|In Joel Selvin's article on the "death' of contemporary music in San Francisco, he says it's difficult to find someone who sounds optimistic about the San Francisco music scene. As a 25 year veteran of the scene, I am VERY optimistic, In fact, I spent almost an hour over the phone being interviewed for THAT article, telling him why and how the San Francisco music scene remains vibrant and creative. Since I disagreed with the premise of his article however, you don't find any mention of my interpretation of current events.
30-40 years ago, rock and roll and the music business was in infancy. There was basically one kind of rock and a few handfuls of bands in a handful of cities. However each decade, the process of making and recording music has become more accessible. The companies for distributing and selling music has become more plentiful. And the desires of the artists making music has changed. With the advent of MTV, the ideas of commercial success became more firmly planted as a viable career option.
What is happening now in San Francisco is a natural outgrowth of this progression and reflects the place of music in our Bay Area society in 2003 not, 1963. How awful if the scene here were like it was 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. As I told Selvin, that would be AWFUL.
Rock and roll has grown to include genres and sub genres, alternative marketing and a myriad of different ways to define success. Realistically we don't have less music now, we have MORE. More options. More bands , more music, more record, more ways to make, hear, perform, buy, sell and play music. More radio. More TV. More internet. We also have more attention/desire diverting alternatives to recorded and live music, including DVDs, cell phones, pagers, videos, video games, email, downloads, chat rooms and other internet activities, which is why live music attendance is down in large and small music venues. MORE is also a double edged sword.
Like every other modern business, the music business is different now. If you sign with a major label, you have to have major label sales. It's become a bottom line business. I don't think that's a shock to anyone. But major label success is far down a path that starts with a music scene, and scenes can't be manufactured--- they are organic, spontaneous and fresh. Not all scenes wish major label success- they are establishing careers on their own terms.
The reason Joel, Bonnie, Huey, Eric, Tim, Robert, et al don't think there is any scene (and I know them all, love and respect them, and gave Selvin half their numbers) is because they are now older, and it's simply not THEIR scene anymore. And it's not supposed to be. Scenes are the language of YOUTH and march relentlessly to their own beat, no matter how much you try to legislate them or wish to recapture the olden days.
Since 1975, I've been involved with quite a few of the bands Joel listed from the past (although he forgot the seminal band, Electric Flag, in the 70s). Since 1998, I have produced a four day music showcase of up and coming music, Nadine's Wild Weekend. I've had over 135 bands the last two years. The Bay Area also hosts Noisepop Music Festival and the California Music Awards. We have a major league business management firm located here specifically for local musicians ( Provident Financial Services) and those managers, Eric Godtland, Robert Hayes and David Lefkowitz, are the big time managers of today. They all have stables of developing bands, staffs, and industry respect.
Joel glossed over popular bands today, but AFI, the Donnas, 3EB, Metallica, Santana, Papa Roach, Green Day, Smashmouth are major league successes. Joel also writes off the roots rock, jam band, electronica, ambient music, hip hop, DJ, dance, alternative, indie, punk, metal scenes, but this IS the music of today. You can't pigeon hole rock and roll anymore. The genie is already out of the bottle. We can't go back to three chords and bad drumming, unless that's the point of it.
Look, I'm older now too, and have very different interests now than I did when I ate, breathed and emanated rock and roll from every pore. But I revel in the creativity I consistently see, hear, touch, smell from bands today. It's so fresh and brave, depraved, horrible, wonderful and encouraging to watch. It keeps me young, and honest. I'm certainly not part of the scenes (how could I be) but I appreciate them.
Every decade of my career, since the mid 70s, the national media has the music industry falling apart. Locally it's been the same. in the 70s everyone moaned about how Bill Graham had ruined the scene and there was no place to play. In the 80's everyone moaned about corporate rock and said there was no place to play. In the 90s everyone moaned about MTV and said there was no place to play. In the 00s everyone moaned about the dotcoms and said there was no place to play. Every old timer (my contemporaries) in the industry today, just not here in SF but everywhere, complains that it's not like the old days. But I believe change is good. Change is life.
The way I looked at that list of breaking bands from each decade is this: with four bands (AFI, the Donnas, DJ Shadow and Creeper) already in the 2000s we are already ahead of the success game for the decade. We'll never be a Nashville, wedded to one musical prototype. Our heritage is different. We live in an area of boundless opportunity, constant diversity and tremendous intra-genre creativity with other artists in other mediums (writing, art, dance).
Instead of looking back, I encourage all of us to look forward, and be present to the striving, risking, yearning talents of today. Be open to the creativity of change. Choose to look at the glass as half full and challenge yourself to support what IS happening now, instead of what you think should be happening, or what has already happened.
God love you Joel, but on this, you and I absolutely, totally and profoundly disagree.