and the Beast
you are out there slogging it out with all the other bands, trying
to get a leg up and stand out from the pack, what factors help you
differentiate your group from everyone else? Does being physically
attractive get you more attention than you would get from just the
music itself? What does it say about an artist who would construct
a band around the ideal of physical beauty instead of letting the
music stand on its own?
in these questions was piqued recently as I was perusing the OnlineRock
Sounding Board. I noticed an item in the musician wanted category
with a lot of posts on it simply titled "Band Needs Girl Singer".
I wondered why there were so many posts there and clicked over to
find, much to my surprise, a quite lively debate between two individuals
regarding one gentlemans search for a "Girl Singer"
and the validity of the specific requirements for the singer he seeks.
Interesting and valid points were made on both sides of the debate
and eventually others chimed in with their two cents as well. The
issues raised completely transcended the original topic to become
much more and I thought to myself, "Damn, this is great!"
is exactly what OnlineRock is supposed to be about, besides being
an alternative to the corporate rock machine and an end to the hegemony
of the major labels. Its all about the interaction between musicians
that can only be achieved via the Internet. In this case the main
correspondents are from Wisconsin, USA and Glasgow, Scotland. Later
in the discussion another one enters the fray hailing from San Francisco.
You cant get this from hanging out at your local music store
or rehearsal facility!
topic of discussion between the two OnlineRock members centers around
the requirements the seeker needs the "Girl Singer" to fulfill
in order to be eligible for his band. He is answered by a female member
who takes exception to his requirements and engages him with some
scathing rhetoric regarding what she considers his sexist views. She
also admonishes him for not challenging the prevailing industry standards
and exhorts him to re-think his notion of what constitutes beauty,
in people and in art.
this really got my juices flowing! These are some important issues
and they are often completely disregarded and ignored by most musicians.
I thought it would be useful to propel these concerns into the spotlight.
Also, I have formed some thoughts myself and would like to express
my opinions regarding these issues.
discussion would not be taking place at all were it not for some very
progressive groundwork that was laid back in the 1960s. The
feminist movement of the Sixties is greatly responsible for our female
members views on sexism and her personal need, as a musician
and a woman, to confront sexism in life, and in particular, the music
industry. Also, the evolution of rock music from strictly commercial
popular music to a valid and world recognized art form frames their
debate as well. Prior to these developments, the sexual exploitation
of women in entertainment was standard operating procedure and not
questioned by anyone. Women were expected to be beautiful and if they
were talented, that was icing on the cake. For example, Marilyn Monroe,
to this day, still is not remembered for her talent as an actress.
Bob Dylan and the Beatles, as well as subsequent groups such as the
Grateful Dead and the Who, greatly expanded on the premise of "Rock
and Roll" and turned it into a grander form we now call "Rock",
it was just another flavor of popular ear candy. It was not taken
seriously as an art form. These cultural and socio-political advances
took place as a result of people who actively challenged the "prevailing
standards" of society and the music industry and as the result
of the courageous actions of a few, many did benefit.
it necessary to be courageous in order to make great music? Is it
valid to pre-suppose that musicians meet certain criteria in order
for their work to be considered meaningful, or is it just moral posturing?
Also, what is the role of beauty in art? These were the questions
that nagged at me after reading the debate between the parties regarding
the first question, I think in Rock courage is a definite element
in the greatest music of the genre, and I think it is in particular
the courage to take risks. For artists as diverse as Elvis, Little
Richard, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Sex Pistols,
Prince, Sinead OConnor, Kurt Cobain, Tracy Chapman and Ani DiFranco;
it is the courage to be yourself.
the strongest messages I have gotten from listening to the great Rock
musicians over the years is: Be yourself; Dont conform; Dont
sell out your values and your principals; Let it all hang out! Think
about it, that is the biggest risk we can take as human beings, putting
your heart on the line. If you let it all hang out and really expose
yourself by un-apologetically being yourself, and your music (and
by extension -you!) is rejected, that can be devastating! Its
a huge risk and takes tremendous courage. It is also a hallmark of
the greatest Rock music ever written.
is also the courage to take risks with the medium itself and expand
the music into new territory. The best example of this was the Beatles.
They could have stayed on top just by milking their formula for success,
but they chose a riskier course instead. They experimented with the
form and it resulted in some of the greatest music ever made. Other
great examples of Rock artists who refused to stand pat and took Rock
to new realms are Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Allman Brothers, Marvin
Gaye, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, King Crimson and Sting, among
you experiment with form you run the risk of failure. It takes courage
to expand the boundaries of any genre of music, but in Rock it could
mean (and has for some) career suicide! U2, for example, has not been
successful in their quest to re-invent themselves and their popularity
has been in decline as a result. They had a lot of empty seats on
their "Pop Mart" tour. I would offer that courage is essential
to create "great" Rock, but it is certainly no guarantee
number two is; Is it valid to demand that music conform to a specific
agenda in order to be deemed artistically credible? My opinion is,
absolutely not! To criticize some one elses music because it
doesnt meet some arbitrary and personal criteria or conform
to a specific social agenda is dead wrong. Music should be created
only as a result of the specific drive and motivation of the person
creating it. After all, going back to what I said about being courageous,
its all about self expression. Tailoring your music to fit the
desires and whims of others or to be accepted by as many people as
possible is antithetical to the notion of rock as a medium of self
expression. It goes against the very nature of what Rock music is
or is supposed to be.
question that the dialog in "Girl Singer" brings up is a
somewhat knottier problem. Even though our intrepid seeker seems not
to take into consideration all the advances of our post-modern/post-feminist
society; if he wants an attractive "Girl Singer" in his
band he has every right to ask for one and who are we to judge? It
may actually be construed as an act of courage to come right out and
ask for that in this day and age! But given that its his right
to ask for that and should be perfectly OK to do so, why is he doing
it? Maybe he thinks that having a visually appealing line-up is a
short cut to success? Well, there are no short cuts and the music
still has to be good. More likely he considers it just one more reason
to like the band, in addition to the music. Kind of trying to stack
the deck towards success by employing any and all means at his disposal
in a super competitive, dog eat dog industry. We all know how tough
it is out there. But I think its been pretty well proven that
in Rock, looks dont matter.
what of the greater role of beauty in art? Its truly in the
eye of the beholder! What constitutes beautiful art to me, whether
it is in a musical or visual medium, might be ugly and offensive to
someone else. A perfect example is; the simple fact that our gentleman
is seeking a visually appealing "Girl Singer" is patently
offensive to the woman who responded to his post and she makes no
bones about it! Did our intrepid seeker ever think that by adding
a physically attractive woman to his line-up he could actually be
alienating a sizeable segment of his potential audience? Im
sure he did not. Im certain, however, that if the music is powerful
and genuine enough people will be able to see past the veneer of physical
beauty and into the hearts of the people who are writing and performing
heartily invite anyone and everyone to wade in on these questions.
Post your thoughts on the matter on the Sounding Board and let everyone
know that you think. Lets keep the dialog and the lines of communication