Last weekend I went to the Roger Waters’ production of The Wall. I worked with Roger and with Pink Floyd for 20 years while at Columbia. I have a lot of great anecdotes about both, that I will save for another time. This was my first time seeing The Wall. I came to the label right after the original tour. For some reason I always felt that any band not on my label was the enemy. I was very territorial back in those days. As a result I probably deprived myself of a lot of fun. There was one other performance, at Brandenburg Gate, shortly after the fall of the USSR. I remember trying to talk my boss, Paul Rappaport, into going. But I was unsuccessful. After the show he came to me and said, “we should have gone, shouldn’t we”. Uh….yep.
This is really not about the show. Though it was stupendous. I was lucky enough to have seats very close to the stage. The way the show is designed, there are projections on the Wall. As a result, there is not always live close-up video of the performers. I understand people at the other end of the stadium were too far away to see the performers. Sort of a throwback to the 80’s. Before live HD video of the bands at shows, became a regular thing.
What occurred to me while I was sitting in Yankee Stadium was that I was probably seeing the last event of this nature. I cannot imagine anyone putting on a huge production such as The Wall ever again. Probably the main reason is that the album is dead. Think about it. What was the last brand new album you listened to end to end? I am not even talking about a concept album. They don’t exist any longer. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last new album I listened to end to end. Who has the ability to focus that long on any one piece of music?
My generation is unable to appreciate anything that takes more than five minutes. The generations that have followed, NEVER had the ability. I don’t know about you, but when I am in my car, with nothing else but traffic to distract me, even if I try to listen to an entire album on my iPod, I can’t do it. I find myself involuntarily skipping ahead on the album, or switching away. This is music I know and really like. Even if I try, I can’t get through an entire album of new music. It is like torture. My finger just wants to hit the remote to move onto the next track, to see if there is anything better on the disc. This happens even if I am enjoying what I am listening to.
What the hell have we done? I feel like someone lamenting the demise of radio dramas back in the 50s. Music played a big part in the lives of my generation. Not that music is unimportant to my kids, but people their age and younger use it differently. They merely use it as entertainment.
To us it was like a religion. We ate up every word, every beat. When I hear certain songs on the radio I can “FEEL” the song that came next on the album that it came from. We were not all about hits. The artists we listened to when we were kids taught us about life. Dylan taught us to be cynical, distrusting and keep our eyes wide open. Bruce Springsteen taught us it was alright to be just a normal guy. Elvis Costello’s early work made Dylan look like Polly Anna and his later work has showed us what it takes to be a true artist. I am leaving out the Beatles, who taught us everything, if not through their music, through their lives. The protest singers helped stop the Vietnam War and showed us just how a large group of single-minded people can literally change the world. We didn’t get to these places on our own. Artists took us there.
In this hit-driven, sound-bite world we live in we have lost our cultural leaders. Who out there is really teaching us anything? Do you care what Katy Perry has to say? You could argue that Radiohead is a torch-bearer, but it’s not the same. The biggest acts of today are Pop Conglomerates. It is not primarily about the art. It is about getting rich. Whether it was the Beatles, Dylan, U2, Springsteen, The Doors, or any one of a hundred other acts, at the beginning it was not about getting rich. It was about the music.
We can’t blame today’s stars. There are talented people out there, that due to a number of reasons, mostly financial restrictions, we will never hear about.
The remote control is probably the single most detrimental invention since the Atomic Bomb. It has changed the way we watch and listen to everything. MTV and ESPN have merely fed the machine. But the original cause for the our distracted existence is the remote control.
As a result, we have driven the album artist out of existence. We have the attention span of moths. We have lost out on a lot of pleasure. Big business, financial constraints, greed, egos and technology have essentially obliterated the music business. We pretty much find ourselves in the same place we were pre-Beatles. Back when one-hit wonders and singles ruled the world.
The question is, what is the real music business. Were the late 60s and the growth of the music industry through the 90s the real world? Or was it just a bubble that has burst like so many others? We have come full circle. Maybe this is where we were supposed to be all along.