Ladies Of The Canyon

Friday night I was kept awake reading an article on Facebook in "The New Yorker".  I assume not everybody reading this knows what Facebook is.  Just like our parents had no idea what rock bands like the Doors or Crosby, Stills & Nash were.

Facebook is a social networking site.  Established by a Harvard student.  He started out a self-taught coder.  He might have ripped off the idea for the site from fellow students.  But what he created was INSTANTLY successful.  With thousands of people signing up in a week.  That’s the power of the Internet.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, is not quite like the rock stars of yore, the ones who flourished in Southern California in the late sixties and early seventies.  To Zuckerberg, money was always paramount.  But, like the work of those great bands, Facebook is cool.  Everybody wanted it.  And still does.

Music is passe.  History.  Oh, don’t blow chunks, don’t get your fingers walking on the keyboard.  Just sit there and contemplate.  Music has been around since the dawn of time, and will continue to exist, great records will be made.  It’s just that today music is not where it’s at.

I just finished reading the book "Hotel California" by Barney Hoskyns.  The second half is such a disappointment.  It reads like a Zagat guide.  All pasted together quotes.  But the first half, which I read second, is the movie filmmakers have tried to make but have never succeeded in getting right.  It’s the story of the birth of Southern California rock and roll.  And if you can put it down, you’ve never been touched by any of the acts featured.

Linda Ronstadt left Arizona at age 18 to live at the beach, singing songs to stay alive.  Would you let YOUR daughter do the same today?  Without buying her a car with airbags all around and calling her cell phone five times a day?  Nobody really leaves home anymore.  Nobody takes a risk.  Hell, they’re taught not to, having worn bike helmets their whole lives, having never walked to and from school, their parents worrying they’d be stolen.  Their whole lives are arranged, like the playdates their mothers scheduled from the time they were born.  The concept of starting a new life on a whim, it doesn’t even enter their brain.  But that’s what the old rock stars did.  In patched together automobiles they made their way to Los Angeles.  And ensconced themselves in Laurel Canyon.

Locked in traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard today it’s hard to fathom that this avenue wound through the heart of musical creativity in the sixties.  Like a giant summer camp, musicians lived in different houses and journeyed to their friends’ cabins, to hang out, get high and sing.  There were no news crews.  Not even any record companies at first.  It was about lifestyle, not fame.  And with this genesis, with the sixties values as a backdrop, the most enduring music of the rock era was created.  The exquisite poetry of Joni Mitchell and the sales of the Eagles.  Take your pick.

Where’s the music scene today?  Where’s the community of like-minded musicians in it for the tunes rather than the bucks?  In an era where the buck is king even Bonnaroo changed its jam band ethic to draw more attendees.  Everything’s so sold out/whored out that there’s no belief involved.  It’s just endless product.  That is essentially meaningless.  And without meaning, you’ve got no hooks, nothing to stick to the audience.

Facebook is exciting because it’s about community.  Connecting with other people.  That’s the guts of MySpace too, music has almost nothing to do with it.  People want to meet others, they want to flirt, want to exchange information.  Only oldsters could focus on predators.  These are the same people whose parents were worried about their kids going to the rock show thirty five years ago.  They miss the point.  People want to be free, they want to feel ALIVE!  Mark Zuckerberg is the enabler.  Unlike MySpace, Facebook doesn’t allow just anybody in.  You’ve got to be a student, an authorized one.  And you get to choose, to a degree, what information is revealed and who gets to see it.  End users have control.  Where is the control in the music business?  The music business is one way.  We concoct it, you buy it, FUCK YOU!  It’s like the entire business missed it, the Internet revolution.  There’s a community as strong as there was in Laurel Canyon, it’s just virtual.

As for the acts exhibiting their wares on MySpace and other places on the Web, they’ve been exposed to twenty five years of MTV, they’re experts on exploitation, but light on soul.  The sale precedes the tune.  Imaging is key.  Everybody’s got a business plan, nobody is growing his talent.

Reading about Los Angeles in the few music papers extant during the heyday of the scene, I couldn’t wait to graduate from college and come.  I guess if I’d had any balls I would have dropped out and arrived earlier.  Then again, unlike Ronstadt and Jackson Browne and Don Henley I couldn’t completely let go of my past, I depended on it, I wasn’t ready to reinvent myself.  I wasn’t ready to live on absolutely nothing, knowing that all you’ve got is your experiences, and your physical assets don’t really count.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t get today’s music.  It doesn’t have what the old tunes did.  It doesn’t have a sense of adventure, a sense of limit-testing, a sense of JOY!  Because it’s coming from a different place.  If not mercenary, a desire to be so DIFFERENT that it WANTS to exclude you.

It’s hard to create a scene today.  Because as soon as you’ve got a flame, the press fans it into a conflagration, and then it burns out almost instantly.  You’d think the record companies would finally understand this movie, having seen it again and again and again.  But chasing the buck, they run acts up the flagpole and overexpose them again and again and again.  Nothing is allowed to grow.  Acts are not allowed to percolate, growing their base a fan at a time.  And if you don’t make the kind of music that’s easily sold, if you’re not willing to play ball with the corporate behemoth, you don’t get to play at all.  Unlike in the late sixties and the early seventies, the act is not king, but the label.  And the label likes this, feels entitled, for risk is anathema to these corporate entities.  And, as delineated above, risk is primary to great art.

We all want something to believe in, something to live for.  I ask you, with endless conventions, books about how to make it, institutionalized success paths, who can get excited?  Not only not the talent, but the audience either.  Isn’t it funny that everything kids get excited about is on the Web, built by their peers and populated with content they’ve created?  And isn’t it fascinating that the corporate behemoths have missed this every stop of the way, and can only get in by buying sites that could die tomorrow?  You’d think MTV would own music on the Web, but with a corporate commercial viewpoint, the music video channel missed it.

Morning has come to Morgantown.  It’s clear that the old days, the old systems are done.  The structures are decaying, they’re empty.  A new world is being built by young ‘uns the same way young ‘uns built the music scene in the last century, stealing the whole business from old farts.

I can’t tell you what’s coming.  But I can tell you what we’ve got now is dead.  Kaput.

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