Harry’s Soapbox – No More Heroes?

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This week Harry takes a pop at today’s ‘stars’. Are they doing it by numbers or keeping it real in a difficult climate?

By Harry Paterson

Every generation has a tendency to romanticise their own era; the passing of time often induces an indulgent and rose-coloured view of things once viewed with scorn or embarrassment. Now I’m as guilty as anyone in this regard. As someone born in 1967, my teen years were lived out in the 80s and it is that decade that forever holds a very special place in my heart.

Rock, metal and post-punk were all born, reborn or given a new lease of life as a result of the late-70s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Which was itself indirectly descended from punk. The hair metal explosion of the mid to late 80s would never have occurred but for the aforementioned movements. Likewise Thrash, Goth, Death, Black, Doom and all the myriad metal mutations that we know and love today, had their birth in the 80s as the mutant off-spring of Punk and the NWOBHM.

Looking at the decades that followed, though, even allowing for a jaundiced and cynical world view (seemingly inevitable once the 40th birthday has been and gone) I can only shake my head in disgust. Where my generation, and the two that preceded it, threw up genuine rock ‘n’ roll heroes like ‘Keef’,  Lemmy, Jim Morrison, Bon Scott and a plethora of others, today we have whiney, indie-shoe gazers; self-pitying Emo bands and identikit-parade, interchangeable Boy Bands and corporate ass-kissers like Coldplay. All of whom are more interested in ‘demographics’ ‘market saturation’ and ‘Controlled Image Projection.’

I came across an article in a guitar magazine a while ago, where advice was given on the music biz and which college courses were available to ‘further your career’. Career? Jesus Christ, rock ‘n’ roll isn’t a career! Rock ‘n’ Roll is a vocation; a crusade, a holy calling. It’s a way of life.

A million Tarquins and Simons can sit with their floppy fringes, stretched ears and skinny jeans in Costa Coffees, the length and breadth of the country, each pondering their career options, weighing up the pros and cons of a career in accountancy versus a career in the music business. They can do this from now until the end of time and it will not change the simple, unalterable fact that rock ‘n’ roll, genuine rock ‘n’ roll, only ever comes from three places; the heart, the balls and the streets.

The allure of rock ‘n’ roll, the pull it exerts, is a powerful and deeply beautiful thing. Those giants that walked before us, who heeded its siren’s call gave us some of the most incredible music ever written and recorded by anyone. Ever. All the while living lives that walked the very edge and sometimes even beyond.

Nikki Sixx; overdosing on smack, being chucked in a skip to die and then coming back from the dead, literally, to record Motley Crue’s finest album ‘Dr Feelgood,’ one of the landmark recordings of the Hair Metal decade.

Keith Richards; exiled and drugged beyond comprehension defiantly, consistently doing things his way and, when the odds were the most heavily stacked against him, had the grace, the passion, the talent, the sheer character to give us the Stones’ greatest masterpiece , ‘Exile On Main Street.’

Lemmy; surely the absolute epitome of rock ‘n’ roll, the man we’ll roll out when the aliens land and ask us, “What is this thing you speak of? This rock ‘n’ roll?” has been relentlessly, defiantly taking his own foul-breathed, motorised, heavy-duty brand of rock ‘n’ roll to every corner of the globe for close to 40 years. He was once told by a doctor that a blood transfusion to combat an infection was not an option as his blood was so polluted by toxins (drugs, to you and me) that pure blood would probably kill him!

Iron Maiden; East End, working class lads with a dream of making great music and so gave the world a brand of metal that has inspired and launched entire sub-genres since.

Fast forward to the 80s. Guns ‘n’ Roses, famously styled ‘The Most Dangerous Band In The World’ and for a time, before their glorious, typically rock ‘n’ roll, implosion, that’s exactly what they were; urchins, gutter-snipes and street rats who could only do one thing; play rock ‘n’ roll. Read ‘The Dirt’ and learn that Motley Crue lived in squalor, poverty and drug-induced filth. Grime under their finger nails and rock ‘n’ roll beating proudly in their hearts.

