Black Parade [2006] was the most influential alternate album of the decade and i applaud their tribute to Queen and Pink Floyd because it joined the past to the the present with incredible cleverness that stamped their identity into it. In metal, MASTODON’s Crack the Skye [2009] kicks arse. Other bands such as CONVERGE are breaking down the boundaries of this heavy genre and making soundscapes. In pure pop there’ve been great, different to the norm tracks from EMILIANA TORRINI, A CAMP, BEACH HOUSE and THE NOISETTES. Maybe the most exciting marriage is indie to dance (e.g. FLORENCE & THE MACHINE, BAT FOR LASHES and the YEAH YEAH YEAHS) so that alternate is getting radio play. In South Africa, bands such as LARK (alternate electronic), MACHINERI (alternate rock) and BRENT KOZAK (folk rock) hold much promise even if i worry that the world will overlook us again.

    This year, album favourites include BUTCH WALKER, THE JACK MANTIS BAND and LOS CAMPESINOS! Sure, some will disagree with the examples i’ve chosen but remember that music is always subject to subjectivity. Hopefully, overall, you get the point.

    There is much great music out there. I can’t keep up!

    Earlier, you disparagingly compared COLDPLAY to THE BEATLES. I disagree simply because COLDPLAY will be one of the few bands to be played in years to come.

    But i’m playing devil’s advocate. That was my siding with those who think music is alive and well.

    Music as a force for culture is in jeopardy. Hell, maybe that’s an understatement. It’s not changing the world (which i believe to be one of it’s primary roles). Throughout history, music played a part in revolution. Instead, now, it’s become an accessory to apathy, a condiment to a moment soon forgotten.

    It’s not that there isn’t great music. There is. Sure, some of the best of it is too damn clever to grab the hearts of the majority populace and on the opposing, trivial side, big record labels have turned pop hits into oily fast food that floats like a turd in the toilet bowl but, inevitably, gets flushed. More importantly, modern music faces vastly more competitors than THE BEATLES, STONES, THE DOORS, PINK FLOYD, BOB DYLAN, JANIS JOPLIN and THE ROLLING STONES did. In one way, the decline of society is proportional to the overwhelming choices it’s been offered.

    A seed of destruction was planted the moment MTV opened with ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’. They couldn’t have known what was to come. Initially, picture enhanced the delivery of music but over time video removed attention away from the songs themselves. In turn, it became the death of lyric. Without something to say, another step was taken back to where we are today. And television “culture” is undeniably linked to the current youth groups of Huh? & Whatever. Media overall, but television especially, began selling unreal lifestyles which the western world has pursued so that we’re sitting with Generation Playstation whose too many choices, whose want for more and more, have stopped them from taking time to appreciate what they’ve got. And if something they possess doesn’t have value, how will they ever take the time to truly listen to an album, fall in love with a song, share that joy and re-establish a music culture.

    Music didn’t commit suicide. And the Record Labels aren’t solely to blame for shoving it off the balcony of their fast-buck executive offices. There is a far BIGGER problem. Society itself is failing in almost every respect. Music is simply a casualty.

    But it can have a role to play.

    What we do know is that the face of Music is changing. We don’t know where it’s looking. If anything, we have to click our fingers, get it’s attention, and hopefully make it listen in the our direction.

  2. The year 2000 was the true death of any great music. And this, coming from someone whos pro music career started in ’01. Well put Michael. You are in a unique position as someone who has made some “great” records and many “good” records. To tell us how you feel. Well put my friend.

  3. Bravo. Thanks for the excellent words and thesis, Michael. I wholeheartedly support your position. Peace nick

  4. Mike-

    Once again, I am grateful for your commentary. You make a great many valid points.

    My own experience is that there has been a decline in the quality of music based on on a variety of factors. One factor (among several) was the massive and perceptible drop in quality regarding music which came through the system at Atlantic Records during my tenure there (1999-2002).

    This was the continuation of a long downward spiral which began in the mid-late 1990’s. At that time, many established acts had developed a collective sense that they could print money every time they so much as passed wind. These artists began releasing their weakest ever recordings and with that, a precedent was set. Popular music began its present decline right there.

    The decline was barely detectable at first, but it gradually snowballed and, like a slow acting poison, affected all popular music at every level.

    This ultimately was the product of greed, lack of quality control and the kind of corporate consciousness which came with the concept of ‘branding’. Popular musicians had become painfully aware that they had to sell themselves (first, by watching themselves on MTV, next through the ministrations of record companies and management). It became clear that they needed to embed themselves into the psyche of everyone who came into contact with their music. The idea that they should be perceived as a ‘brand’ or commodity (instead of concentrating on making better music) became the apparent means by which this would be achieved.

    Clearly, this concept has backfired.

    Everyone has played a role in this- from record companies to managers, from lawyers to artists to record producers.

    These are only a few reasons why popular music is in a decline. My feeling is, it’s less important to acknowledge that something is wrong than it is to acknowledge that something needs to be done to repair the problem.

    Music is a casualty, yes, but the wounds are largely self-inflicted. The complicity of society is of a more long range nature, it runs concurrent with and is supportive to, but is less immediately causal.

