Thursday, June 14, 2012

Can't Stop Rockin'

So if you don't die before you get old... what if you don't burn out, or fade away?

The colour of rock is, more and more each day, turning grey.  Which was to be expected.  And which is not a bad thing.  Unless of course, it no longer looks or feels like it should.

Rock culture has always been that of youth.  Mozart, they say, rocked.  (Contrary to what some of my former cohorts may think, I did not see Mozart play.)  Benny Goodman rocked.  The "Welcome Back Kotter" guy was on the bill at Woodstock.  At one time they all rocked... but we now live in the age of rockers who refuse to stop rocking.  The effect is not always Satisfaction.

Keith Richards has said that he will go on as long as he can.  He sees himself as a descendant of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, who certainly never got too old to keep on keepin' on.  And Mr. Richards is right to say so.  But what seems to have been annoying me is the hard-won realization that, without reason to be, a rock show is ludicrous.

Given the choice to be among the oldest in a crowd or among the youngest, I'd opt for the former.  As time passes, I find myself more and more in attendance at shows with people who time is being less and less kind to.  To paraphrase a friend, "I always see the same people, but only at these shows."  And the effect of age on all people is the same; age robs mobility.  People move less (but drink more.)  Which is again, fine - we should all be turning it down from 11 by now.  Alas, the rock show is compromised when age takes full effect on its performers.

It's a spectacle - and rock musicians are expected to be spectacular.  ("I've seen things you wouldn't believe.")  Steven Tyler, now a crazy old woman, was simply the best front man I've seen in person.  So yes, maybe I'm demanding too much when I say that the rock show falls apart when the guys on stage become just regular ole dudes.

Saw a band at Bluesfest a couple of years ago; one of the finest houserockin' blues-rock outfits in the late 70s.  Except now they act and look like a bunch of tech salesmen on the weekend, same guys you'd see poking around the gardening section at Home Depot.

Saw George Thorogood a few weeks back, and this is where it hit me.  He looks like the great football coach Bill Parcells now.  Nothing wrong with that.  He and the band sounded fantastic - close your eyes, better than the records.  Nothing wrong with that.  But George made two big mistakes, in my opinion.  He put down the guitar and paraded around like Mick Jagger... which he never did, even back in the day.  He felt compelled to put on a show, but it didn't look right on him.  And... he put down the guitar.  He had another guitarist in the band, a younger fella, on hand to play the majority of the solos.  I went to see a guitar player who didn't play his guitar.

What's the point?  It has to be about more than just the rock.  I never once thought of age when I saw Prince; Santana; Tina Turner; Rush.  Who blew me away at the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee concert?  The oldest performer onstage, Tom Jones, who simply bludgeoned the world with his undiminished voice.  These things are about genuine talent, and honest power, and undeniable artistry.  The true human element of soul power is what makes a great show... and that's the element that age will not mute.

On a certain level, rock is dying or already dead.  Many young people now care absolutely not for these things I'm writing.  They have their own culture now, and rock may be an anachronism to them.  So perhaps age is doing us all a favour.  Once the great conceit of rock culture was than anyone could participate, but maybe that was always just a forlorn dream.  Certain of those who stepped out of the crowd and onto the stage truly were blessed.  Time is stripping away the superficial layers, and leaving only the truly fundamental.

Naturally, as I write this, I'm looking forward to a show in September with Loverboy, Pat Benatar, and Journey headlining.  I'm going because I want to see Pat Benatar; I've always been a big fan of her voice and her true talent.

Only two of the five guys in Journey are original members.  That's par for the course with such bands, I guess.  But I suppose those two and I have something in common.

Livin' just to find emotion.

I'm done now.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Malignant Narcissism

So they found him.  The body parts guy.  Fittingly, the police caught up with a man who made an internet sensation and an international criminal of himself, in an internet cafe in Berlin, checking himself out on the internet.

We're living in the golden age of narcissism.  Never before have so many been so in love with themselves.

At the risk of sounding like an old man railing at invisible birds in the trees, I blame the digital age.  Free speech has been won, at the sacrifice of composure, dignity, and what used to be known at one time as "class."  Everywhere, internet denizens are falling all over themselves to... well, fall all over themselves.

We've got thrillseekers crawling over each other's dying bodies to get to the top of a mountain - an achievement which apparently no longer requires technical skill to achieve, only money - so that they can "tweet" this achievement to the world.

We've got psychopaths who may never have realized their inglorious potential had they never been exposed to the internet.  I'm no psychologist, but please hear me out.  The notorious Russell Williams lived the first thirty-plus years of his life as a model military man, never committing a criminal offence till a relatively advanced age.  Where did he discover the kink that set him off?  The internet.  What did he like to do with his victims?  Take photographs, which thanks to digital technology could be self-published.  Remember when someone else had to develop your photos for you?  (I do.)  Had he come along before the digital age, no Russell Williams.

Similarly, the just-convicted child rapist and murderer Michael Rafferty.  Surely, an unsavoury character in so many aspects, but whatever took him down the path of desiring sex with a child?  The internet.  The fact is, whatever dark hole there may be in your soul, there's someone else out there who has a similar one, and the internet is where you and that other freak can meet and compare notes.

So naturally it had to come to this.  A supremely narcissistic performer who escalated from strange writings to animal torture to a majestic performance of murder and cannibalism, enacted for his adoring public.  Don't believe he acted alone.  In discussion with a friend regarding this story this past weekend, my friend told me of someone they knew - a normal person - who sought out the video online and watched it.  They said it was horrible.

But they watched the thing anyway.

What the hell is wrong with us?

I never fail to be amazed at the blatant honesty of the Youtube slogan - "Broadcast yourself."  Yes, it's your right.  Your opportunity.  When did it become a demand of you?  When did your participation become obligatory?

Worst, narcissism eventually filters to every level of social media.  Sure, it's just a big conversation, and every conversation has always included people who just say "Hey, have you heard of this?" just as well as people who say "Hey, look at me!"  But the "look at me's" are shouting to be heard and seen and noticed over one another now.  And no one bothers to object to the "look at me's" anymore, because their behaviour is expected now.

So what's the risk?  What's the harm?  The same old thing it always has been... you may end up killing the thing you love.  You may eventually lose your digital freedom.  Because the more the "look at me" people infect the culture streams, the more clogged the arteries become.  When facebook becomes more like LinkedIn, and LinkedIn becomes more like spam e-mail... and next thing you know, the people you think are friends are the ones spamming you (which is happening already, by the way)... well, I suppose everyone will find the next hot thing to do, and move on to that.

Long ago, I studied computer programming.  I was good at it.  But I wasn't as dedicated to it as the supreme geeks were, so I moved on to other things.  Had someone told me then, "no computers aren't just going to be used for information processing, they're going to become a household's primary source of entertainment", well, I'd have thought differently.

Had they told me, "and you can video yourself microwaving a cat"...

Jesus, we've still got a lot of work to do.  May I respectfully suggest that we start with that whole "dignity" thing again?

I'm done now.