2013-06-17

Written Out Of The History Books

For nearly twenty years (by my count, spanning from approximately 1974 to 1994), the musical genre known loosely as "hair metal" or "glam metal" or "80s hard rock" or whatever you want to call it constituted the music of choice for millions of people around the world. One day, an anti-80s-glam-metal marketing campaign was launched by the media, presumably at the bidding of record companies who were looking for a new way to market new artists and albums without getting lost in what had become an endless stream of neon guitars, elaborate guitar solos, screamy vocals, and basically predictable song structures.

That marketing campaign marked the dawn of the age of what we now refer to as "grunge," but which was at the time called "alternative rock," owing mostly to the frothing-at-the-mouth that would ensue of anyone dared to call these bands "metal." Again, the reason for this was mostly marketing. Every artist tries to shirk artistic labels from a desire to be judged on his or her own merits, of course. But in the early 90s, it became vital for artists to defy this particular label, and my best guess as to why is that the metal bands weren't getting the marketing support anymore.

This is all rational and predictable economic behavior:

  • Traditional marketing campaigns that focused on the guitar prowess and rock and roll excess of their artists having reached the point of diminishing returns, the record labels needed a "new brand," which they found in "grunge." (How much sweeter was the deal that by giving the whole genre a name that was vehemently disputed, it got people talking about "what to call this new music." Prince employed the same strategy when he changed his name to the Love Symbol, making himself millions despite rendering himself un-marketable by Warner Bros.)
  • Artists, hungry for record deals and a shot at the big time, quickly removed their spandex and straightened their hair in order to seek record label dollars. In many cases, the only differences between a 1992 "grunge band" and a 1992 "metal band" were clothing and production techniques. (If I need to supply evidence for this, I will.)
Meanwhile, the old metal bands found themselves in a catch-22: to evolve with the times and appeal to the grunge crowd meant alienating their millions of faithful fans, but to stick to their guns meant to lose record label support, perhaps losing their record contracts in the process, and basically winding up like all the has-been 80s rockers we see these days. They couldn't win. Different bands chose different strategies, to varying levels of success. For the most part, metal was eliminated from the playing field, at least until it regained popularity through its relative kitsch value.

Today, however, many of these bands tour highly successfully. The reason for this is that the core fan base never really went anywhere. These fans were alienated every bit as much as the artists who supplied them with music. And this brings me to today's point.

Somehow, written out of the musical history books dutifully kept by Rolling Stone Magazine and every other record label tool designed to define for you what you think is cool, are the millions and millions of regular people, non-musicians who happened to have grown up on a genre of music now deemed to be un-cool. I cannot help but think that there is something incredibly, morally wrong about this.

Think about it: there's nothing wrong with having a love of 80s hair metal. It's just music. If you don't like it, don't listen to it. But who cares how "lame" it is that other people really love it? Why should they be denied the ability to have their preferred music broadcast in retail stores and on radio stations? There is obviously money to be made in this, or else these fans wouldn't exist. Why instead are they force-fed a diet of the five industry-approved hard rock bands from the 70s and 80s that Rolling Stone somehow feels are acceptable? (If you're wondering, the current list appears to be Van Halen, Kiss, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, and one rotational slot made available to whichever of the insiders needs money the most - currently Ozzy Osborne.)

People wonder why music is facing a critical low point in its lengthy decline. One important factor is that music scenes used to be the hotbeds of all the action. Music clubs is where you went to meet people. The best parties in town involved performances by the best local bands; those who weren't performing were invited as guests. These parties and performances featured all the decadence that earned the 1980s its infamous reputation. The really stunning part about the whole 80s rock world is that it really was like it is storied to have been. On the one hand, the bad behavior was an extremely unfortunate consequence of this, but on the other hand, modern music lacks something important that used to be far more commonplace.

Spend some time on YouTube perusing the dozens of 80s metal music videos in which tour footage is featured prominently. Observe the massive stage-shows that all really happened. Observe the crowd as they listen to the music playing. Men, women, everyone moving to the music. You can say what you want about how lame certain genres of music might be, but any music that can have that effect on people can't be all bad.

A return to that kind of passion for music is exactly what today's music world needs.