    There are tremendous issues with both music and society- both are intertwined and many of the issues besetting each are similar. Society, however, can’t fix music (partly because music is an indicator of society). I feel there is a better chance that music can fix, or at least affect society.


  5. I think there ARE great records, one I cannot wait to play you. But did it “influence and change generations” no – because people haven’t heard it. But popularity does not make a record “great” – quality does.

    Some of it was/is innocence – your experience of Sgt Pepper was a classic one. Some of the wonder came from not knowing HOW (what’s behind the curtain). Not ALL of it, but it’s hard to hear a record now and not analyze the hell out of it now. Some classic records – AC/DC and Zeppelin you mention – fall apart when you look at the lyrics. Painfully bad and cheesy in some places. Yet the music works. But if you ARE message oriented (often a female thing) the message is not really there. Yet, we still call them great – so while I don’t love Green Day, many feel it’s “great” and influential because they don’t care about the PARTS that I do….

    I have an album to play you. I think it rivals Pepper, literally.

  6. I think this is just a generational thing. You know how every generation damns the one after it? Every bit as sure as your parents hated your music, your generation hates mine and mine will no doubt hate the next one’s. That’s okay, because it’s a law of nature and there’s no use running from it.

    No, it’s not unfair to hold today’s records to the same standard as yesterday’s. To say that would be an admission of inferiority. But it is unfair to stack them up side by side and measure their cultural impact against one another.

    It’s too early. Why? Well, for one thing, we haven’t had kids yet!

    Remember, just as my generation did when we inquisitively pulled “Led Zeppelin II” out of its dust caked CD case, so will the next generation reach back into our book of work for a blueprint on how to build their own cultural identity. They’ll tweak it and add onto it and customize it and it will sound vaguely like “Kid A” but different in the most obnoxious and contemptible way possible. And while condemning it for being unoriginal we’ll surely take credit for inspiring it (thank you very much).

    Why, then, won’t we acknowledge how much our children’s music has elevated the importance of our own? Do you think anyone would still give a shit about Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band if it didn’t pave the way for so many of today’s records? Would anyone care about The Ramones if covering their songs didn’t lead to us accidentally coming up with new ones? (I-IV-V… how original!)

    It’s not that there aren’t any great records out there. There are plenty. The Stokes’ “Is This It?” (essentially, the entire story of the 9/11 generation in a little over half an hour), “Funeral” by Arcade Fire, “Stankonia”, every Jay-Z album ever made, “White Blood Cells”, the list goes on. I’m not gonna sit here and preach to deaf ears. You can find them if you look for them. There are many albums you haven’t heard simply because the lumbering machine known as the music business isn’t around anymore to shove them down everyone’s throats. We slayed it. Thank us later.

    We are the same as you. We just face a different set of challenges and have a different instrument with which to battle them. And even if you can’t ever bring yourself to understand why Kanye West is so fucking awesome then at least bow out gracefully. Don’t make us pry the scepter from your cold, dead hands. We’d like to keep you around for as long as possible, even if you’re in a vegetable-like state and going to the bathroom through a tube.

  7. Brian-

    I am looking forward to hearing this album you’ve been talking about.

    As I mentioned toward the end of my post, it isn’t the technical aspects of a record (lyrics, messages, even the music) that really matter in the long run. It’s that amazing intangible thing that no one can describe or even name- you know it when it’s there and you definitely know when it isn’t.


  8. Jimmy-

    Thanks for your response- I have clearly hit a nerve.

    You raise a lot of interesting points. For example, I agree that all popular music tends to be some kind of extrapolation of music which came before it.

    What I find interesting about your commentary is that as you try to defend your own idea of what is great, you are also attempting to defend your entire generation. This is a grandiose chore for one man, I’d go a little easier on myself.

    Additionally, you go back to the same argument regarding ‘generational gaps’ that my friend (who happens to be older than both of us) resorted to. Those arguments are tedious, as well as archaic.

    While it’s easy to suggest that the point of my blog post reverts back to that ageless animosity between the expression of different generations, this is clearly not the case. My feeling is that the succeeding generations are gradually losing their ability to be expressive and that (in part) they have earlier generations (such as mine) to thank for this disconnect. To me, this issue is more of a cultural/societal one than a simple matter of ‘my music is better than yours’.

    It actually underscores a breakdown in the passage of information from generation to generation (which has gone on for ages).

    I will remind you that while you refer to the initial point of my blog as being a generational issue, I described it as having occurred palpably over the last 5-10 years. ‘Stankonia’ was released in 2000 and Jay Z released a lot of his best work in the mid- nineties. People were still making great records at this time, but there has been a gradual shift since the mid/late nineties (which has accelerated recently).

    As an off the cuff ( and very short) list of great records, I noted music which covers 5 decades. If this was actually an issue of my generation vs. yours, it makes no sense that the music of my specific generation would be able to cover half a century.

    After providing the aforementioned examples, I went on to define how irrelevant those records are to newer generations. If you missed that part, please have another look. I also described what actually makes a record great. This has far less to do with surface aspects of music and more with something far deeper. I’d appreciate if you’d give this another look, as well.

    Additionally, I offered specific criteria for musical greatness. Some of my criteria (amongst others) are the music it possesses an eternal spark, that it is inspirational in some way, that it makes you feel something (other than aggression).

    What is your own criteria for musical greatness?

