The iconic Don McLean song American Pie has bounced around in my mind for decades. I recall actually watching him perform the song live at the Cambridge Folk Festival in the latter part of the 1970′s. As the 1970′s transitioned into the 1980′s I began to believe that indeed the music had died.
What had been a fertile ground of wonderfully creative artists was replaced almost overnight with bands that thought that chords were a measurement of wood!
I was horrified. I was in shock. A Sid Vicious clone shouting as loud as possible, accompanied by a couple of guys practicing the two chords that they have just invented, and a drummer who seemed more intent on disturbing the roosting pigeons in the buildings eaves than music. Welcome to Punk!
Although I was not in the music industry, I did what many musicians did. I moved across the pond. North America offered a land of opportunity, England on the other hand, seemed in a perverse way to deserve Punk. What I found though was an equally disturbing trend. The radio stations were just beginning their reign of terror, the 3 minute pop song.
My solution was to just stop listening. For almost two decades that is what I did. As the 21st century became a reality I decided to once more jump into the music world. My early findings were not encouraging. Traditional radio had reached an all time low.Â For sure the radio dial was jam packed with stations, but little choice. Radio like other forms of media had joined in the bigger is better syndrome, gone were stations with local flavor, in were branch offices run by a corporate giant, often owning several outlets in the same geographic market. Playlists were standardized.
A classic rock station in San Francisco played the same songs by the same artists in Sacramento and Los Angeles.Â Three or four years ago a record label decided to remaster and re-release seven Moody Blues albums, this is a band with huge audience appeal in the soft rock category, but listen to any soft rock station and all they play is Nights In White Satin.
I abandoned radio quickly and turned my attention to what was currently hot in the music world. My level of depression and disbelief increased. The modern music scene seemed to reduced to just three genres, all of which I found nauseating. Cute little tweeny boy bands, rap artists that seemed bound and determined to find every word in the english language that rhymes with f**k, and the nails on a chalkboard world of Country (what ever happened to the ‘and Western’).
Was this all there was?
Actually the answer was no. There is real music to be found but it takes some searching out. What surprised me was the high percentage of bands formed in the 70′s (and even the 60′s) that are still active in one shape or another. Some have played continuously through the intervening decades, othersÂ exploded in the mid 70′s for a variety of reasons, not least of which being drugs and alcohol, but even some of these bands have buried the hatchet and are once more coming back together, some for a one off reunion, others to collaborate on new projects.
I have talked to many 70′s musicians over the past few years. Many of the stories are disturbing. Back in 2008 I had the opportunity to talk with Ken Hensley (Uriah Heap), Ken had taken his persona; story and created a CD and Book, both titled Blood On The Highway. His story was one of substance abuse by band members, material excess, and record label greed.
Other bands died for more prosaic reasons. Yesterday I received a phone call from Richard (Rick) Levy. Rick had been a member of the Philadelphia prog band Wax in the late 60′s and early 70′s. Wax had a great future in front of them, but a band is very much like a marriage. The divorce was caused by money. The record label they had signed with found themselves in financial trouble and that trouble in turn caused strife within the members of Wax. They went their separate ways to pursue alternative music related careers. Four decades later two events changed have once more rekindled some of the fire. The master tape of their last studio session surfaced, and the Bassist Beau Jones lost his year long battle with brain cancer.
Wax have released the long lost master tape on CD, also the remaining members came together for a memorial concert for their lost friend. It is early days, but I for one would love to see a future collaboration from them.
Rick Levy also talked about his current musical adventures, both of which are delightful. The Falling Bones are not about filling large stadiums, they are about a group of friends getting together and having fun playing good ole rock n roll. He even sent me a couple of recordings from a recent outing. There was no studio editing, it was just four guys whooping it up on stage.
The nice thing is that we are doing this for us. There is no label hounding us, you take us as we are
What a great outlook on life. He has also reached out to the members of his original Garage Band, and The Limits are once more playing together. Check out his web site.
It is people like Rick Levy that gives me hope for the music industry. However, what does the future hold? The great musicians are no longer in their 20′s, many have reached retirement age, and some alas have hung up their instruments forever. Is there another generation of musicians that will fill the void? I am not sure, there are few 80′s bands that stand out, and the 90′s were as arid of music as the Gobi desert.
My original question was is music dead? The answer is no, but for how much longer good music will be around is a highly debatable question.