In 1994 I stood in front a small music club in Cologne. It wasn't that it was that much of an assignment, but by some quirk of fate or luck I had been able to snatch up a press ticket from the Culture Section of the Bonner General Anzeiger, where I worked at the time. A lot of these tickets were never used, because the head of the department had absolutely no interest in promoting anything that was younger than a hundred years old and was preferably played by a full orchestra.
Most of the other journos, much more jaded than I was at the time, didn't even bother to look at the slush pile of younger artists, most of them unknown or barely known at the time, and if that makes you wonder, it has only gotten worse today, where not even the abrest minimum of PR is done, unless you have Wonder Tits or are some gayish-emo-type boi that one can put on magazine covers (and no, I love gayish emo-type bois, visually speaking. I think they are beautifully unearthly and alien and glamorous, but that is not the point. The point is that in another three or four years it is black midget muscle dwaves, or whatever strikes the music industry's fancy, it is a rigged game).
In 1994, I took of from work a little early and drove the roughly 20 miles to Cologne, parked my car and waited outside at the music club, which was still about an hour from opening. I was so early, in fact, that I could watch the band arrive, and with it, the tiniest little person you could imagine, all smiles and still a year or so away from being surrounded by bodyguards.
"You here for the show?" she asked me.
"Yeah," I said.
"Gonna be a good one," she promised.
"I hope so," I said, "because I like to write about it."
"You're a reporter, then?" she asked.
"Yeah. Regional rag," I said.
"What you like?" she asked.
"Oh, you know. Springsteen. Bryan Adams. Bon Jovi."
"The usual suspects?"
She laughed. Her band was already inside. We were still talking.
"I think you're going to enjoy this," she said.
"Looking forward to it," I said.
And that is how I met Sheryl Crow, when Tuesday Night Music Club was all she had to offer up, roughly an hour's worth of a concert, in a small, cramped club that would be filled with about 120 people, and a sound that was hammering to you from a poorly rigged stage. And on that stage was her, singing her tiny heart out. And know what? She was taller on stage, as artists often are, as if they know that this is their moment, and only the best truly rise up to it.
And she did. I loved her from the first time she opened her mouth and made sure that I bought her CD right there on the spot, having her sign it after the show, when she was all sweaty and happily grinning from ear to ear as she made her way through the dispersing small crowd, finding me.
"Did you like it?" she asked me.
"Loved it," I said.
"Could have been a better performance," she said.
"Could have been a bigger club," I said. "But I think you'll fill them, the bigger clubs and the stadiums, pretty soon."
"Will you write that?"
"If my editors let me."
She laughed, and laughed again when I had her sign the CD, which is something I rarely have ever asked for. In fact, other than Sheryl Crow I had only one other artist who I met and asked for a signature, during my time at NBC, and her name was Heather Nova (and I had already bought her very first CD and loved it, which reminds me that there are still CDs I have to convert again, gah).
I have loved music, ever since I have been a kid. All kinds of music, ABBA excluded (at another point in this blog I have written as to why). I have bought a great many CDs and have gotten some to convert from my friends, others from my friends on hard drives that they had converted, but more than anything I bought the hell out of them.
Not anymore. Some people may think that this has something to do with piracy and the devaluation of music as an artform. And while that may be the case for some out there, it is not the case with me. I stopped buying CDs with the exception of those I deem worthy of such purchase, because the music industry started to devalue the artist.
When I switch on the radio, there they are, the same fucking twelve songs that are being pushed into the charts and onto the airwaves, and they sicken me. When I switch on MTV, there they are, they bullshitters and pre-processed, pre-packaged performances of those who are chosen to become the latest product, the latest brand to be pushed down our throats, without giving us the chance to choose, to discover, to define new, exciting musical artists.
None of them I would like to meet. None of them I would like to talk to, because from their songs, from those dreadful, emptied, delusional and soulless songs, stitched together in Frankenstein laboratories in Sweden's pop centres.
I have an Australian friend these days, and she sometimes tries to show me new artists, new songs, all the way from down under. She has an open mind and an eclectic taste, and at least one CD was bought because she linked me to a song, seven times, before she could find one version on YouTube that hadn't been shut down, because, see, even telling your friend from across the world about a new singer that you should listen to... is piracy.
It's bad. You are bad.
Record stores all around the world have gone the way of the dodo. New artists are barely, if ever pushed, unless they are the complete package. The songs are not important. It is important how you look, right, Lady Gaga? Right, Rihanna? Right?
All of them, having substituted substance with flash, burning brightly on our reality television lit skies that has been Music Television in name only and sports hosts that are so bland, so paper-thin that they seem to have come straight out of a United Colors of Benetton ad.
They have nothing to say, only to sell, and so do the artists they have on, people who have no opinions, only options, who have no stories, only tall tabloid tales. They are the musical version of porn, all the parts are there, but they don't add up to a body, and so sex? Sex is the only thing that the music industry is selling these days.
I don't buy into it anymore. I don't buy them anymore, because I know that the good people, the ones who have something to say, they are no longer in that industry. They have been pushed out, been pushed aside, are now independent, are now lonely voices in the desert of what the internet is.
Over Christmas, at my parents, I watched a bit of telly with them, and there I was greeted in the promo jingles for a channel, by Kate Perry, glitter and plastic glamour, whispering the channel's motto "We love to entertain you" in a studio get-up that could have probably paid for half a record recording, and that makes Kate Perry the worst kind of whore, selling out to be what most of those "stars" today are, corporate spokespersons.
Hey, I am Christina Aguilera, buy me perfume, be like me! Hey, I am kate Perry, I am all bubbly, what, haven't you seen me on the Simpsons? If you haven't, I know at least one country, Germany being the one, where I will haunt you every fucking ten minutes, with the corporatised song "Teenage Dreams" that now stands as a jingle! How awesome is that?
The music industry has devalued itself. Where are they, in those business plans, those spreadsheets? Those bands like The Who, like Queen, like Pink Floyd, like Genesis? Where are they, those artists that have something to say? Who write their own songs that are universally appealing? Who are not writing about hos and glitter and bling and how fucking brilliant it is to get wasted every fucking night and fuck every human waste every night?
Yes, that is right. I am looking at you, Ke$ha!
But not just you. I am looking at all of you.