    I will cede the point that Kanye West is awesome- if only at being able to sell Kanye West. He is brilliant and absolutely tireless at self-hype and once this is taken away, there isn’t much left. Many of the other artists you’ve mentioned are extraordinarily talented- no less so than those from other times. I simply feel that they are functioning in an ever-narrowing cultural vacuum and haven’t had the same opportunity to make their finest work.

    I completely agree with the first two sentences of your final paragraph. My own feeling is that you are being shortchanged- not so much by the cultural representatives of your generation, but by societal and corporate interests.

    I do have my own agenda by making these statements. Perhaps, I’d like to be scared, moved, intimidated by something musical which has been created recently. This hasn’t yet happened and I would like to help make it so.

    (Incidentally- taking responsibility for the record industry killing itself is like Ronald Reagan taking credit for bringing down the Soviet Union. Thanks, anyway.)


  9. Michael,

    Thanks. I hope I didn’t come across as being too outraged by your point of view. I was just trying to illustrate mine in a colorful way, which is why I adopted the (now unfortunate) “generational” motif. I do think some of what I said still applies. (Ten years may not be enough time to render a verdict on whether a record has an “eternal” spark.)

    But if we remove that part of the equation for a minute and look at the immediate aftermath of listening to a piece of music–i.e. the emotional response you get from it–then I’m afraid our recipe boils down to a hopeless assortment of private, emotional and ultimately subjective phenomena. You’ve made the point in bold face how uninspired you are by Kanye West. So what more can the millions of people do who find his music every bit as viscerally explosive and emotionally intense as would live up to the standard of greatness you outlined above? What can we say to one another? Is there anything more to talk about?

    And how can we determine which emotions make the list of those that validly map to “greatness”? Does aggression satisfied through music not have a healing quality? And if it does, how can anyone say it’s not important? How many Columbines or Tucsons were stifled by “Toxicity”? (I know that’s 2001 but it’s not like there haven’t been many other records made in the exact same vein.)

    I guess the reason I invoked the generation war is because in my view it’s neither fruitful nor fair to ask someone with advanced judgment and life perspective (and a long string of accomplishments behind them) to share a brain with an undeveloped, uninitiated, snotty young kid; a kid who feels imprisoned by the houses their parents worked so hard to erect in “The Suburbs” (check that one out if you haven’t already!). Yes, I agree, those kids are lashing out irrationally. But–not to sound like a microwave philosopher–isn’t irrationality at the heart of every emotion we’re talking about here? I didn’t think stoicism and candor belonged anywhere near a Gibson SG!

    I’ll bow to the old master now and I appreciate your entertaining me, even if you’re just doing it out of boredom. Thanks for answering my questions and I know that even if there is a dearth of great music in the last ten years, we’ll find our way out soon…

  10. Jimmy-

    That’s fine- I appreciate your enthusiasm (and your frustration).

    Again, you raised some valid points. I would tend to agree that expression, the perception of expression and art itself can all be perceived as being subjective. I also feel that popular music (as a constant in the flow of many civilizations for many ages) is a valuable indicator of where a society happens to be headed. Because society has largely become more driven by commodification (and an apparent need to quantify the unquantifiable) in recent years, recent popular music has reflected this.

    I wanted to address what you wrote regarding it being ‘neither fruitful nor fair to ask someone with advanced judgment and life perspective (and a long string of accomplishments behind them) to share a brain with an undeveloped, uninitiated, snotty young kid’. Actually, that’s why I’m writing a blog (and responding to you) in the first place- to provide observations/information to anyone who might benefit from them/it.

    Ideally, this is as much a forum for other people’s ideas as it is for my own. Along the way, perhaps someone will be inspired by something they encounter here.

    As I mentioned, I feel younger generations are being short changed by a combination of corporate and societal interests. As a result, it’s my duty (and that of others who have experience) to help facilitate progress in any way possible. One day, you will rebuild the world in your own image- it’s our responsibility to make sure that you have all the tools we did (as well as the very formidable set you currently wield).

    My response to you (or to anyone else who has thoughts regarding my posts) is hardly out of boredom- it’s more about interacting, sharing information and being of service. If there are actual problems which require answers, we will only find them by communicating.

    And if you have gotten anything of value out of this interaction, then I am fulfilling my task.


  11. “The feeling is everything.”

    “The feeling” is the entire reason I care about music. I mean, I remember the *exact moment* music shook me to the core. I was forever changed at 16. I can remember just about every detail of that instant in time. Why? Because it cut through all of the self-imposed nonsense that is daily human ego-driven life and left me feeling overwhelmed by something very powerful: Connection. The sudden and electric sensation of ‘feeling the music’ – the shock wave of pure expression.

    After a 10-year trance and bout with apathy, I, too, realized it was now or never. Not because of age, talent, friends, but because of circumstance. The other day the thought “in the end, the question is, what is worth spending your life working on?” crossed my mind. What else but music? The idea of losing the ‘magic’ to the crush of apathy is one I just don’t want to sit back and watch happen. Music inspired me to so many ends; it’s the least I can do to try and give it a future.


  12. The fact that so many artists are running away from, or fulfilling contracts with lesser product (so as to escape), is a simple fact that the majors forgot the bigger picture and thus failed music.

