A few days back, musicians from around the world paid tribute to Gregg Allman, southern rock & blues legend and co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band. Known for his soulful voice, Allman wrote in his memoir, My Cross to Bear, "Music is my blood... I love to play good music... and for people who appreciate it... If I died today, I have had me a blast". A true rock star.
Gregg's is only the most recent of tragic rock star deaths this year, after David Bowie, Prince and Chris Cornell. It's sad that the artists who were responsible for shaping one of the most musically creative eras of history are no more. An era that to most people today, seems alien. An era of creativity, hedonism, decadence and absolutely stunning music. An era that gave us Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Whitesnake, Uriah Heep, The Eagles, Black Sabbath, Queen, Rush, Def Leppard, AC DC, Mr. Big, Iron Maiden and much more.
The classic rock era, to me, was the pinnacle of creative brilliance. The music they wrote was raw, irreverent, fearless and non-conformist.
The classic rock era, to me, was the pinnacle of creative brilliance. The music they wrote was raw, irreverent, fearless and non-conformist. Exceptionally talented artists pushed boundaries, experimented with music to create timeless masterpieces. They wrote about love, sex, regret, history, war, vikings, longing, materialism, leprechauns, drugs and every conceivable fantasy. They lived to create and did so with passion and conviction.
Cut to today. An era of big PR, the red carpet, likes, shares, autotune and lip-syncing.
After someone named Justin Bieber recently flew all the way to Mumbai to listen to his own records and prance around, along with thousands of fans who paid to watch this farce, I was actually happy. It was the perfect validation of what I have believed to be true — that most pop artists today are nothing more than cleverly marketed packages. No real talent, no desire to create or reinvent, and not an artistic bone in their bodies.
A pop star's career today is kept relevant not by creating original music that entertains, but with scandals, Instagram, fashion gaffes and the like. I realize I might come across as biased. Maybe, I am. Maybe it's because Uriah Heep's Sympathy is playing, with John Lawton singing, "Dreams are the possession of the simple man...Reality the fantasy of youth... But living is a problem that is common to us all...With love the only, common road to truth."
Boney M, ABBA, and Michael Jackson could write, sing and entertain with a versatility that's rare today. They were truly talented pop artists.
You could argue that I'm comparing two different genres. But can the pop artists today, hold a candle to their predecessors? Boney M, ABBA, and Michael Jackson could write, sing and entertain with a versatility that's rare today. They were truly talented pop artists. They got by on strong vocals, refreshing content and glorious albums that have stood the test of time. (I'll admit that MJ did lip-sync once.)
Hey! I have nothing personal against the Beibers, Sheerans and Beyonces. Nor do I judge their fans for listening to what I think is unimaginative tripe. A colleague recently remarked,"You've got to admit, Bieber's songs get your feet tapping". Well, whatever floats your boat.
It's just that I prefer to hold artists to a higher standard. Music to me is eternal and musicians, true artists. They soak up experiences and use their craft to express emotions in ways we mortals cannot. It's more than catchy, synchronous beats mixed in a studio and played at a concert. Where is the skill that you can admire? Where is the raw energy of a band like AC DC? Or the haunting subtlety of Simon & Garfunkel?
And, what about longevity? Mick Jagger is still touring with the Rolling Stones and he is 73! Most of Iron Maiden's members are well into their 60's and they're still filling stadiums and rocking out with the same explosive energy they had 40 years ago. Not because they need the money or the fame, but because this is who they are. In other news, One Direction has taken a break. Hilarious!
When 56-year-old Eric Martin performed in Chennai recently, a technical glitch held up the show for about 30 minutes. He didn't complain.
There's something more to it than just the physical ability. It's the commitment to the craft. No lip syncing. No bullshit. Just the indescribable, primal feeling of connecting with thousands of fans. Remember what Freddie Mercury did at Wembley?
Today, it's not about the music anymore. It's about the musicians. Rabid voyeurism is the order of the day. It is about the paparazzi, break-ups, the hook-ups and Twitter wars. The music itself is an afterthought. Digital marketing is more important, a delicately engineered process geared at going viral.
When 56-year-old Eric Martin performed in Chennai recently, a technical glitch held up the show for about 30 minutes. He didn't complain. He took audience questions and reminisced the times when Mr. Big's band members had to cram into small vans and share rooms because they couldn't afford much. His humility despite being a rock star who has sold millions of records was something, as was his voice, that hadn't changed despite the years. I can't help but recall a 23-year old brat's recent demands for a jacuzzi, ping-pong tables and limousines. He sounded like an unscrupulous parent demanding wedding dowry.
It's sad that the old rock stars are, as Pink Floyd sang, "shorter of breath and one day closer to death." It's sad that the creators of the classics must bow to the inevitable.