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Music Savaged By The Average Beast

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for August 5, 2004

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Age Of Consent
by Sean Carolan

One of the things I've noticed I don't actually wrestle with, as a self-annointed arbiter of indie-rock goodness, is my age. (It's probably clear I also don't wrestle with matters of taste, sartorial acumen, or the occasional tolerance of a contextually-correct song by Abba, either.) Happily, my "big four-oh" was only monumental for its non-monumental-ness, leaving me blissfully bereft of a milestone from which I can measure just how far I am from my youth.
So I'm free to go through my life listening to whatever music I can, and I'm free to like it or not. If I like it, I just put it on the Altrok radio show and web radio stream based on my say-so, and you get to make the same decision. My yardstick is little more than my sense that I've liked very good music in the past - at least in my own humble opinion - so there's no reason to think something I like here and now is any less good. Which is as it should be; there's no better measurement than one's own gut, as long as you're honest about it.
It's when you try to co-opt someone else's gut that things get dicey. And that, among many other things (of course) is a problem with today's music industry.
Put it this way - who's making the decisions about what gets released? People my age. And they're doing it by thinking, "If I were fifteen, what would I listen to?"
When I was fifteen, I listened to Led Zeppelin because everyone else I wanted to emulate listened to Led Zeppelin. Somewhere between there and college (two years later - I was young for my age, y'know) I decided emulating other peoples' tastes wasn't getting me anywhere. Fortunately for me, WPIX was there to play me something different - and a fine local record store (within bike-riding distance from my otherwise poorly-connected-with-the-outside-world household) was there to show me there was more where that came from. That sort of nonchalant iconoclasm has worked for me ever since.
I'm not fifteen today, though, and no amount of hanging around with fifteen-year-olds is gonna change that. (In fact, it'd be kinda creepy.)
Contrast that with the glaringly non-organic synthesis that guides much of the stuff that's in the pop-culture marketplace. In the toy marketplace, it's given us "Bratz" and the resurrection of Strawberry Shortcake (which my eldest daughter hates with every fiber of her being, and which my youngest only likes because it annoys her older sister.) In the music industry, it's created the climate where fine bands with a few years under their belt are relegated to creating their own labels and self-publishing while, with a few notable exceptions, the majors keep their rosters' median age below 25 (20 if they can manage it.)
I suspect the crux of it is this: most people are deathly afraid of acting their age. When they're the arbiters of pop culture, you can bet their choices will be carefully designed not to give away that crucial piece of info.
You can guess how much sincerity goes into those choices: exactly zero.
I also, however, suspect that this trendlet is coming to a none-too-lamented end. There's no other option, really - the younger you retire your artists, the less time they have to sell records. Eventually, your catalog disappears up its own deletion listing, and you begin to wonder whether it's not a bad thing to sign artists that might be capable of sustaining an audience by daring to show an emotional (though not necessarily physical) maturity.
Perhaps the music industry can save itself if it can just grow up.

©2004 Sean Carolan

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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