Do you ever get creeped out thinking about why it is exactly that young, inexperienced musicians play such a disproportionately dominant role in new music? (in music journalism, and the culture that exists around it, to be more specific, I guess.) It certainly can’t be because musical skills or insights atrophy as one gets older. The culture likes to regularly needle burnt-out has-beens with waning relevance, but in my personal experience, most people get better at music the more they do it, and it is not the internal workings but the unique, artificial environment inside the spotlight that erodes the powers of the Eminems and Axl Roses and Billy Corgans and Trent Reznors etcetaroid.
Dorks are constantly asserting that change in the culture is illusory, that things have always been like they are now and it is only our vanity that might insist otherwise— but the rate at which Young Rising Musicians seem to be served up to the world is clearly much higher than it was before music publications aspired to kick out five brand new album reviews every day. This may seem like a facile observation at first, but I have come to believe that the exalted role of the unproven, unrefined pseudo-savant is primarily because young musicians, especially those who have tasted a bit of success in one form or another, inevitably see the world as being full of potential for good— perhaps more convincingly than any other modern profession. They almost invariably see themselves on an exhilarating trajectory that will shoot up past their wildest dreams and into infamy, security, luxury, and significance. Each milestone reached— selling out a club, getting a glowing review from a widely-read source, getting a manager, etc., etc.— reinforces the idea the young musician has that their innate genius, which was always a part of them, is finally being recognized and rewarded by the external world. This worldview is communicated through the music in various ways both explicit and indirect. I believe Kim Deal once said, “We pay to see people believe in themselves.” Our culture has come to shape a whole caste of young, privileged, sensitive people to play this specific role.
It is not just confidence, though, that is imparted by the Young Rising Musician. It is license. Even today’s most straight-laced, bearded-and-bespectacled indie rockers still represent to their fans a tantalizingly hedonistic lifestyle that is devoid of the kind of laborious drudgery that most human beings must submit to if they are to get the money to buy mp3s and/or the sophisticated device that plays them back. The young people on-stage who travel the world making money doing what they love— who have harnessed their inner talent to achieve the American Dream— suggest in uncountable different ways that it is appropriate or enlightened or necessary to celebrate yourself and your growth and your coming triumph. Strugglers are not easily revered in this culture and those that are ultimately canonized only find unhesitant acceptance posthumously, when their struggle can be ret-conned and romanticized into a story of eventually triumph spiced up with a pinch of maudlin tragedy.
These themes— predestined glory that is somehow a reward for innate superiority and an individual on a journey of growth-with-no-limits— are exactly the same ideas at work behind the refusal to address the many obvious cannibalistic effects of our present social arrangement. These are the ideological barriers that rich people and their toadies in the Creative Industry use to uphold the decaying paradigm that they have chosen to parlay into an elevated position. And the materialistic, conventionally ambitious people of our upper class have become so entitled and complacent that there is little effort on their behalf to justify profiting from gaming a cruel system that imprisons, impoverishes, and malnourishes increasing numbers of its people. The laughably flimsy writings of Ayn Rand still serve as go-to pop philosophy for capitalist quislings because there’s no pressing need for anyone at the top to expend effort creating relevant or compelling justifications for the prevalent injustice. Institutions which might have once helped foster standards of value other than the dollar— universities, churches, journalistic publications, art galleries, rock clubs—- have been subjugated so thoroughly that those who would seriously and critically engage the ideology of infinite growth are more or less automatically marginalized into impotence, or else co-opted and redeployed in the name of exploiting a new market.
The poor young artists of my town cannot help but be more and more aware of the pervasive injustice, brutal violence, and tenuous hold of the present social arrangement— but they are also increasingly more inundated with examples of earnest young musicians just like them who have achieved financial stability (if not better) and widely-acknowledge significance from “following their dreams.” The general atmosphere in this town is that this country is fucked, but there’s maybe not anything anyone can do about it, and that pursuing one’s dreams of being a significant musician is noble, fun, and probably no riskier than most paths which a decade ago would have been considered far safer, more sensible routes to the financial security necessary in adulthood.
And so the artists have become the primary purveyors of this Infinite Growth/Predestined Triumph ideology to their peers in the audience, a great number of whom are young people who for whatever reason retain some remnant of a conscience, or who simply cannot ignore the unsustainable (and thus ultimately impractical) nature of this scaling-obsessed mindset. These kids, unseduced by naked appeals to greed, get the same ideology with a targeted rebranding: “Yes, it’s bad, probably collapsing— but you, like me and our heroes, are special, and your story is not that of your country, but of the hero who rises above the devastation and inspires others to believe in themselves and attain their own personal triumph.”
