Pete's Blog

Rock Festivals

I grew up in the years of the first big rock festivals: Woodstock, Atlanta, etc. But I didn't go to any of them. It just didn't sound like a good time - still doesn't. I did, however, read about them after the fact. However unwilling I might have been to roll in the mud with strangers listening to Grand Funk Railroad I was not too fastidious to hear all the salacious details. And people said one thing over and over: "It was a rush to see so many of us." Some guy is the only longhair in his high school in 1968 and sure, it's comforting to be in a crowd of like-minded people, especially when these are attitudes and appearances that would get you beat up at home. But I think it was the like-mindedness of it all that kept me away. It's not just that I prefer a rock band, then a symphony, then a klezmer group, then a blues singer to a rock band, then a rock band, then another rock band. It's that even then I could feel the demographers pulling their strings behind all the good vibes. Get a group of people large enough to make the news, doing the same thing and thinking the same way about it, and somebody will institutionalize it, turn it into a "lifestyle," define it to a farethewell, distill the message to "We are this kind of people so we listen to this kind of music and purchase these totemic products to express our identity." Then they make a bundle selling the products. I don't mind selling products. Anybody has the right to get rich if he has what people want. And if you make your pile exploiting fatuous group-thinkers and their out-sized senses of self so much the better. What I do mind is what it's done to music and our whole culture. Is the violence and misogyny of most hip-hop a product, as racists would say, of the natural urges and inclinations of African-Americans? Or is it part of the corporate formula without which you don't get played on the radio? And speaking of radio, what happened to country music? I never thought the day would come when country music didn't put a premium on great songwriting, but today you'll listen to Country Radio a long time before you hear a lyric that isn't just a list of products: pickups, Jack Daniels, NASCAR. That's it. Sleepteaching.

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