Now lest any po-faced vicars or straight-laced squares accuse me of glorifying drug use and excess let me set the record straight; I’m not, ok? The point here is that the aforementioned bands and musos didn’t sit down with a bloody prospectus, a trust fund from mummy and daddy and decide on music as ‘viable career option.’ No, these lads were from the streets, didn’t give a damn for straight society’s rules and wanted only to play rock ‘n’ roll. It was genuine, passionate and heartfelt and it came across in feedback-drenched power-chords and primal howls. You can’t fake it, you live it.

Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Link Wray, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jim Morrison, Hendrix, Bon Scott, Phil Lynott and Slash were and are gypsies; pirates and vagabonds, swaggering gun-slingers and romantic poets always seeking adventure over the next horizon. They were the heroes and visionaries that would seek out brave new worlds and come back and tell us all about it in those seminal, aural masterpieces that have shaped and moulded entire generations of musicians since.

And so to today where we have boy bands, S*mon C*well and the X Factor, Coldplay, Dido and whiney, bland indie-pop. Do you see what’s happening, guys? The corporate counter-revolution is almost complete. Where are tomorrow’s Lemmys and Keefs? Where are the next generation’s rock ‘n’ roll heroes?

Well, I’ll tell you; they’re in a pub or grubby basement bar near you right now. They’re existing on shoe-string budgets playing their hearts out. They’re scrabbling for gigs while some no-mark, talentless Britney clone is being groomed as the Next Big Thing. They’re slogging their balls, backs and hearts out, ignored, unaided and no closer to a deal than they were yesterday. Each and every one of us has a duty to get out there, see these acts, give ‘em some support and let’s make it happen for the good guys.

Here in the Midlands we have some truly exciting bands, some incredible unsigned talent, many of whom, with the right break, could be genuine contenders; Captain Horizon, A Thousand Enemies, Fahran, Dakesis, JD & The FDCs, to name just a few, are playing in your neighbourhood right now. Go see ‘em, buy and album, a t-shirt and give them your support. Let’s ensure the heart of rock ‘n’ roll continues to beat. Let’s give a defiant, swaggering ‘Up yours!’ to the suits, morons and bean-counters that run the music business. Let’s make sure tomorrow’s heroes are given the chance to thrill, excite and entertain us the way the legends of yesterday did. Let’s make sure our kids inherit a world where rock ‘n’ roll matters.

 

 

16 COMMENTS

  1. Far be it from me to speak in defence of the skinny jean wearing haircuts clogging the corridors of rehearsal complexes everywhere, but I did find myself wondering something while reading this: how in the name of God’s arse did any of the heroes mentioned above manage to get anything done? And if they were starting out today, would they get anywhere?

    I’m in a band where we all work our bollocks off every day and achieve very, very little. If any of us spent any meaningful fraction of our time off our mash on ecstasy pipes (to paraphrase Chris Morris) we would not only face the same enormous mountains to climb as every other unsigned band out there, we’d also be totally incapable of writing or performing to a standard that made anyone give a damn about us. How did G’n’R do it? How did any of them do it?

    I think to succeed today as a rock’n’roller or otherwise requires that it be approached with a cynical mind, at least as far as the work ethic goes. I’d be furious if a bandmate turned up to practice, let alone a gig, drunk. Whether you term it a career or a business or not, it must be taken seriously – more seriously than the day job – before there’s any hope of achieving something worthwhile.

    So while I totally agree with your point about it being impossible to manufacture the passion required to create something worthwhile if the decision is taken calculatedly, I think the passion then has to be focused into nut-crunching work, approached in a businesslike way, before there’ll be any kind of result.

    How the old guard managed to do any of this while off their faces on their chemical enhancement of choice is completely beyond me!

    • And yet they did…

      As you say; fuck knows how!

      The point is this, anyway; it’s about passion and commitment to your art. You have that, all of you, and that’s what counts.

      As is my customary manner, I like to make very sharp comparisons, not just for effect but to make the point inescapably obvious.

      No one’s suggesting you need to be a smack-head otherwise you aren’t keeping it real!

      • Yeah, I know. To be clear, I wasn’t criticising the article on that basis. It was just something that struck me as potentially a major difference between then and now – who’s become huge in the last ten/fifteen years, who has been any good at all (this therefore excludes Pete Doherty) who could get away with routinely behaving like that?

