J.Rod’s Music World

Justin Rodstrom

Musicians are too polished nowadays. Whatever happened to the Bacchanalian rage of Jim Morrison? The side-talking, pointed cynicism of Bob Dylan? Even the ego-mania of Roger Waters is better than the too-well-adjusted, quiet-spoken kind of pop star being thrust into today’s music world. “Musicians” are quickly becoming primped, made-to-sell cutouts with no fire, no passion and no heart.Musicians are artists; they need to be set on fire with musicality. They need to bring to the world something it is lacking; to challenge boundaries and push limits crudely, rudely, unmitigated by commercialization – and all this with vision. And there is plenty of inspiration to go around – take a look at Miles Davis, The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix. They were artists. These were people who could not sleep at night because they were constantly searching, constantly longing, constantly needing to take their self-expression to new canvases.

Where have they all gone? I reject the notion that the 1960s had some freak outburst of genius. There are still too many beautiful songs to be sung. Yes, musical genius must still exist somewhere in our hyper-commercialized world, but it is often too hard to find. It used to be that the most talented, most visionary, cream of the crop musicians would find their way to the top. There was a competition to be the best at what you did. You had to be more talented, more creative and more original than the next guy to get a spot on radio.

Now when you want to find vision, it exists solely underground, in beat clubs hung over from the 1960s, on pirate radio stations manned by political and social extremists. It is nowhere to be found in mainstream music.

If music is truly a mirror of society, we have a lot of work to do. As citizens, do we really want to believe that we are drones to commercialism, devoid of dream, drive and passion? Do we truly believe that the only things worth living for are more “bitches and bling”? Or can we be more than that; can we rise above the dissolute garbage that hisses its hooks into us from every MTV screen within 1,000 miles? Can this mirror show the tenderness of the human spirit, the hearts of young lovers, a devotion to something bigger than selfish, stark consumerism?

The sad truth is that our world is no longer the place for the fiery-eyed Johnny Cashes, there is no home for a kick in society’s face anymore. It’s too risky, not catchy enough – makes you think too hard. And risk … risk has become a taboo to be minimized, limited and forsaken in search of a bigger payoff. Instead of searching for talent, record companies have elected to turn the music industry into a sort of stock market game. Lose as little as possible, work for the biggest return, and if a stock stops producing, drop it on the spot.

I’m sorry; music will not work that way. It cannot be contained; it cannot be defined. It cannot be limited, or it will die. Record company executives are scratching their heads at diminishing sales returns year by year. This January was the worst January in a long time, and it isn’t because of Internet file sharing, though that is ruining the art of music, too.

It’s because everything they package, everything they sell, everything they feed us is garbage. In 1969 – keep in mind that’s one solitary year – there were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Doors. Can you name eight bands in the past 10 years that have been one-hundredth as influential or challenging as these artists?

Music cannot be built to sell, it must be built to challenge, to change us. Important music is important because it has left its indelible stamp on the world, it has acted as a force to shape society. Elvis and his pelvis challenged sexuality norms; Miles Davis created cool; Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation. Where are our voices? Who among today’s musicians will leave something behind that will ring true decades after the musicians themselves are gone? Music lovers long for an answer.

I wanted to let all my readers know that for the next three Wednesdays at 8 p.m., I will bring J.Rod’s Music World to a live Internet radio broadcast available for Villanova students, called The Zone.

E-mail me if you would like to bring your own opinions to the show.