If you're standing in a bar and your friend walks in, orders a drink, winces and displays a pained expression with his first sip, you know there's a problem beyond the normal aversion to alcohol. There's no need to panic, but all the same, you should be prepared to dial 911 when the internal bleeding manifests itself in a fine trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth. Too often, we're taught to mind our own goddamned business in this world, and we miss God's little traffic signs that say "Dangerous Curve," "Be Prepared To Stop," and "Slippery When Wet." Your friend's crooked smile, bloodshot eyes, and tattered clothes aren't quaint, they're a sign; and if the bar's regular hooker spends every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night telling him he's handsome and charming, it's neither a compliment, nor the truth.
Denial strikes like lightning around the world, but it's truly an American disease. We call it cute names like perspective and spin, but it's all twisted code for mendacity. Take the anomalous "recording industry":
LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Global music sales fell 7.6 percent in 2003 to $32 billion, the steepest decline since the advent of the compact disc, the trade body representing the world's largest music companies said on Wednesday.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) blamed the slump in retail music sales -- now in its fourth consecutive year -- on rampant piracy, poor economic conditions and competition from video games and DVDs.
However, a strong second-half recovery in the United States, Britain and Australia, boosted by top-selling acts such as Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and rapper 50 Cent, has raised hopes that the worst is behind the beleaguered industry.
"I think the long-term secular decline has just about come to a conclusion. Is it over? I don't know the answer to that yet," said IFPI Chairman Jay Berman. He predicted 2004 music sales in unit terms would decline "by about four percent."
Sometime after his 19th birthday, Van Gogh threw all of his fine hair brushes in the trash; the decline in record sales is such an obvious mushroom cloud of shit that it can only be the result of one of two things: A) piracy or B) the music that big record companies are producing sucks so much ass that no one wants to waste 3 days worth of fucking McDonald's money on 12 songs about drinking rum on a beach by likes of the massively talentless Kenny Fucking Chesney, who's the only type of shit-heel getting production and distribution deals these days.
If a pundit has one function in life, it is to brush away the dust, get on his hands and knees, and physically put his ear to the ground listening for buffalo, trains, and the sounds of "progress" coming across the prairie. What seems like a calendar piece in the metro section of the Bemidji Pioneer, might actually be an omen no less important than the undigested carcass of a brook trout in the entrails of one of the King's hinds.
Witness, if you will, the schedule of the Minneapolis Theatre District. On May 5th, three west Texas gentlemen who have devoted their lives to serious musical and personal exploration will perform as The Flatlanders, a group ahead of its time, crushed in the 70's by the fools in Nashville, only to be thankfully resurrected in the NPR 90's to deserved praise and adulation. You can catch this gig for $27, which, in Downtown Dollars is both reasonable and defendable. BUT, you don't have to go far either way on this schedule to understand why the morons who run record companies, concert production companies, and massively bloated radio corporations, are holding their collective breath on the success of pissants like Justin Timberlake. Just repeat these two FACTS to yourself:
You can see "The Doors of the 21st Century" for either $58 or $103 (that's right, a keyboard player who knew chopsticks and a black-eyed guitarist with Ian Astbury from The Cult, for only $103 a head)
You can see "Dennis Deyoung: The Music of Styx with Symphony Orchestra" for either $31.50 or $51.50. That's right, Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto, with fucking oboes...
There are a lot of otherwise sensible music writers, culture writers, and just plain old people who have been giving the recording industry a pass for about 15 years now, but I fucking refuse from now on. If you come up with a cogent argument for why Shania Twain is actually important to country music, you're nothing but a no good fucking rank apologist, and you should be forced to apply chapstick to your butt kissing lips everytime you sit down to write another "feature" on some shit head from the Nashville recording industry who is "different from the rest."
The "country" radio station K102 sucks. It's not country, and the guy who runs it is personally, directly, and primarily responsible for the decline in the quality of twang recordings that get produced, promoted, and played for the general American public. SINCE he never allowed, does not allow, and never will allow his DJ's to play Johnny Cash regularly; AND SINCE Johnny Cash is almost certainly in Heaven; it's easy for all of us to do the math on this man's ultimate fate.
The major record lables, Sony, BMG, EMI, Columbia, Mercury, etc., suck. You've colluded with radio to break things down into so many cute and stifled demographics that you forgot that music is a mostly spontaneous art, designed to stir reactions in the loins and cockles of the American soul. Fuck your videos, set designs, and production values. Give me Stevie Ray Vaughn with a little cocaine dissolved in a shot of whiskey, transposing solos that Justin Timberlake could never understand (no matter how many times he makes Cameron Diaz bark like a dog) on only five strings at 2am in some El Paso shit hole.
As Clemenza told Michael in the basement, "they should have stopped Hitler at Munich." Just because a bunch of people move in one direction, doesn't make it right.
Why Don't You Own These Records Yet Top 5
1. Joe West, "South Dakota Hairdo"
2. Old Crow Medicine Show, "O.C.M.S."
3. Eric Athey, "Open House"
4. Allison Moorer, "The Duel"
5. BR5-49, "Tangled in the Pines"