How many great songs will the Internet abort?

On the way home the other night, I was listening to NPR. They had Loretta Lynn on and she was talking about her new album. To be honest, I hate country music, but I saw a segment with Loretta Lynn on CBS Sunday Morning with Mo Rocca -to my surprise, I really enjoyed it- so I gave the NPR piece a listen.

Mid-interview they played “The Pill” (a song about birth control, which she didn’t write – hey, no blog post is perfect), talked about how Lynn got married at the age of 13, and then Lynn talked about how in Butcher Holler they didn’t know much, and that to this day, they still don’t know much. Here’s the quote that made my mind swim:

Well, I don’t know. I guess we just called it having a baby. We didn’t call it pregnant. Back in Butcher Holler, there was a lot of things we didn’t know – a lot of things, they still don’t know back there.

This really got me thinking, and it made me sad. Not that people don’t have access to information, but that once everyone has access to all “the right answers” people will stop coming up with new answers. The “Loretta Lynns” of the world will cease to exist. Music will get soft and predictable. When life stops being so hard, when you don’t have to look within your soul for the answers, when you don’t have to make your own mistakes… the painful lyrics are never birthed. The great songs of passion and triumph are never brought to life. Great music dies.

Let’s take the self-proclaimed “great artist” of modern music, Mr. Kanye West. I’ve been studying his twitter stream ever since he began tweeting. He’s living a life of privilege yet he constantly reminds us of how tough his life is. Whether it’s the backlash from Taylor Swift* or a recent interview with George Bush, the world hates Kanye, and he wants you to know how much he’s suffering. Anyone else smell bullshit?

His mom died, and that’s real. And I respect his love for his mother, and how he takes every opportunity to honor her. THAT is legit. But the claims of how the nonsense he’s created is somehow conspiring to destroy him, THAT is self-fabricated and done to create a false sense of desperation. To make you and I cheer him on to victory. To attempt to earn the underdog role, to be seen as an abused and misunderstood musical genius.

Let’s compare his made up situation to Lynn’s take on stardom in the music industry:

Me and my husband both worked. I took care of a farmhouse, cleaned and cooked for 36 ranch hands before I started singing. So singing was easy. I thought ‘Gee whiz, this is an easy job.

The contrast is brutal. Like a husband telling his pregnant wife that he loves her, then leaving during the birth of their child.

I enjoy some of Kanye’s music. But I can only imagine how much better and powerful it would be if he was truly struggling. If he rocked a crying baby to sleep with dope beats and heartfelt lyrics. More pain, more passion. More real, less contrived.

My point is, as our country becomes more connected via technology, information will solve more and more problems. But the downside is that the creations of people with problems will no longer exist. I don’t want to see a world in pain, but I do enjoy a great success story that is powered by determination and hard knocks. I don’t believe pain is the only way for creativity to emerge, but I do think the creativity that emerges allows others to share in the pain. To learn from it. To grow stronger because of it. Empathy FTW!

My guess is that the Internet will someday find its way to that corner of Kentucky that Lynn calls home. Kids will google things they don’t know, and great songs will die. The world will become a better place, but the lyrics will become hollow. The soul of our music will echo hardships that no longer exist, concocted melodies full of concocted memories. Damn you Internet and your push for a utopian future full of shitty music.

*I also believe Taylor Swift is full of bubblegum scented FAIL. She claims she wrote every song on her new album without a collaborator… really? Great, I’ll take the “we got bills to pay” lyric in her song “Mine” as a wake up call that the economy is now affecting even the ultra-rich.


4 Responses to “How many great songs will the Internet abort?”

  1. 1 Andrew Careaga 11/13/2010 at 12:10 PM

    A lot to think about here, Todd. But to get in the proper frame of mind, excuse me while I crank up some Merle Haggard. ;)

    My first thought as I read that quote from Loretta Lynn (one of my mom’s favorite female country singers) is that access to information doesn’t necessarily equate to “knowledge,” and certainly not “wisdom.” True, Lynn was born and reared in the hardscrabble coal country, and she didn’t have access to a lot of information. Yet, as a shining example of the triumph of the human spirit, she was able to transform the pain and hardships of her life and channel them into some powerful tunes. You could also argue, though, that she took advantage of those hardships and capitalized on her poor “coal miner’s daughter” persona to become a commercial success. Or the music industry exploiter her and marketed her to fans who, awash in a world of commercialism and fakery, wanted to connect to a genuine, authentic, hard country voice of the people.

    There are still musicians out there who are trying to create genuine music. (Such as Jack and Meg White — excellent choice of video, BTW.) And I don’t think the Internet is going to remove pain and hardship from our world anytime soon. The Internet can also give musicians greater access to audiences than ever before. But it’s a double-edged sword. The playing field has been leveled, but in order to gain a greater following, in order to become more successful in purely commercial terms, musicians will have to compromise at some point. Or just to put food on the table.

    The Clash put it this way: “Now every cheap strikes a bargain with the world/And ends up making payments on a sofa or a girl.” (Death or Glory, from “London Calling,” which is the best album ever made.) The conflict of “selling out” vs. staying faithful to the message or the music is one every artist must come to terms with.

    As for Kanye: he’s a talented musician, no doubt. But he seems to be more interested in fame for fame’s sake. Or he’s taken a page out of Malcolm MacLaren’s situationist playbook and is intent on creating spectacles for the intent of self-promotion or to keep Kanye in the spotlight. It seems to be working for him.

    I’d better stop now before I forget what the hell I’m talking about. ;)

    P.S. – MacLaren was the guy who created the Sex Pistols.

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  1. 1 Take Five: The Soul-Searching Edition | Safe Digression Trackback on 12/10/2010 at 6:40 AM

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