In case you were wondering, the 50th annual Grammy Awards are tonight on CBS. I’m not planning to watch, so let me know what you think if you do. Maybe I’m just getting old, but the idea of watching four hours of a drawn-out awards show for music that does nothing for me seems somewhat masochistic. Besides, I’ve got papers to grade.
I don’t really enjoy music these days. Let me qualify: I don’t really enjoy new music these days. I’ve felt this way for a while now (that is, at least 8-10 years), and the stagnation of our music library here at home is a product of my perspective. Practically, we have no budget allocated for new music, but even if we did, I wouldn’t know what to spend it on – there’s just so little new out there that really appeals to me anymore.
With all this in mind, I was intrigued by Nick Marino’s lead article in the just-out March issue of Paste magazine. Titled “What I Miss About Michael Jackson” and reflecting on the 25th anniversary of Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller (a strange content choice for Paste‘s focus on “organic and eclectic music“), Marino’s article reads:
“[Jackson] was a pop star of almost unparalleled popularity. After Elvis and The Beatles, he was it – the biggest. I miss the shared cultural experience that only a star of this magnitude could create. I miss the way MTV used to hype Michael Jackson videos, and the way everyone used to crowd around the TV to watch them. The short film Michael released in conjunction with “Thriller” is certainly the most influential music video of all time, the one that thrust videos into the realm of art, the catalyst that completed the transition of music from an audio medium to an audio-visual medium.”
“Michael also changed the notion of superstardom. He blew it up bigger than anyone in his generation, and bigger than anyone after…stardom of that magnitude isn’t necessarily healthy for an artist. For fans, though, it creates a sense of awe – or, I should say, it created a sense of awe. Celebrities don’t really make us awestruck anymore. They annoy us with this ubiquity, like mosquitoes. In a weird way, they’re not famous enough. We now have more stars than ever before, but fewer megastars…there’s something awesome about the whole world singing the same song or watching the same video, worshipping at the same altar.”
Paste editor Josh Jackson, perhaps bracing for the inevitable barrage of mail that’s coming in light of his editorial decision to lead with Marino’s pop piece, qualifies the March issue:
“My tendency is to fight bleary-eyed nostalgia in all things music-related. I get tired of aging boomers proclaiming that all music was great in the ’60s or the ’80s and everything sucks now, when we live in a uniquely exhilarating time for music and enjoy a growing number of ways to discover it.”
Jackson (Josh, not Michael) then hits the nail on the head of what I’ve been feeling:
“Despite the self-satisfaction that comes with the idea that mainstream culture is too dim for the music we love, the mass communal aspect that came with those great bands of the ’60s – the experience of discovering The Beatles, the Stones or Dylan along with the rest of the country – is dead…
Now our attention is split a thousand ways. Music no longer has primacy in our culture, and celebrity doesn’t bother with actual music anymore; it feeds itself. There are still plenty of celebrities who sing, but most of them are more famous for being famous than for their songs. We don’t know their music. We only know who they’re dating and what they wore to the Grammys. And audiences remain splintered, not just among genres but among the thousands of indie bands posting to MySpace and YouTube.”
I have to agree with protest rocker Neil Young, who late last week said, “I know that the time when music could change the world is past. I really doubt that a single song can make a difference. It is a reality.” Sad, isn’t it? I think so. It’s that potential – that one song could really change the world – that I find myself missing and lamenting in today’s “I write for me and me alone” brand of music. This is why I buy so little of it anymore…and why I listen to even less.