Rebuilding The Mystery: Is Music Making Itself Too Available These Days?

"Adios mystery and credibility!."
Maybe the reason music "sucks" right now is because there is SO MUCH MORE OF IT now than there ever has been before. To be in a band "back in the day" meant living and breathing your instrument in some vague hope of finding the right two or three musicians to create something that literally changes the world. These days, a new band can cut a song in their apartment, film a video in the back yard, edit it on their phone, and upload it to the internet in mere days.

Where's the mystery in that?

Before MTV, nobody quite knew for sure how to pronounce "David Bowie", what kind of performer he might be. Us kids were forced to rely upon radio stations to deliver the goods and those awesome, otherworldly album covers to fuel our imaginations. And when word finally trickled down to our little blemish on the road map that Rush were coming to a hockey rink or college auditorium near us, all hell was bound to break loose.

On the rare occasion when such events did happen, it felt as if the music Gods that be had finally seen fit to shine their light upon our deprived faces.

Now, of course, we can watch every show on a band's tour the next day on YouTube and know exactly what to expect when the tour reaches our neck of the woods. We know the between-song banter, we know the set list, we know the outfits they'll be wearing even. We even know which songs they tend to play when they decide to be "spontaneous"and deviate from the set list.

Where's the mystery in that?

Not knowing what to expect, much less what the members Judas Priest or Cheap Trick looked like, made finally seeing them such a magical experience remembered by all some 30 or 40 years after the fact. 

There was a rarity to it all, a feeling that this moment was only going to happen once and disappear like sands in the hour glass. Thus, for this young whipper-snapper, seeing Cheap Trick and Judas Priest in the span of a week at the same hockey rink (er, stadium) was eye-opening to say the least. For those in New York, L.A. or right here in Chicago, that was just your typical week, but for someone who lived in a town where the zip code was ten times the population, that was a magical seven-day stretch.

Most of us who grew up with MTV look back upon those days with a fondness that may be a product of our imaginations. Sure. MTV was cool if you happened to be watching when they played a great video, but soon buckled to formatting and ever-shrinking playlists and got stale fast. Instead of playing a dB's clip several times a day to an audience of 10,000 viewers, they were playing Dire Straits clips twice as many times to an audience of millions and boring the shit out of most of them.

In doing so, they killed the magic and aura of the artists. Sure, video was great at making the likes of Michael Jackson and Duran Duran stars, but, for an established solo star in the days of radio, like Billy Squier, it proved very swiftly tat some things are better left to the imagination.

There was no mystery in music, anymore. Duran Duran in thousand-dollar suits riding a cigar boat along some flashy tropical coast may have been flashy but it set expectations they could never match in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Led Zep didn't need designer suits or Carribbean settings to have its way with us. They'd seduced us with their music, backed it up with amazing concerts, and gotten into just enough trouble to fuel the myth-making machine.

If there'd been a TMZ, or Perez Hilton, or any number of bottom-of-the-barrel media outlets, they'd be facing some serious charges, no doubt, and if Youtube existed, we'd have grown up watching shaky footage of every show on the tour and not going to the show rather than dropping everything and planning in advance and looking forward to the show for months like we did. 

Sure, it's fun being able to watch the Replacements shake off the rust as their tour progresses, but where's the  mystery in that? If there's any band whose career owes a little something to mystery, it is the Replacements. The truth is, hearing about a band crashing and burning in a drunken heap is always a lot more enjoyable than actually seeing it.

Music videos forced bands to think visually in the literal sense, thereby killing the figurative sense and our imaginations in one fell swoop. We heard bands talking about video albums, thought how great that would be, and then usually never heard another word because the idea of recording an entire album of hundred-thousand-dollar videos was completely unrealistic for all but the few elite artists, which is why, when we got large-scale video projects, like "Thriller" or "Like a Prayer", it was by artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna and not Specimen or Alien Sex Fiend.

In retrospect, why did Sire Records not take one look at Specimen, or, for that matter, the Ramones, and say "We've got our Kiss, gentlemen." Throw a million dollars at the kings of Bat Cave goth, knowing full well that the controversy will be monstrous. When has controversy ever been bad for rock and roll, baby? If it's good enough to sign to your label, it's arguably worth throwing some money at to promote, right?

Instead, they spent tens of millions foisting one Debbie Gibson or New Kids after another  upon us that were boring as shit, and leaving a hundred Specimens to die on the vine. 

Instead of giving us the stuff that goes bang, the labels continue to hand out sparklers, expecting us to be happy about it when we've already seen behind the curtain. They have allowed television to demystified their own art form, essentially saying "We can even make a star out of you" and then they wonder why sales are down.

Sales are down, yet there have never been more bands, which would naturally mean that the music industry itself has never been better, right? Wrong, like the American people, music's middle class has been all but obliterated by piracy, then streaming, and now the complete glut of music that one need not purchase to hear on-demand at any time, any place.

Imagine Led Zep's music had been used in a car commercial back in 1977. It would have killed their career outright because, back then, Madison Ave and whatever worlds Robert Plant and Jimmy Page inhabited were galaxies apart and never the twain shall meet. TV was behind the times, stodgy even, music was hip, ahead of the time.

But somewhere along the way, the distance was bridged and now the two have intermingled to such an extent that we now pay upwards of $100 a month for TV that was once free and now get music, for which we once spent large amounts so willingly, for free.  

Who do we have to blame for this mess? MTV, maybe? They started it all by delivering a new avenue for music delivery that the labels were all much too eager to jump at, spending upwards of $100,000 on videos that the network might refuse to pay at all. and providing such content to said network. For free

Should they have charged MTV for the content? You bet your sweet ass, but tey didn't and, in doing so, they set a bad precedent that has turned into one gigantic zombie of a problem.

Okay, I can hear you saying "What's the answer, then, Mr Know-It-All?", but you're not going to like what follows:

To succeed at building a mystery, there can be no Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook page. And while I'm at it, no SoundCloud, no Spotify, and no Apple Music, either.

Oh, and no YouTube. That means no phones at concerts, too.

Yeah, you're right, it will never happen, but that's the only way to bring the magic back.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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