Saturday, July 04, 2015

So Light Yet Endless, From a Leaden Sky

Rush, the band people either love or loathe, has somehow gotten into Rolling Stone's good graces over the last few years, after being exiled in Jann Wenner's doghouse for decades. Whatever the case, it's good to see them get some long-deserved recognition in a magazine that seems to have largely forgotten about what music is really about, which is fun and connection and meaning, even more so than just being lucky enough to prognosticate the next inexplicably popular trend among bored, spoiled mallrats.

The latest effort in getting Rush in the magazine's virtual pages is an extensive cover feature on the band, written by a shameless fanboy, which is fine, as the band is most likely on its last or next-to-last tour, with maybe one more studio album to be made.

Of the surviving old lions of rock, I'll take Geddy Lee every day of the week over the likes of Gene Simmons or Steven Tyler or even the Stones, though that last one is admittedly close. It seems simple now, and there have certainly been missteps along the way, but Rush have pushed boundaries over the years in ways that other bands wouldn't and didn't. A song like Tom Sawyer seems like a rock cliché at this point, but no one else could have done that in 1981, with the pungent, acrid smells of the corpses of disco and punk still in the air, preparing to metastasize into new wave.

Besides the musicianship, for me what impressed about Rush right from the start was their ambition, their ability and desire to write for things large and small. They became notorious for side-long epic suites, but also proved able to craft concise jabs at universal themes -- commercialism, alienation, war, loss, a nice Sunday drive. They could be annoyingly bombastic and pretentious, but at least had the chops to do so, and refused to pander or condescend to the lowest common denominator. It's been kind of an unspoken rule that you have to keep up with the band a bit, which is perhaps the true separator between "rock" and "progressive rock".

Whatever's left of the music industry doesn't know what do with rock music, progressive or otherwise. Genres are niched and fractalized, which paradoxically makes it easier (if you which genre to look for) and more difficult (to find the genre in the first place) to find new bands. Maybe they pop up randomly on your custom Pandora station, maybe you see a cool cover on Angry Metal Guy, check out a review, and take a chance on the album. But that's no way to market to a mass audience.

Quick:  who was the last new rock (including any sub-genre) band you saw getting any decent promo outside of a niche zine? Anything harder than the Mumford and Sons indie stuff barely gets noticed, unless someone gets lucky and lands a side-stage spot at a festival.

Unlike idiots such as Gene Simmons, I don't blame free downloading and piracy for all that. As I've pointed out countless times, from what I can tell there are more rock and metal bands -- and more good ones, more importantly -- than at any time I can recall. There are some really talented people out there, and the benefits of being able to record, produce, and distribute without signing away your future to some label who won't give a shit about your band once the A&R guy who signed you leaves, far outweigh the changes wrought in the revenue model.

There won't be any major bands anymore, not like we saw from the '60s through the '90s. That part is almost certainly true. But the bands that are smart and ambitious and attuned to their audience will do fine, because it's still fun to create, record, and play music. And the fans may purchase the swag and the ticket instead of the MP3, because the recording is no longer the product. It's a loss-leader, ancillary. The kids who have grown with all these toys already understand this new paradigm, for better or worse. It's us old farts who can't resolve the contradictions.

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