In the minds of young people, triumph as a people is not realistic. We can’t win a war against a country that doesn’t have any planes or tanks, and we all know this. The more we invest in fighting the drug war, the more ludicrous it seems to suggest it might ever be won, or that anybody in government even seeks a victory. We’ve yet to even fire a true shot in the battle against environmental degradation, opting instead for adding a convenient and profitable but utterly cosmetic Green tint to our way of life. It had been clear for years: triumph is only still possible for an individual. And the triumph of a musician is a noble and romantic thing, because it comes from a noble place: the musician’s feelings. Never mind that the effect of a musician’s triumph is, from the standpoint of the paradigm, no different than that of any other pedestrian occupation— that it comes “from the heart” instead of from a less obscured organ of self-preservation is the important thing that allows it to appeal to those jaded by the casual greed that infects other professions.
Between this funneling of the sensitive-but-politically-reticent and the technological advances which have lowered the barriers to entry to semi-professional music-making, increasing numbers of young people have flocked to the gentrified zone sometimes called Underground Music to begin their tale of triumph, despite the fact that living to be earned for the vast numbers of artists is neither good nor on the rise. The anachronistic concept of this zone as an alternative to the music industry is embraced early in this tale as a way of building up the drama and importance of the Young Rising Musician’s formative experiences, but when success of the magnitude that requires corporate involvement becomes an option, the underground’s true role as mere “minor leagues” is revealed. Young Rising Musicians will toil for ridiculously low compensation for years, convinced that this is merely a standard part of the inevitable triumph of a creative genius. It goes without saying that only very few of them will actually get the reward. Modern music journalism plays a big role in casually fostering the idea that the Invisible Hand only bestows wealth and fame on those who are most honest, most obsessed, most skilled, and most deserving, and that those who struggle have yet to conquer some important particular personal obstacle that impedes their progress to the summit.
How long can a soldier push through the trenches, fingering some dilapidated keepsake and watching the bodies accumulate around him, before he decides that the triumph he seeks is the cruel illusion of broken institution, meant to lure him into gleefully engaging in work that enriches others and extends the lifespan of a toxic paradigm? Forever, I assume— I see no reason to believe some threshold will be reached that significantly alters this process. I foresee more cooperation with corporate Quislings in the future of Underground Music and little change in the direction of the music journalism which so readily abdicates any responsibility to protect or educate the young people it uses as bait for pageviews, clickthroughs, and impressions. But I do think that there is slowly growing a more pronounced schism between people that want to utilize music’s efficient, effective reach into the imaginations of young people for something more important than the conventional personal triumph that is presumed to be the only reasonable endpoint of all modern creative endeavors. The emergence of a metaphysically-minded “post-punk,” if I could temporarily repurpose that term. Enclaves where discourse on the meanings and subtexts and assumptions of music are budding in the still-coalescing internet-centric cultural landscape, and the tl;dr and frequently impassioned nature of these spaces will self-select against intrusions of the willfully illiterate and the greedy. I think artists with still-functioning imaginations and consciences will eventually start to see uncritical embrace of license and disregard for any type of discipline as evidence of corruption and weakness and there will be a surprising movement towards innovation, originality, and virtuosity informed by the comfy drift towards enthusiastic dilution and barely-masked charlatanism that is currently the predominant trend in Underground Music.
Some young people who don’t yet know they are into music because of its potential for paradigm-breaking idea distribution will eventually become frustrated by the revolving-door culture surrounding Young Rising Musicians. But most will not. There will not be a triumph, but there will be something worth caring about for people who look to art as the fire where dreams more exciting than the conventional, personal successes of business school are meant to be forged. I dint know how long it will take to be acknowledged as such, but there seems to be the seeds for a network of creators dedicated to challenging the paradigm very similar to Phillip K Dick’s Aramchek. A faction that can’t be packaged into a listicle or a trend-piece because it is not a collection of names but an ongoing interaction with challenging ideas. Identification by those outside this enclave is completely unimportant— finding this place oneself, by learning to distinguish between opportunistic minstrels and artists who want to continue an ongoing cultural resistance to the fatally-flawed paradigm of Growth and Triumph, is the only way to encounter it. In fact, those afraid of having to choose an alternative ideology to the prevailing one are happy to dismiss the idea that there is any difference at all between willing servants of capitalist ideology and those who long to subvert it. All attempts at subverting the paradigm are vain and doomed illusions, according to the paradigm, of course.
The point of this enclave is not to triumph over the oppressor and remake the works but to offer a path through it to those unwilling to pretend the oppressor’s ideology is not hideous. A tangible path that cannot be co-opted and folded into the schemes of the greedy. An alternative is necessary because every Young Rising Musician gets old, and every additional year without a tragic end makes one more useful to the culture as a potential sacrifice than an object of adoration. It is hard for me not to see any but the very fiercest Young Rising Musician as a poor rube who gleefully accepts the fine clothes and sumptuous banquet of the cannibals, ignorant of what function she is meant to play in the grand scheme of things, convinced that because she is experiencing this story in first person, these things are rightful rewards and not the prelude to a ceremony that has more to do with the sacrifice’s willingness than her deservingness..
Anyway, that’ll be all for now ok See ya!!
tl;dr=Go home dummy grown ups are talking