Pete's Blog

Manufactured Groups

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It's what we say when we want to distance ourselves from the increasingly mediocre corporate pop music that surrounds us. These are only manufactured groups. We mean that these singers, this band didn't get together "naturally," in somebody's living room for the love of it all. They were put together by canny marketers, managers, record companies, etc. to look like the kind of artists a mass audience would like and make predictable, uncreative, Orwellian music we want nothing to do with. We can feel superior to the hustlers making the money and the glamour-besotted droids giving it to them. There's just one problem: the manufactured group is nothing new. What's more, we're not just talking about the Archies here. Some of the most beloved, respected, "serious" groups were, by the above definition anyway, manufactured. Every now and then you'll see a PBS special featuring Peter, Paul, & Mary in concert, their aging fans rhapsodizing about the days music "meant something." But Peter Yarrow, Noel Stookey, and Mary Travers had never performed together, indeed barely knew each other, when manager Albert Grossman started prowling Greenwich Village looking for a trio that looked good together. He made the men grow beards, changed Noel Stookey's name to Paul, and forbade Mary Travers ever to go outside because he wanted her pale. Presto! An icon of America's indigenous folk music. Folk isn't the only place this happened. The Sex Pistols are said to have "invented" punk rock (maybe in England - over here bands like MC5, The New York Dolls, and the Ramones had the whole thing thoroughly blueprinted years before). Punk was a spontaneous, street-level uprising against the bloated pretensions of mainstream rock, right? Wrong. Manager Malcom McLaren recruited four guys he found hanging around a London bondage-clothing store who looked right. They didn't know each other and only a couple of them could even play instruments. Sounds a bit like the Monkees, no? And speaking of which, there are serious-minded rock fans who to this day think of the Monkees as some sort of glorious apogee of '60s rock. They weren't. It's just that their corporate minders bought them the best songwriters, sidemen, and producers in LA. But people who wouldn't listen to N*Synch if they got the records free in the mail will tear up over "Last Train to Clarkville" or, worse, give props to a younger band that covers the tune. Give me a break. I guess as long as people mythologize the music they listened to in high school we're going to have this. None for me, thanks.

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