        A side issue to your central point, to be sure, but I do wonder if it’s a indication something’s changed!

  2. Rock is dead part 1. Maybe, and I’m just putting this out for discussion but maybe rock n roll is dead! That’s why there are no longer any heroes. We have three of the biggest cultural icons Rotten, Iggy and Ozzy on TV doing adverts for butter and insurance. Im not gonna mention the jubilee party. We’ve been sold out. They weren’t really dangerous, they all want to join the establishment.

    Rock is dead part 2. When was the last time anyone heard something completely ground breaking? A sound so monumentally different that you are not sure what to call it. For white folks it was Elvis, at the beginning. For the black folks it was Bob Johnson and later for both Otis. Then we had the Beatles (sorry) the Stones, The Who … Bands who to this day defy categorisation. Prog rock followed with a plethora of bands that didn’t sound like eachother but could be lumped together. Then came punk, a return to rock n roll with heavy guitars, and Nwonhm. From that point it began to go downhill. Granted there are a few bands and moments which are mildly memorable and well played but really, if you compare it with its very obvious influences it will be inferior. Mostly due to its lack of imagination. I suppose there is only so much you can do with a basic beat band set up and seven major notes. And it’s pretty much all been done. For the last 30 years I’ve anticipated a new, vibrant youth led counter culture driven by an original musical noise of its own. Ive been sadly disappointed.

    Rock is dead part 3. There are too many distractions for kids today. Internet, Facebook, video games, a million TV channels, as well as sports etc. back in the day there was football or music (assuming you weren’t getting laid) that was it! There was no daytime TV or TV after midnight, no mobile phones or computers. All we did was listen to music. We didn’t have much spare cash, but what we had went on records or cassettes to record your mates records with. Guitarists spent hours at home alone trying to work out their heroes tunes. Garages, school and church halls were full of bands rehearsing and jamming because there was genuinely nothing else to do. And when you finished listening to or playing music, you went to a local gig. It’s a strange one but I see people out there calling themselves musicians, and they have no music collections. Weird! The most important part of being a musician would be to listen. Well in my humble opinion anyway.

    Rock us dead part 4. Do bands actually just jam any more? I still maintain that the best ideas don’t come from your head. They come from mistakes or accidentally discovering something as a result of just jamming. Hours and hours of just loosely playing around with a few notes or riffs. You think Led Zep or Deep Purple would ever have existed without it? Everything seems to be standard verse, chorus, verse chorus, middle eight, and chorus to finish these days. Christ! Black Sabbath never had a chorus until their 5th album!!!

    This may be the rantings of an old tosser who happens to look back with rose tinted glasses but I would actually dearly love to see the new Jimi Hendrix. However, it will only happen when someone, like Jimi turns up with an entirely new way of thinking about sonics, performance and delivery.

    Rock is not dead part 1. Having said all that, still the best fun you can have is going to see a live band. That’s really where it’s at. There are some still genuinely great live bands out there. Forget all the bollocks I write earlier, fill your boots with ale and get down the front to party! See you there!!!!

  3. Excellent view mister I too was pondering over this the other week with a friend who was astounded that my daughter was singing along to an old song whilst listening to classic gold on digital radio. That same daughter went to Confetti and also astounded her tutors with her knowledge of punk and classic rock. The same daughter though also loves the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna etc because she likes it same as me really embrace music if you love it then buy it if you don’t then ditch it. Oh and I thought Dido had didoed boom boom x

  4. Another interesting article, one question that keeps being raised in my mind these days is how much is our education system feeding right into this lacklustre formulaic music that we are fed. Colleges churning out hundreds of kids every year who have been schooled in the music “biz” Colleges are focused on getting numbers enrolled in order to get funding for their courses and churning out endless amounts of kids who think that there’s some sort of “formula” that can be followed to “make it” giving out meaningless qualifications to kids who can play well and know how to do a spreadsheet but don’t have the first clue about the true spirit of Rock & Roll. Obviously there are the exceptions who do get it but they struggle to make it through the quagmire of hose just going through the motions.

