Who Cares to Listen Anymore?
by Tom Neal on August 12th, 2008
This question has been nagging at me for some months now. I have my own opinions about it, and they’re not ones I feel good about. But, I’m intrigued to learn what others think.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m quite aurally fixated. I am a music fan. Actually, that’s putting it too mildly. I’m obsessed by music. Always have been. Going back to my pre-teen days in (gasp) late ‘50s, when Jerry Lee Lewis was my first rock shock witnessed on B&W TV. Then into the Beatles and Brit invasion during adolescence, then off to Woodstock and on to college and post-college where I got into radio as an announcer for an extended period, presenting alternative, sort-of-underground programs.
I’ve attended countless concerts all over the place. Big shows, little shows, weird shows, local shows, arenas, auditoriums, taverns, coffee houses, fields; top names, no-names, you name it. I have an insatiable hunger for music. I talk about it. I play a bit of guitar. I do a radio show on Thursday nights on WNRB-LP here in Wausau (93.3 FM).
In my rose-colored-glasses view of “the way it used to be,” I have the impression that people used to be more interested in music, new music, live music. Music was political, topical, interesting, provocative, magnetic and accessible if your mind was open. People showed up for jams in the park, battles of the bands, jazz or rock concerts, what-have-you. And they were there to LISTEN, to absorb the music, to pay attention to the musicians, to have an experience based on the music.
Fast-forward to today. A thousand people show up at the 400 Block for a Wednesday night show (this is good!), but it seems most everyone is there to visit each other; they eat, drink and converse endlessly, sometimes tossing in a polite round of applause at the end of a tune. The music is just so much aural wallpaper. I drop into Malarkey’s afterward and Tyler is performing; and the bar is a deafening buzz of everyone talking and essentially ignoring the performer. I drop into the Fillmor to catch a blues band, and there are about 25 people there. The Violent Femmes, Better Than Ezra and Carbon Leaf can’t sell out the venue at Marathon Park! Go to a Lollapalooza and see how hundreds of crazed moshers gleefully do each other harm instead of paying attention to the musicians on stage.
Has the power of music been subsumed to the focus on self? Is the concert now all about “me”? Are the musicians now just fixtures that provide the excuse for the party? Do people not care to leave their sofas and TVs to experience something real and immediate?
And, musicians are not exempt from my cynicism. How many acts now seem to be phoning it in? How much posturing and boredom and lunch-pail mentality is seeping into the mindsets of musicians to where their passion and creativity are no longer evident? I see so many bands and performers these days that play music with all the feeling that they might exhibit when hammering a nail or making a sandwich. Whatever happened to be-bop jazz? How can someone like Kenny G become a “jazz” icon? (I think it’s because he doesn’t challenge anyone or anything as he “plays” his vapid crap.)
Radio has devolved into a blur of high-profile, classic rock “hit” formats (“here’s one of the 3 tunes by the Kinks that you EVER have to hear”), political talk shows (blowhards), country & western (vanilla in hats), etc. One has to dig deep or travel far to find a station or program that actually explores the depths and breadth of music (new and vintage).
I feel, on the whole, that people just don’t care about music anymore. “Care,” as in: hunger for it, seek it out, be moved by it, be willing to stand in the rain for it. It has become a novelty, tinsel, trappings, white noise in the background of our lives. Sure, people still “like” music, but how many people “love” it anymore? Does music matter anymore? Does it have power?
I’d love for you all to tune in at 7-9 pm Thursday nights for my radio show (Roundtrip) on WNRB-LP. But I know very few of you will. Although it’s two hours of the best music you can hear on the radio at that time, and it really delivers deeper cuts and some of the most sublime moments in rock / blues / folk history, I know I’m one of few people (maybe the only one) listening who is truly transported by the experience.
Music … I’m immersed in it and am a product of it … but, at the same time, in a way, I miss it.