  13. Michael,
    If what we are all looking for is a ‘feeling’ or intensity thereof, then do
    not feelings change, mutate or transform? My first loves were ELO,
    Kiss, Led Zep, PFloyd and Styx. And those feelings were intense, but
    they were for the most part temporary. There are still songs that move
    me by the aforementioned, but no longer any albums. After high school,
    if memory serves, my tastes did a 180 and I was DEEPLY in love with
    Ultravox!, Peter Hammill (with and without VDGG), King Crimson, Joy
    Division, Material, Chrome, The Cure and Throbbing Gristle. Then it was
    German experimental rock from 1968-1980 and Hawkwind. After that
    (I am simplifying a bit), it was everything from Spacemen 3 to Coil,
    Windy & Carl to Current 93, from electric Miles Davis to Lee Perry.
    All had albums that I loved and felt a deep connection with that later
    eroded to just a few songs, possibly an album. I felt those connections as
    deeply as I had in juior high and high school, perhaps even deeper.

    Nowadays, it is Alcest, Algarnas Tradgard, Earth, Emeralds, Expo 70,
    Hyatari, Husky, Salem and Ufomammut. I still feel deeply about some
    of those that came before (except Kiss and one song by Styx). But in
    the end, my feelings have changed because I have changed (if only in
    slight or discrete ways). The feelings are still strong and surprise is still
    an occurence (i.e., Salem); Ash Ra Tempel is as important as Coil as is
    Pink Floyd. I feel myself beholden to that same depth of feeling for
    certain musics old and new, but not so much to the objects themselves.
    The feeling is, as you say, the most important thing.

    Michael, is it the feeling or the signpost you need more?
    Or is it the intensity of youth?

    Or is it way too late and my misreading led to ramblings?

    Thanks for the wonderful post….keep writing, please.

  14. Michael,

    Interesting post. I just started reading your blog this week and this made me think in a way that most blogs don’t so much appreciated. After giving much thought on this, I would like to offer my meager two cents worth:

    I don’t think that the state of music is in decline. I also don’t think that this is a case of one generation belittling the subsequent ones. Rather, I think something entirely different is going on.

    I think you are a little older than I am as I was born in 1970 so I had my musically formative years in the 80s. But the experience with the vinyl, long-play album format as a unit of music was the same for both of us. And I think what you and I experienced with music growing up was unique.

    What I did was I went to a record store, found the one I wanted most, bought it, and brought it home. I was fortunate in that I could find time to be alone with this ~40 minute unit of creativity so that the entire process became a ritual. Cutting open the shrinkwrap or, in case of imports, peeling back the top of the plastic. Taking the sleeve out and looking it over. Taking the record out and checking it for damage. Putting it on the turntable. Listening to the music while pouring over every square inch of the cover, sleeve and any included artwork or lyric sheet. Communing with the music. It sounds like you had similar experience with music growing up but I don’t want to put words in your mouth so correct me if I’m wrong.

    Now, let’s set the Wayback Machine to various points in time. Our early ancestors had a very specific use for music. It aided those who participated in rituals in obtaining a transcendent experience. It was very personal but at the same time it was shared by everyone, at the same time, all the time.

    Jump forward to, say, the mid 1700s or so. There was “popular” music but these were tunes that you sang with your family or mates at the pub. There was also the erudite music of Bach, Mozart, etc. that was usually performed for mostly the upper class in formal settings.

    Early 1900s. Jazz, big band, rag time, and general folk music. These you would enjoy in a club with other party people. Maybe you or someone in your family would play a tune on a piano or something.

    The point I’m trying to illustrate is that in all these situations that “feeling” you mentioned was probably there but in very radically different ways than the experience I enjoyed in my youth entranced with music in my headphones. It has typically been shared with others with not many people enjoying it on such an intensely personal level. I’m sure there were people that music changed their lives but I have to think that it was a very different experience for the masses than it was for those growing up between 1950-2000.

    To jump to the present, I agree with you that I haven’t come across many great albums in the past decade. But I have listened to some truly great individual songs. And because the method of transmission has changed, the basic format for listening to music has changed with it as well as, for lack of a better word, the placement of music in our lives. As it has throughout history.

    As an aside, remember knowing there was a great track on a record but you knew the rest of the album was not so good? I couldn’t bring myself to buy the whole album because I only made so much with my paper route so I had to make my music purchases worthwhile. Well, leaving aside that I make a little more now than I did with my paper route, I no longer have that problem. AND I AM GRATEFUL. I can buy just that one song that I love without feeling like I’m throwing any resources down the drain on crap filler. But I digress.

    It’s not better or worse today, it’s just different. The individual chunks are smaller but collectively that feeling is still alive and well.

    My daughter is just entering the music discovery age. She listens to her mp3 player while she draws or just listens. Just like I did. She likes old Queen and new Empire of the Sun. I don’t know what she’s going to look back on and say what changed her life in a meaningful way. Only time will tell. But I seriously, optimistically believe she’s not growing up to be a zombie with no true meaningful or “feeling”-ful moments.