    • I disagree with this. Granted, colleges can’t teach creativity or “the true spirit of Rock & Roll” but the notion that education in the arts is prescriptive is antiquated, a myth that for many years has held weight in R’n’R because it’s an idea that sells, and sells very well indeed. The rebel that admits to learning something from someone in such an institution would be considered no less than a fraud, a conformist, the very antithesis to the “outlaw” type we so revere.

      What these courses can do is empower their students. Consider the amount of bands that get/got fucked over by record labels, management, PR, etc. Hendrix, Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and a bunch of others all got screwed out of thoudands, possibly millions. Dave Ellefson of Megadeth – a band that has sold millions of records worldwide and continues to do so – has written a book on how to survive in the music business because he became aware of how many bands were being ripped off by the contracts they were signing. By learning to read a spreadsheet as well as understand the impenetrable discourse of such contracts means bands with such knowledge can ensure that they don’t suffer the same fate.

      As for the technological aspect they teach on these courses, again, a band will have more control over their sound and know how to get it quickly out of their own equipment – the recording equipment is another instrument after all – and avoid being ripped off by an over-priced producer and/or studio that exploit their ignorance. Surely, this is the very DIY ethic that uderpins the independently-minded artist/musician?

      As I said above, creativity may not be teachable but a better knowledge of the intricacies, the *language* of music can only serve to broaden a musician’s palette and allow them to explore and develop their own abilities. Among the many, Duane Denison of aqlternative rockers The Jesus Lizard was classically trained; Paige Hamilton of the hardcore band Helmet studied jazz; Beethoven and Mozart were both schooled and look at what they achieved, and they still inspire many R’n’R musicians today.

      The kids take these courses because for two or more years, they can indulge their creativity *with* finacial support. Where else does that happen?

      And so the kids that leave these courses still play music how they want to play it and face the same kind of crap that any “DIY” band faces: apathetic audiences, and an indifferent and parasitic industry.

      These courses give them many advantages that bands in the past have been without and have got stung – mightily so – for. As for any student that may be under the illusion that the courses are a one-way ticket to fame and fortune, they find out very quickly what the music industry is: hard fucking work.

      And the X-factor doors are wide open for those people…

      As Marx said, “Sell a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man how to fish, you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.” Knowledge is power.

      • All excellent points, Jason, and none with which I’d disagree. Just a shame they, collectively, represent an enormous straw man :-D

        I’m certainly not sneering t education. As a classically-trained trumpet player and not being a hypocrite, how could I? Equally, those who commit themselves to a course of study regarding the business aspects of music, so that they may retain and better control the fruits of their labour; more power to ‘em. Indeed no less an authentically rock ‘n’ roll personage than Duff McKagan, he of exploding pancreas-fame, went to university, post GNR, to study precisely this matter for precisely those reasons and to renderhimself more extensively serviceable to his fellow musicians.

        No; my beef was with those cynical young people who calculatedly pick a career in the music business, in whatever role, purely as a route to financial prosperity and material reward. There’s no passion there, no love and, consequently, there will be no meaningful worthwhile art created, either

        These are not those to whom you referred and, as I mentioned, I have no quarrel with those of your example.

        • Actually, I’ve just realised your remarks are probably addressed to the comment that preceded them, rather than the article itself.

          That’ll teach me for being A) unobservant and B) a smart-arse! :-D

  5. People talk about MCR’s Gerard Way as being a hero, or Fall Out Boys Pete Wentz. DO ME A FAVOUR! These styled, manufactured bands will never be the answer. One of the problems I find is everyone is looking over their shoulder to see what everyone else is doing. STOP IT! Concentrate on your own damn selves. Rock n Roll IS selfish. It doesn’t give a rats ass about anyone. It’s all about bucking the trends and doing things your way! That’s how true character is formed and how a true character stands out from the “norm” not by the size of his sodding cheekbones!

  6. Another bostin column Mr Paterson.

    Ya know, you should try and get somewhere with this writing thing. Ya aint half bad at it.

    ;) xxx

  7. Another great column, Harry, really enjoying these – especially the empowering calls-to-arms at the end. I think one great thing about the internet is that young would-be rock fans now can choose to ignore the corporate-sponsored talentless marionettes of television and find their own genuine, hard-working bands online and then go see them at their local venue!

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