What has happened to music since Rush?

We had a period of time while we as a world culture regrouped after the 1960’s when pretty much anything and everything was allowed to go. I grew up in Peoria, Illinois and was raised on WWCT FM 105.7 ROCK 106. This is probably why I can recite Journey, Rush, Skynyrd, Argent, and Billy Squier lyrics backwards in my sleep. It’s like Aldous Huxley’s quick discussion of attempts at sleep programming children with recorded information in Brave New World. I don’t know I know these songs. Hum a few bars, though, and out it comes. A lot of this stuff, fine when taken in moderation, went stale along with the city of Peoria as I grew up, but the radio station never changed its format. The whole era from ’60s garage rock to decadent ’70’s prog hung in the airwaves over the river valley like a warp in space-time, overstaying the welcome afforded by a window of moderate airplay by about 2 decades.

Actually, that kind of fabric of reality sort of stagnation might have something to do with why the soup of ethanol plant emissions that passed for our breathable atmosphere was so concentrated and our air quality so bad.

Beside the point.

Because of this overexposure to over-orchestrated codpiece rock, I lost my taste for most of it in even an ironic sense. I don’t like Rush. I don’t like Rush, but I like what they were able to do within the confines of the record industry of the day. That stuff is huge. Geddy Lee sounds like a cross between King Diamond and Tiny Tim strained through the biggest reverb effector the studio could find while the monster hybrid singer creature is playing D&D and has adventures in a pastoral sci-fi middle earth on the brain. In short, it’s fucked up. The lyrics are heavy. He sings things like “plowman” and “blacksmith” in impassioned pleas for reflection on society and concerted efforts for social change (Closer to the Heart, anyone?)- a far cry from the low-rent peacock strut of consumer fetishism and catchy, harmless or ineffectual ditty-mania that typifies most contemporary popular music. Rush was formed in Toronto, Canada in 1968 and were releasing albums on a major label (Mercury, then, years later, Atlantic) for 2 years before they scored a top 40 hit record with 2112 in 1976. These guys were releasing unbearably wanky, thematically and aurally mammoth full-length records amid mixed critical and consumer response for 2 years before they had a huge hit, and they were allowed to do it. They were allowed to use the considerable reach of the recording industry to broadcast to audiences on two continents until they made it.

Try being a band that can do that today.

I was talking recently to a musician friend of mine whose demo of new material wasn’t reciprocated with flattery from the label. The fact that the music industry is run by guys who don’t like music but do like a consistently profit-generating business model in a time when new modes of music distribution have served to make big, slow-to-adapt cube-culturally stagnant corporate ventures that are in the business of making money off of risky arts ventures even riskier than they were before was given a human face.

A new song doesn’t even have to be that “far out” to meet the kind of resistance this friend was facing. It’s enough that it funnels down past the wrong pins on the Plinko board to land on a desk under the wrong person’s purview- the kind of person who can’t adapt, can’t take chances, doesn’t like music, and would prefer to dictate the trends and the consequently dictate the profits than to live off the fat of the cultural land as new bands in new times come up with new ideas and new ways to play them.

It’s not only the big recording industry’s fault. In the fragmented, niche media world of today, everyone seems to be hedging their bets. No one really has the audacity to take what they’re doing to everyone. We all know how to reach our audience instinctively, we all know what indie label we can sign to to safely reach the people we can reasonably be expected to reach with the kind of stuff we might be doing. With everyone so crosshair-targeted at this stage in the game, it seems like the majors aren’t majors at all, instead only the biggest indie labels, pushing out the huge niche market appeal materiel of here-today, gone-tomorrow party, dance and romance anthems. The internet has provided the protocols for the fringe element to contain itself even while it sustains itself.

What’s happened to music since Rush? It hasn’t changed. There’s just not much chance it’s going to reach more than a few devotees unless it’s been made to order by upper management.