    If I could leave just one more thought. I truly don’t believe society is crumbling around us as we speak. In many ways the world is a MUCH better place than it ever has been in the past. So many more people live in freedom than say the 1300s where everyone was subject to an often cruel warlord. Granted, there are some ways that the world is probably not as good as it was sometime in the past (hello global warming). The pendulum of politics swings back and forth. The march of technology continues. The way we conduct our lives changes. All as it always has. But the core of humanity is present and that feeling is there–just not always in the same place.


  15. Chuck-

    I appreciate your perspective very much and thank you for your comments. I am pleased that my post has prompted you to consider some of the points therein.

    It sounds as if we had a similar experience with recorded music when we were younger. Being in contact with vinyl was a very tactile experience and engaged all one’s senses. For some reason, I had a similar enjoyment of cassette tapes, even though though the format was relatively small.

    From reading your commentary, I sense that we may have slightly different impressions of what is meant by ‘feeling’. What I’m referring to when I use the term is the full range of emotion that can be felt, experienced and transmitted via music (and, to some extent, via other communicative mediums).

    Whereas the sounds and styles (and deliveries) of music have changed over time, the emotional resonance of music is timeless and essential. This resonance radiates outward from the act of expression: it is reminiscent of other, similar sensations one may have encountered. It settles in and becomes a core experience for a listener and it never deviates.

    There is no difference between listening to a live performance of ‘The Magic Flute’ or playing a vinyl of ‘Sticky Fingers’ or a field recording of Burundi drummers. Different music, different eras, different modes of expression, different delivery mediums. Different emotions. No matter, the essence of the music is perennial- it’s constant and never changes. Music is nothing more than a mechanism to stimulate chemicals in the brain which consequently open the mind and the heart. Or, it is something which causes the molecules around and within us to vibrate in a stimulating fashion. Or, it is something else entirely…….

    That experience is elusive at best in today’s music. There is a distinct lack of joy, of connection with spirit, of true emotion and expression. I often have this conversation with people who are much younger than I am and their views tend to be similar to mine (if not always identical). The full range of emotions/feeling they are not experiencing are generally masked by aggression or diluted with vapidity.

    Music is deteriorating as a means of personal expression and being replaced by video games and forms of entertainment which are many times more violent, loud and distracting. Also, most mainstream music is being constructed by people other than the artist/performer (and he is gradually being shut out of his own work). From these perspectives alone, I am disinclined to feel as you do regarding music or society.

    I feel that you and I may also have a different perspective regarding what signifies that society (and art) is in peril. While I agree that the core of humanity is present, I don’t believe that it is readily so, nor is the feeling of humanity. These are largely hidden away as they are considered to be as useless as art/music programs are becoming in public schools. In this world, both humanity and feeling are two things which don’t contribute to the gradual commodification of society and culture, and are therefore, ignored.

    Since the creation of art is my vocation, it is an extension of this vocation to be vigilant about it when I feel it is being threatened. You may wish to read some of the other posts on this blog in order to understand how I substantiate my point of view.


  16. William-

    Thanks for your comments.

    I feel that one’s relationship to music will change over time, however, the essence, the ‘feeling’ in music is ultimately the same. This is perhaps a difference between environmental factors affecting one’s perception of the medium and a sort of constant inner awareness of what the medium signifies subjectively to the individual. As an example; a piece of music may be connected by you to a singular and very subjective event in your life (which had associated emotional sensations, or feelings). Although the music itself may change in significance (and importance) to you over time, the sensations and what it ultimately evokes for you will always be there in some way.

    I’m not sure what you are asking me at the end of your comment, hence, I can’t really offer an answer.


  17. Michael,

    Thank you for the dialog. I won’t belabor my point much but if you’ll permit me I would like to make a few rebuttals.

    First, I took your argument to be about the decline of the long form LP based on statements such as “Now please note; I’m not speaking about ‘good’ records. I am speaking of ‘great’ records; superlative records. Timeless records.” and that you listed several full-length albums. My point was to say that while I think you are right in that there haven’t been many truly great, full albums that have come out in the last decade, that music changes, its purpose changes and perhaps we are leaving the era of full-length albums. That we are going towards a shorter form from each artist but taken in aggregate still amount to some truly great music. Which leads me to my second point, which is about the feeling.

    I think I grok what you mean by that feeling. It’s the total experience that is unique to music. Other art forms are great, necessary even, but truly only music can deliver on as many levels in the same way. By (I believe it was Bernstein that alluded to this) circumventing the conscious part of the brain and hitting us directly in our emotional center, music has a very rare power.

    Third, I believe our two arguments will forever be stalemate because, from a logic/debate standpoint, both depend on anecdotal evidence. Like you, I have been fortunate to be around youth throughout my life. I was already considerably older than most of those around me when I got heavily involved in the rave scene (later I’ve gotten also involved in the rebirth of the industrial scene). Being a lifelong musician I have tended to gravitate to those that feel passionately about music so most of my closest friends are either musicians or DJs (remember we’re talking about rave DJs not radio DJs–big difference) or both. Anecdotally, the young people I know and have known are still as passionate about music as I was in my youth. They can point to many artists that have affected them deeply, even altered their lives much the same way that music has altered mine throughout the years. As far as I can tell through my conversations with them, though full-length albums may not be their focus, that feeling and connection with music is as strong as ever.

