Rollins was very excited and enthusiastic about the way things are right now, with bands self-releasing 8 copies of an album on CD to be copied amongst those who want it and self-promotion over the internet. Most of his argument was based on the fact that these bands did not have to toe the company line, their music was not diluted by any record company or management or sullied by technological recording tricks and tools. He spoke with passion about the fact that these bands could play forever in small venues and that the age of stadium rock was over.
Bearing in mind my age and love of salty food, I have to be careful not to allow my blood pressure to spike too alarmingly, so I find myself using the outlet of this blog as a valve to my apoplectic pressure cooker temper. I found myself wondering what Henry Rollins lives on and whether he is able to live on the income from his musical career, because I would hazard a guess that he speaks from the viewpoint of a punk utopian pleasantly cushioned by a nice little regular income. If Henry Rollins had had to rely on sticking a home-made video up on youtube and tweeting out the next gig date, would you or I in the UK know anything about him? Would he have given up?
Bless him, it’s a lovely idea, but let’s talk about the grim reality of music in 2012. A lot of our heroes, whether it’s Mick Jones in that tower block with his gran, Keith Richards in grinding, disapproving post-war suburbia or Nikki Sixx in a crazy and dysfunctional relationship with his mum, came from working class or lower middle class roots. They had no financial security, no future, but they had their love of music, their talent and their musical heroes to look up to, aspire to and dream about. We’ve all read at least a few rock n roll biographies, we’ve got an idea how hard it was to keep that dream alive, to live in the worst possible rents, to go hungry and take the sort of horrible jobs that no-one else will take just because it fits in with being a musician. Got the picture? What if you told any one of those musical heroes at their lowest point that they were never going to make any money? Seriously? Because the record company and management deals of yore might have been a Faustian pact of sorts, but the life-raft of more boring talents, whether it be business acumen, the ability to organise a national tour or access to brilliant recording engineers and studios together with the cash to keep the band going meant that righteous-sounding guttersnipes could shake our world and shock our mums with their musical junk. It also meant that musical geniuses who in all other respects were a bit lacking were still able to wow us with their idiot-savant songs.
So, in 2012, what have we got? By and large, what we’ve got is a load of people willing to play out the thwarted dreams of their dads, bought a top of the range Fender at fourteen, whose parents don’t actually piss their pants when they announce, grave-faced, that they want to get a degree from The Brit School, BIMM or one of the other shudderingly awful sausage factories in which the be-trilbyed gilded youth seemingly get taught how to sing in some Dick Van Dyke style ”Ëcommon’ accent that no-one this side of Ann Hathaway has ever heard before or get their voice moulded to some simulacrum of a long-dead African American jazz singer. Anything else going? Well, there are a load of nice middle class boys in stripey t shirts with designer holes in them pretending to be a less anti-social version of Pete Doherty and a very small number of awfully well-educated, polite and deathly dull bands who do still get signed, get the old-style deal and then inflict their boring catalogue on the world for all they’re worth; no scandal, no ODs, pleasantly supporting non-threatening charities, playing festivals unquestioningly to the nigh-on ÃÂ£200 a head audience and pushing the musical equivalent of Mogadon, whether it’s the Uriah Heep humility and nothingness of Coldplay, the ”Ëmetal? God forbid!’ of Muse or the whingey, over-long, self-important borderline prog of Radiohead ( yeah, I know, heresy!) And of course, once you’ve ”Ëmade it’, banked the millions and are sitting pretty behind your electric gates, you can afford to make like Lord Bountiful and release all sorts of stuff free.
In a world in which making music makes you no money and there are plenty who moan about ever having to pay a penny for recorded music, we are stuck with a plethora of bedroom bands all doing the same thing over the internet, with no quality control, no help and experience, no access to the magical people who Make Things Happen. You see them playing their home venues, week in, week out, without the money, the wherewithal, the help or any reason to take their show around the country, until finally they give up, disillusioned and tired. Your scum-sucking genius full of rage and a sense of injustice but no self-discipline, witty repartee or brilliant IT skills is never going to be heard and has little to aspire to.
It’s romantic for Henry to think that gigs in the backroom of the Dog and Rat are the be all and end all, but isn’t there also something to be said for the juggernaut of the global touring band where the maths allows for visits to deepest South America, Russia, Japan? Isn’t there something to be said for people a world apart brought together by a shared love of some behemoth of a band, perhaps a bunch of ex-trailer trash kids, who have been given the chance to howl at the whole world and the whole world likes it? After all, what have Coldplay got to say that speaks to a favela dweller? Will that same punter be touched by the existential anomie of Radiohead? I bloody doubt it.
The record companies, the managers and the whole tribe of people attached were and can be villains, philistines, rip-off merchants, liars and worse, but get rid of the money and you get rid of any reason for a lot of the boys and girls we love,( or would love if we ever got to hear them), to carry on. Realistically, we don’t spend 21 hours of every day trawling the internet for great new bands and we know spam publicity from friends when we see it, so we notice those who get an extra push, the extra money spent. Like Higher Education in the absence of student grants, my fear is that, increasingly, what will succeed will be that which is backed by money, not that which is best, and the problem with that type of music is that it has no anger, no experience of the awful or unjust, no craziness, no tooth and claw fight for attention or survival. When it tries that tack, it’s hypocrisy and fakery and we see it for what it is.