Tag Archive | "Bono"

The Day the Music Died…or Did It?

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The economy troubles me; no doubt about that.  So does this second Vietnam (the war in Iraq and Afghanistan), and the bailout of industries whose heads I’d prefer to see on stakes.  I have a full metal jacket of other issues ripe for baring in a blog whose writers are adults and desirous of exercising their right to free speech in a manner that may enlighten and empower others.  But the one issue that has been tearing at my heart since the mid-1990s is the absence of real music in our lives and at our very fingertips.

I define “real music” as that which moves us to tears, makes us think, makes us feel, and in the end, helps make us better people.  That last phrase of mine is heartfelt; it is not an exaggeration.  I may, in forthcoming articles, expound upon the specific influences that brought our country to the point where it’s impossible to turn on a commercial radio station without hearing the same soulless, boring, and whoring fifteen to twenty songs, churned out by the same soulless, boring, and whoring fifteen to twenty performers day after day, week after week, month after month, ad infinitum.

Like the law of physics that states that matter can never be destroyed, only altered, good music has changed drastically in the way that we are forced to hunt it down and access it.  It is still out there, but much of it is no longer free.  Music is indeed the universal language; like no other art form and no other form of indulgence, its healing properties are instantaneous and far reaching.  It should be freely available at the turn of a radio dial, as it once was, and is no longer.

The American public has been robbed blind of what once uplifted our souls, made us stand up for our fellow man and woman, and got us through a Depression, numerous recessions, and far too many wars.  Indeed, music helped shaped our socio-political mores; it drove the way we approached these issues, voted, and even lived our lives!  To eliminate good music from a non-paid form of access (commercial radio) is, to my mind, akin to denying us the freedom of speech.

Oh.  And if you think the Internet is the great Second Coming poised to deliver you from this nightmare, think again.  The suits are on to us, big time.  Lovers of real music, and the artists who make it, are being hunted like foxes running one step ahead of the hounds.  The suits are waking up to the fact that many music lovers access tunes online.  As a result of that escalating trend, their primary business — the sale of hard CD’s — has dwindled.   Therefore, the suits are working to stamp out as many forms of non-paid music access as they can bag.

Behold their handiwork.  IEEM (formerly on the Web at ieem.com) is dead and buried.  Its funeral has forced the independent artists for whom the site was created to move their music to their individual pages on MySpace.  This move has deprived us all of a central repository for indy work, leaving us scrambling to locate new artists on a burgeoning social networking site that some of us avoid like the plague.  Rhapsody.com?  You have to pay for it if you want to hear more than the five or six songs the site allows you on a trial basis.  And the fee is annual, amortized over your credit card bill month after month.  Just what you always wanted: another credit card bill at exorbitant interest rates, for the privilege of hearing the music of your choice.

Worse, it was announced recently that record industry robber barons, including Clive Davis, have partnered with YouTube to effectively erase the work of all independent artists from this vehicle if said work is not deemed “of the highest quality.”  The standards defining that quality were glaringly absent from a public statement scripted for and presented a month or so ago by, of all people U2’s Bono, in honor of the launch of YouTube’s new initiative. I say “of all people” because U2 in its infancy was the first band in history to copyright their music.  They were savvy enough to know about the wolves howling at the door, and to protect themselves from the beasts, even when commercial radio was still streaming music crafted in the human heart and soul.

To add insult to injury, any indy artist wishing to submit his or her work to YouTube will be “screened” by a back-end process … a process to which no one but the techies on the payroll, and ah yes, the suits, will be privy.

Clive & Co. attempted to peddle this unprecedented theft as a desire to bring YouTube’s audience only the “highest quality music videos.”  Well, those of us with functional brains know that only those artists in Clive & Co.’s stable, and the stables of moguls like them, can afford to produce what the general populace would deem “the highest quality music videos.”  Those of us who love music could give a rat’s hind end about grainy or jumpy videos; it’s all about the music for us!  

Thus, we have the artists (true artists, not no-talent media whores), whose voices — instrumentally, vocally, and songwriting-wise — have been silenced.  The suits at the major labels and their lackeys, including their legal counsel and bean counters, are more concerned with pushing mass-produced product to exceed sales expectations than they are in the quality and integrity of the music they promote to achieve airplay, the music that has made commercial radio a vast wasteland.

In his autobiography published approximately two years ago, Eric Clapton postulated that none of the big labels would be around in ten years.  If Old Slow Hand is correct, the sand in Clive’s hourglass has another eight years to go.  In that time, I shudder to think what further havoc he and his ilk will perpetrate upon the American music-loving audience.

Like the early Christians who went underground to avoid persecution and spread The Word, we music lovers will continue to ferret out the artists who speak most profoundly to us.  We will not stop seeking the channels through which we may enjoy the music, and we will not stop passing the information on to others just as hungry and relentless as we are. 


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Had Juliet been a painter, a sculptor, or a musician, she may have cried not for Romeo from her moonlight perch but rather, “Muses, Muses, wherefore art thou, Muses?”  Such laments often rip from the souls of those of us dually cursed and blessed to have been born with genuine artistic streaks.


For purposes of this article, I need to clarify the term artist, which has been perverted by the money-grubbers, number crunchers, and attention seekers.   By artist, I do not mean those who churn out formula like so many cookies on an assembly line for the express purpose of fattening their bank accounts and those of their record labels or production companies.  By artist, I mean those of us who might otherwise inhabit rubber rooms if we were not able to express ourselves daily through creative outlets.  By artist, I mean people like Michelangelo, who dissected cadavers in the dead of night to understand how the human body was designed, so as to truly glorify it in works such The David.   I mean people like Bruce Springsteen, who pitched his breakout album Born to Run in the trash after more than a year’s work because he wasn’t pleased with it.  People like Meryl Streep who are equally comfortable — and compelling — portraying an uber fashionista in The Devil Wears Prada and a drab, austere nun in Doubt.