    I completely agree with you in that the big business of music is so far removed the art of music that maybe that avenue of music is dead forever. Maybe not. I would like popular mainstream music be meaningful and artist-focused again. But I will second what Mike said in that mainstream music may be lifeless, there is great music out there. It’s just not right in front of everyone anymore. You have to dig much further to tap into the mother lode. I could give you a litany of my recent favorites but that’s not crucial.

    You might be right in that there won’t be a band like The Beatles where the bulk of anyone you talk to will agree that they were one of the greatest pop bands ever. Music, along with many cultural cross-sections, has splintered into millions of pieces. That many people may never agree that Radiohead, Hybrid, or VNV Nation is a great band but the people who are into their subculture of any of these three respective bands are freakishly devoted to them and argue just as heavily with each other about why OK Computer far outstrips Kid A or how VNV Nation will remain dominant over other acts like Assemblage 23. I wouldn’t have heard any of these arguments if these people weren’t as passionate about their respective slice of music. I think the feeling is there, just on a different scale. And that was my point about bringing up music throughout history.

    Finally, I have to count on the cyclic nature of humanity. Maybe we are seeing the tail end of a supernova of creativity and expression. But from the ash of a dead star comes the birth of the next. So it has been through history of music. I think we can agree that the era surrounding Mozart and then Beethoven were significant in the history of music. Then it settled down with a few blips of energy. We saw it explode again in the 60s as we’ve discussed. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. I have a feeling that there are other forces (political, economical) at work that contribute to these creative pushes.

    This is not to say we should roll over–far from it. I agree with you that it is lamentable that art programs in schools are being slashed and that the “softer” disciplines have been devalued as much as they have been in favor of more testable, less subjective courses like math. Learning it all creates well-rounded individuals and that can only be a better thing even if it doesn’t bring with it any short-term benefit. To that end I do my part and vote, write letters, call my representatives in order to be heard on topics such as this. I applaud your fighting spirit. I will fight with you to keep the feeling alive.


  18. Chuck-

    Again, I appreciate your input and your comments.

    I’m pleased that you resonated with some of what I wrote. My point is less to create an argument and more of a means to inspire deeper inquiry. Rather than merely paint a picture of the inconsistencies in modern culture through a jaundiced lens, I am using specific examples to generate activism.

    Regarding your second to last paragraph- I have heard others say that all things in nature operate cyclically and whatever is wrong will right itself in time. I believe this is so, however, historically, it is the efforts of people which effect that change in the general field of human endeavor. Nature effects and operates its cycles for all that is natural; humankind must effect its own change in order to maintain the continuum of its own cycles.

    For this reason, I believe we have an inherent responsibility to assist newer generations in finding the deepest level of expression they can. I don’t feel that what is being offered artistically/culturally into the world is substantial enough to achieve this end.

    There needs to be more and it needs to be better. We owe that much to our children.

    It is good to know that you feel the need to fight for what you believe to be important in life. This is one of the main things I’m trying to impart through my blog.


  19. Please forgive my spelling and grammer since I was not born in the US.

    To understand what has happend to music first we need to understand what is happening to us as a society.

    We are living in an Ego oriented society that instead of helping one another we are alwayes thinking on how to exploit each other for our own self benefit.
    If you go deep inside the human psyche with honesty you will see that every action that a person does is made only for self benefit for himself or “His” Loved ones circle.

    You don’t see us stopping and feeding homeless children in the street and if you do see that it is because there is something benefitial in it for the person who did it(Self Satisfaction).

    All along history the creature called Ego is growing. How does this creature thinks?
    He seeks fullfilment. First comes a need for something, then the Ego attracts a fullfillment for this need. This is how how we live our lives since the day we are born.

    Every time we have a need for something.. Let’s say a “Good Song”. We devoir this good song. After we recevie pleasure from it. Our need (Ego) grows double of its size. Creating a deeper need to fill up.

    Because we live in an egoistic society and because society’s general Ego is much larger and destructive than it use to be in earlier times, We are flooded with self created useless information and no creativity. Real creativity can not come out of self reception.

    Now back to music. Most of the musicians today does not have musical backround nor the ear for aesthetics. On the other hand, since we are connected to the entire world in an unseen connection, we do not have the innocence anymore to fall inlove with a new piece of music like we use to.

    All of humanity is connected like cells in a living organism. When the entire mass changes we change too. What I am trying to say is the blame falls on the majority of the population that let their ego take over their true being.

    Everything is bigger and insignificant in all art forms. If we want to change that we need to change the way we look at eachother as human beings. When we will do that art will take it’s place again.

    Art is a living creature just like love. It needs certain ground to grow on.

  20. Others have said something very close to this, but I think the real failure in great music is that popular media is driven by corporate boneheads. You could also argue that there are not “great products” being developed, if the only place you could see new products came from the MisFortune 500. They are just repackaging the same old ideas that we saw, originally, in the 60’s through the 80’s. Even the vaunted iPad is just a rework of touch sensitive pads from the 80s in a smaller package.

    Radio has completely been overwhelmed by corporate interests. The Internet is about to be taken over by the same braindead executives. There will always be great music, but we may never find it because there is no socially-central distribution system for that music.

