In the movie Mi Vida Loca when Giggles gets out of prison the other homegirls are stunned and a bit disappointed to see her reformed and focused on wanting to start a new life. When she tells them computers are the way of the future, Mousie scoffs at the notion. “Computers….sheesh….” I was born in 1971 falling in a gap between people mature enough to see the value and those young enough to feel the influence of computer technology. In my border town high school we spent one period one day in the computer lab just trying to type an essay and save it to some kind of exotic floppy disc. I walked out of 11th grade and in to the free world with Mousie’s cynicism and a blind swagger, sure my strong back would provide a reliable source of income for as long as I needed, before the music biz money kicked in.
All day everyday coffeeshops and bars are full of musicians bitching about how our trade has been devalued. Club wages have been stagnant since 1978, streaming has killed album sales and cost of everything is rising while the trickle down seems to be clogged. There is no collective bargaining because for one art of any kind is extremely subjective and the demand is not equal for all the suppliers, and for another, face it, anyone worth listening to would do it for free to satisfy the inner need to create and just to get their rocks off. It’s a painful situation but it is pain to the privileged really. The way this country has taken the value out of labor and trades and given everything to investors and tech geeks is much more distressing but that’s another story for another day.
Technology is taking another toll on music, besides killing record sales with streaming, maybe a more dangerous toll. The computers and phones are robbing people, especially the young, of experience. A few years ago I sat mixing a record with a friend who told me that the night before his sixteen year old daughter had been on a Clash trip and downloaded all the albums plus the solo albums, side projects and soundtracks, the whole catalog all in a couple hours. “It took me years to get that stuff”, he bemoaned, recounting skate boarding to the record store, mowing lawns for mail order money, shoplifting at the mall, going tape to tape on an older brother’s deck to make a dub of a dub of a dub. Every album came with an adventure and a memory. It all brought me back to my own memories, like having the only copy of the 2nd New York Dolls album any of my friends had ever seen, acquired from a cut out bin in rural Louisiana. There were friends of friends I’d never met who dropped by to tape my X LPs that I’d journeyed to El Paso or Albuquerque to get. One Tuesday afternoon my friends and I cut school early to drive to the big city to buy the Replacements’ “Don’t Tell A Soul” the day it came out, knowing there would only be one or two copies at the chain store in our home town mall.
Mostly I remember a cool New Yorker who ran a record store in Las Cruces called Traxx Records and Tapes turning me on to his local music, Mink Deville, Robert Gordon, Johnny Thunders, Marshall Crenshaw and the Ramones when I was making a weekly trek there to collect used Dylan and Stones LPs. He was a rough dude, an ex-con junkie survivor type. At fourteen I had to put away my little boy shyness to hang and discuss music with this opinionated straight talker. My lust for discovery made it easy and natural. He was a great source for the information I craved. He also pulled out copies of my own regional music and made sure I heard the first Steve Earle, Dave Alvin and Los Lobos albums when they came out in 86 and 87, noting that if I liked Bob Dylan and wore cowboy boots, I’d love that stuff.
2018 in an ultra hip coffeeshop in Austin the staff is singing along in joyous irony to Garth Brooks greatest hits. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me, made even worse by it having abruptly replaced Ziggy Stardust. I’m looking at these kids wondering what the fuck is wrong with them when it hits me. They have no investment in music. The reason they have time to sit here and mock painfully lame music is because they aren’t paying. It’s all free. They have no frame of reference for where any of it comes from. With the iPhone a kid gets his music on the same machine where he does his homework or calls his mom. It’s all right there for the taking with no adventure or excitement in the acquisition. Sure it’s great to make a couple of clicks and have access to a rare Flaming Groovies b-side or the MC5’s demos but at what cost. The thrill of the hunt has been nullified.
My wife and I met someone in the tech world who is trying to get a job at Spotify. We dished on how we see things economically and the realities of having to get 10,000 spins to equal one CD sale. I also freely admitted that as a delivery system it is brilliantly convenient and the depth of the catalog is impossible to ignore. She apologetically asked if we saw any way of turning the ship around and I have to say no. Trying to play rock’n’roll music in this age of information is an ultra specialized labor of love along the lines of poetry or jazz and making peace with that is the only way to survive.
This past Sunday night we played at Beerland on Red River downtown. It was a bitch to park and we had to wait for a homeless dude to finish throwing up to pull in to the sketchy alley to load up my amp. The scattered crowd was made up of other band members and a couple girlfriends and wives. I took a small but generous payout from the promoter when we split and turned the room over to the bearded young guys playing the late slot. No less it was my favorite show in a long time. Beerland has a stage made for one thing, rock’n’roll bands. There is a big powerful sound system and a cool kid who knows all about it. We played before a band of old and new friends who love all the same records we do and whose commitment to making music their lives is inspiring. On nights like that you put your guitar back in it’s case feeling one hundred percent certain that despite the bullshit this is exactly what you want to do.