Let’s return now to Juliet on the balcony.  Just as Shakespeare’s heroine cried out for the lover she feared she’d lost, artistic souls are terrified when their creative juices refuse to flow.  In those dark hours, we feel abandoned, lost at sea with no lighthouse on the horizon.  Needing to find the parties responsible for our stopped-up juices, we blame the Muses, those sisters of ancient Greek mythology thought to inspire literature, music, and other art forms.


How interesting that we lay the blame at the Muses’ feet, for as U2’s lead singer and songsmith, Bono, wrote:


Every artist is a cannibal,

Every poet is a thief.

All kill their inspiration,

Then sing about their grief.


What Bono meant is that much art springs from within, from our own life experiences.  As B. B. King advised, “You can’t play the blues unless you’ve lived the blues.”  We create the things that we know, things that evoke profound feelings within us.  If we fall in love, suffer betrayal at the hands of lover, friend, or government, or survive intact after some cataclysmic event, we pen a song, a poem, a play about it; we paint it, we sculpt it, we dance it.  In expressing our deepest feelings and most personal experiences, our art becomes universal, echoing the sentiments of others on their own life journeys.


What, then, about budding artists, those who may have a very shallow well of experience upon which to draw?  Is it possible to manufacture experience?  It is, if one’s creativity is so strong it will not be denied or subverted into a non-creative channel.  Such is the case of Harlan Ellison, an award-winning author who once established a legal precedent by suing a foreign television company for the use of a title synonymous with of one of his short stories.  Crafting what he deems alternative fiction, Ellison is a prolific author of books, novellas, essays, and screenplays, including scripts for The Outer Limits and the original Star Trek series.  In order to gain some life experience and gather material for his first book and subsequent memoirs, Ellison went undercover in a New York street gang.  It was a life-altering experience in which he often did “the right things for the wrong reasons and the wrong things for the right reasons.”


Manufactured or au naturale, every true artist bleeds for his or her craft.  Every one of us nurtures our art like a child in the womb.  And when we unveil it to the world, we hold our breath like a parent watching a kid set off for the first time without his training wheels.  We pray fervently that it will not fall flat on its face.  We hope that because our art contains so much of ourselves, that those who view it, read it, or hear it will understand that what we have revealed are pieces of our souls.  And that is the difference between media whores and artists.

The Question

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“One man come in the name of love,

One man come and go.

One man come he to justify,

One man to overthrow.


One man caught on a barbed wire fence,

One man, he resist.

One man washed on an empty beach,

One man betrayed with a kiss.”


— Pride (in the Name of Love) by U2



The Irish rockers’ hard-driving eulogy to Dr. Martin Luther King infers the question of what possesses one soul to perpetrate hatred and violence, another to act in a peaceful and humanitarian manner, and yet a third to cover his derriere by refusing to take a stand either way.  A more careful listen to Bono’s verses reveals an even deeper puzzle: the very crux of human behavior. Or perhaps more accurately, the influences that drive it.


Like many business professionals who interact with individuals from all walks of life operating on varying levels of authority, the same question burns often in my brain; it burns daily, in fact.  Like a defective car engine, it grinds over and over, going nowhere.  I have yet to find a definitive answer to the mystery of why people do the things that they do.  What makes one person a role model and another person one that you simply want to roll over … behind the wheel of your car … and then back up and do it again?  Is it circumstance and environment that mold our perspectives?  Is it faith, the belief that there is something greater than ourselves to whom we are accountable?  Is it is a response to our cumulative, distinctly personal life experiences or rather, to a single shattering epiphany that turns our life view upon its axis?


While I remain bereft of an answer, human nature in all its dizzyingly diverse, jaw-dropping glory and ignominy continues to fascinate me. A mere handful of the mesmerizing enigmas to which I have been privy include:


The woman dying of cancer with grace and good humor while her relative, watching her suffer and in her very presence, complains of his minor aches and pains …


The celebrity haughtily refusing to sign autographs for the fans who have made her famous and another celebrity who, treated crassly by his followers after one of his show-stopping performances, embodies the concept of grace under pressure…


The immigrant who toils so hard, her fingers literally bleed while her granddaughter, raised under the woman’s own roof, grows up as lazy as a sloth…


The man who engineered the merger between two Fortune 500 companies, one of the most humble souls I have ever encountered, and later that same day, the secretary who thought she walked on water…


The women two-timed by the same louse, each of whom was convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that her rival “wore the horns” while refusing to lay a lick of blame at the scheming cheater’s feet …


Written out in its entirety, my complete list would no doubt circumnavigate the Earth.  Twice!  And yet, as with a scab that never heals, I continue to scratch at the question of human nature.  Along with Bono, popular country music band Sugarland asks similar questions in an attempt to define “Love” in their recent hit of the same name:


“Is it a veil or a cross?

Is it the poet’s gift?

Is it the face that has launched over thousands of ships?

Is it making you laugh?

Is it letting you cry?

Is it where we believe that we go when we die?”


The song’s writers, Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush, and Tim Owens, may have hit upon something with that last line.  Those who believe in reincarnation are also possessed of the notion that human souls must pass through many lifetimes in order to learn nine major life lessons, and that our refusal to learn those lessons is the catalyst for positioning us, again and again, into our human frailties, triumphs, and tribulations.  Perhaps, when I learn my final lesson and come face to face for the last time with my God, He/She will be kind enough to share with me the punch line to the infinite, head-scratching joke that is human nature. 

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