  21. I agree popular music has hit a lull. I feel only a handful of truly inspiring albums have been released within the last decade or so, that evoke that feeling of something special, something you won’t forget the second you hear another new track. I don’t see this as an ‘age-gap’ thing at all, I mean I’m only 24, I should be inspired by a lot more of today’s music if that was the case right?

    I’m led to believe the ‘loudness war’ has a lot to answer for in terms of robbing songs and therefor albums of there potential to be great, and not just good. Holding them back from creating that ‘feeling’ that seems to be missing from modern popular music. You mention this decline has been happening since the late nineties right up to now. From what I can see the loudness war really started in the late nineties, with the horrid mastering of ‘Californication’ as a prime example and has snow balled from there, to the brick walled albums we are sold today.

    I’m feel there are many more albums of the last decade that have the potential to be great, that have the potential to inspire and evoke strong feeling but are held back from achieving this through shocking mastering.

  22. Josh-

    Excessive compression in mix/mastering has definitely created some issues for those of us who would like to enjoy dynamics in our music. I feel that you are also missing an emotional component in the music itself which would be more prevalent if people making music were able to access this within themselves. As a result, popular music has generally become more of an “entertainment” as opposed to an “art”. Many of those who would attempt to go down the road of being artists in music are missing the necessary vision required to create art, as opposed to self-indulgence.

    I would suggest that if you are uninspired by the music you are hearing, it’s because it was made by people who were similarly uninspired (or inspired by something other than the pure love of creating) when they made it. The intent of a creator leaches out of his work and his own truth is revealed through it.


  23. Very interesting post, Michael. As always, thanks for writing it.

    I’m twenty-five years old with a deep reverence for some of the recordings you mentioned as great and also an intense dislike for a few others, which I find to be trivial relics that are constantly foisted on the younger generations like stale broccoli.

    I guess I do find your list of “great” records troubling in one sense, that being that those records have enjoyed the market forces that keep re-selling and re-packaging them endlessly in car commercials, film and movies. You might view that “relevance” as a mark of their quality and sure, I think that’s true for some of them. But, as someone who now has the privilege – thanks to the internet – to appreciate Coltrane, Mingus or even Bartok, Debussy or Ravel, in addition to Black Sabbath or The Beatles or Iggy, can I not look at something like “Disraeli Gears” or “Nevermind the Bollocks” or “Aja” as really dated, corny expressions that have only retained their power because of historical significance and prior market saturation?

    And it’s the yearning for historical significance which both amuses and saddens me. The wish for a commonality between listeners is a bit silly to me in a time where every local scene and every niche genre can reach its audience. And I say that as someone who has always made it a mission to share things I thought were genuinely powerful. On top of the technological revolution that might be killing bigger budgets, marketing and creative refinement, we’re a more consciously diverse world. A few albums made by black blues/soul musicians or whites heavily influenced by these black blues/soul musicians – those are our standard-bearers? I’m not so sure I want to be a part of that world, as much as I love those records.

    “When I was younger, everyone I knew had the exact same experience of what music was and what it did to a person.”

    I don’t necessarily want this. For a lot of people, it’s not just putting on the vinyl and sitting in between the hi-fi anymore. It’s being in your car or walking to the subway or dancing in the club. And I cherish those moments as much as when I dedicate focused listening time. It’s not that a reality is lost, it’s just that significance is transferred to a scenario where music might be utilitarian. But utility doesn’t mean insignificance, plus not everyone is diluting their art to suit this new scenario.

    Of course, I bemoan the lack of dedicated listening, but I don’t completely blame the product. And in case, you thought I was disagreeing with you, I think I’ve come to the same conclusion about the culture at large. I too demand the same quality as you. I hear a band like Grizzly Bear or Deerhunter and I think to myself, “You know, those guys are capable of doing better than that.” And I do think artists need to develop and nurture their expression more so than they do in this current environment. Few people are being brought back down to earth about their abilities and narcissism rules the day. The “devotion” and privilege of having your mind blown is rarer than it was and that’s because there is no “getting called up from the minors” artistically. We have no distinction between AAA and the majors. And people have no editors nor does the concept of heavy editing occur to them. Which is ironic given the ready internet access to other individuals.

    I am finding that the artists who my generation value immensely and turn out in droves to see – the Radioheads, the Portisheads, the Becks, the Bjorks, the Flaming Lips, the Wilcos – are those who have had the benefit of mainstream industry support, have a working knowledge of the older way of doing things,and I think that’s allowed them to be able to respond to new aesthetics and louder and more aggressively attention-seeking music forms in a convincing way. They never forget the song, even as they contort it in many ways that might not sit well with others. And I think more than a few of their records “step up” to the ones on your list, encouraging fanatical widespread devotion. (Although I will also admit that I think their best records were a lot closer to the year 2000 than 2013.)

    And that’s the shame because we have evidence that records made by the last generation to benefit from the mainstream industry – the ones who are now in their late 30s and early 40s making music – still have power. And the internet community supports their existence with press and ticket sales. They had the structure to grow and become artistic giants and they ran with it and have built a foundation for themselves in a groundless world. So your current efforts to help the refinement of young talent are definitely to be commended.

    But you ask about music’s ability to mobilize and stay compelling. It is happening, but it may not be in the strict, tight popular music format represented by your list. The “intro-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-outro” format is not the only way I view pop music and I’m not alone in that regard. Things by Can, Boards of Canada and J-Dilla are just as revered as Sgt. Pepper’s to a lot of new musicians, and despite all the crap, the glorious part of the internet is the leveling of that playing field. And these three artists have a great deal of historical significance and weight, if you know the cultures and legions of musicians that have sprung from them. Maybe it’s more niche than Sgt. Pepper’s, but it’s not small, provincial and bound to be forgotten either. Millions of kids have access to something equally worthwhile, resonant and moving as that Beatles record. We can take the halo off Sgt. Pepper’s, acknowledge that some of it is hopelessly dated and some of it is just flat-out tremendous songwriting. But also realize that the way the Beatles expanded our concept of pop music, others have done the same. They just haven’t been acknowledged for it on a mass market scale. But it’s always happening.

    You listed “Another Green World” as a record to be admired, and I’m very glad you included it because I think its brilliance is its elliptical take on the pop song. And I think “Cosmogramma” by Flying Lotus – a hazy, buzzing and deliberately overcompressed album, rooted in hip-hop and jazz forms – has the same appeal. In many ways, it’s not at all like the records on your list. His music is abrasive and somewhat crass and begging for your attention. They might sound like stupid loops and blasts of noise to you. It’s made by a guy in his home with few resources at his disposal. It checks a lot of your criteria for the disposability of music these days. But it has an audacious vision that is resonating with people on a massive scale. Whether you’re in tune with that significantly large audience is another question. And the record will last for the same reasons that “Another Green World” will last. It is surprising in many aesthetic ways with performances, melodies and rhythms that stay with you and you get the sense you’ve been transported somewhere incredible. The same level of wonder we both have had hearing Brian Eno’s vision is present for many people with this album. And of course, this record might seem like navel gazing to some, as Eno’s record, as Miles Davis’ record and Pink Floyd’s record did to many in the past.

    The only difference will be that Flying Lotus doesn’t have an industry left to keep vouching for him throughout the coming years. Records made by Nina Nastasia, Bill Callahan or Ned Collette speak to me as much as These Times They Are A’Changin’. And I’m not diluting my sensibility or my taste in order to feel that way. But these artists don’t have a marketing machine or dedicated classic rock stations to pump their tires. Yet their visions are just as bold and tightly-constructed and if more people heard them, they would feel the same way as their parents did about Dylan. Some of that feeling you demand in music is there with these artists.

    And so do I think these records hold up? Yes I do and for what it’s worth, I don’t say that lightly. I just don’t expect them to resemble the distinct shape and form of those earlier greats. Maybe the stuff I’ve mentioned isn’t popular music to you. That’s entirely possible. But many of them are the products of talents as well-wrought and well-schooled as some of the supposed cultural/industry greats.

    There’s a lot of kitsch, pandering to the lowest common denominators now. And I’m with you on most of it. I had the same feelings about the Cee-Lo song. But the feeling is out there and we have to not only find it, but refine it.

    If you made it to the end of this rant, thanks. Keep writing because I really enjoy reading your thoughts.

  24. Hey-

    I feel that where we actually disagree is relatively unimportant. I not only appreciate how articulately you made your points, but how much you seem to care about music in general and its future.

    I also feel you are right when you say we need to find the music and help refine it. This is exactly my mission in life- to help refine, define and support popular music- not merely as a source of entertainment, but as a living, expressive art form. I found your response to my post heartening precisely because you explained how you feel about this and why. I sincerely thank you for sharing that feeling with me.


  25. I hope this doesn’t read as if I think you can only conceive of great music in a narrow “classic rock”-“verse/chorus/verse” way. It absolutely wasn’t intended that way.

  26. Firstly let me start by saying that Superunknown is my favourite album – it almost ruined all other music for me ever since. I would bust an o-ring if I found out that you were producing Soundgarden’s next album…

    With that as my frame of reference, as well as the sheer number of amazing albums dropping in the early to mid 90s, I think it’s obvious that I would share your sentiments about music from 2000 on.

    However, I recently heard ‘Drive Home’ by Steven Wilson (ex Porcupine Tree) – and if anything in the last 10 years has come close to disabusing me of the sentiment you expressed about modern music – that did. I’ve actually been pretty obsessed with Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson for the last 6 years or so, but hearing that song brought your blog to mind, partially because it harks back to the 70s – the era when I grew up, and amazing bands like Queen / Floyd were almost taken for granted.

    Anyway – if you had to choose some bands / artists / songs that come closest to bucking the trend of mediocrity in the last 10-20 years, who would they be?

    A few of mine:

    2010 live performance of Beyond the Wheel at the Showbox – Soundgarden
    Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove – Killing Joke
    Intension – Tool
    When the Levee Breaks – A Perfect Circle
    Harmony Korine / Drive Home – Steven Wilson
    Synesthesia / Idiot Prayer – Porcupine Tree

    Thanks for a good read, I look forward to more of your writings. ‘Michael Beinhorn fires drummers’ was excellent and a good laugh into the bargain.


  27. Brendan-

    Thanks for the kind words regarding Superunknown. I haven’t heard the recording you referred to, but I’ll certainly look for it. I back anything that turns things around.

    As far as recent stuff over the last 10-20 years- that’s tough. I’ll have to give that some thought.