That night there was something of a party at the hotel. Not an official industry type party, nothing that formal, although there were some industry people there. Like Jordan. And some friends. Like Matthew. I guess it was more of a mass hangout than a party, do you know what I mean?
I had a long conversation with Matthew about essentially nothing, which was really kind of nice, you know? He was doing well, so was his partner, one of his photos had been picked for some prestigious thing I didn’t quite get the name of, but mostly we just…talked. I know most people take for granted that talking with an old friend should be easy but I never take any social situation for granted. I have the ability to fuck them up no matter how stress free they should be.
Each new person who arrived to hang out brought more booze with them. It’s like they knew us or something.
At one point Matthew and Flip got talking about equipment, like you’d expect two guitar techs would, and although I was sitting between them on a couch I was just kind of letting the gear talk flow over me. There were a lot of improvements in wireless mics and from there they got talking about light controllers and things that I didn’t really know much about but what I’d learned from soaking up conversations like this.
And somehow, from across the room, I heard Jordan say to someone, “It’s frustrating. It’s like everyone in the world wants this guitar sound but no one in the industry will admit it.”
I squeezed out from between Flip and Matthew and went to join him. He was talking to the horns, interestingly enough–not surprisingly they’d worked together at some point.
“Punk is never going mainstream because that’s the whole definition of it, right? That it’s underground, that it’s non-mainstream,” Bernie said. He still had a sax neck strap on, like he’d forgotten it was there from when we’d worked on “Baker Street” earlier.
“Call me a cynic if you want, but the Sex Pistols were a pre-packaged band put together by a promoter every bit as commercial as any Motown svengali,” Jordan said. “We’re way beyond that now. This is what I’m saying. Metal was supposedly the music of rebellion before that, right? But you have guys playing to sold out stadiums.”
“Well, the sellouts, the pop metal girly boys like Bon Jovi,” Bernie said.
Jordan shook his head. “Metallica. Megadeth, even. That’s the thing. These guys are having huge commercial mainstream success even though large swaths of rock radio won’t play metal.”
“Doesn’t that make them not mainstream then?” I asked. I’d had a few by that point so logic was working slowly in my brain. “If radio won’t play you?”
“That’s what I’m saying. The industry isn’t a monolith of agreement. Money says one thing, appearances say another. Like: they seriously don’t want anyone to know how much money they’re making from rap right now.”
“But what you were saying about guitar sound.”
“You’ve heard me say it before, Daron.” Jordan took a long pull on a bottle of beer before continuing. “There’s a fake line between metal and punk–it’s not a musical line, it’s a visual and subculture identification line. But kids growing up now, they couldn’t give a fuck that longhairs used to beat up punks on Sunset Boulevard. They just want to rock. They’re in their parents garages with guitars playing everything they can get their hands on from Hendrix to Van Halen to the Ramones. There are so many bands that could break out if only we could get the industry over the idea that long-haired guitarists go in that bin over there and mohawked guitarists go in this bin over here.”
“And you think it’s the guitar, why?” Bernie asked.
“The electric guitar is what makes it rock,” Jordan said with an isn’t-that-obvious shrug. “Daron’s band is the perfect example. A band that just rocked but where category crap really hurt them within the industry. The fans didn’t care, but the industry did.”
“Yeah, well, Weird Al might have a hit with a polka but it doesn’t mean a lot of polka bands are going to break out all of a sudden.” Bernie made a polka-ing motion while I talked, rocking back and forth with his hands out.
“True. But someone’s going to break through. Some band is going to break big.”
“Like U2 and R.E.M. haven’t?” I asked.
“They came before the current state of things, though,” Jordan said. “MTV doesn’t break new alternative artists anymore. Video has gotten predictable and record companies are looking for more bands like… Winger. Give me some guys with long hair who can sing a power ballad. Boring as shit.”
“Who you calling ‘boring as shit?'” Remo shouted from the couch a couple of feet away.
“You, you washed-up fuck!” I shouted back. “Polka is the new hot thing! Get an accordion player, stat!”
“I’ll accordion you, you punk,” Remo said, and dragged me onto the couch by my beltloop, which resulted in a kind of roughhousing tickle-fight that wouldn’t have seemed at all weird if I was eleven, and still didn’t seem at all weird right then because we were all drunk.
Telling you about it now, though, I know it sounds like it should have been weird. But maybe what was weird is that it really wasn’t until I thought about it a lot later that I realized how not-weird it was.
Clearly the way to mess with the industry is to cut your hair and wear a business suit while rocking on stage. Oh, wait, Bowie did that, didn’t he?
Eh, he did, but it’s always been a thing with soul and R&B to wear a suit and that was kind of what he was doing there.
You really have a way of overthinking things…
No lie, bwana.
So, Adam Lambert’s new single dropped today. His first attempts, didn’t get much industry or radio support…then along comes Sam Smith…so, Adam made it possible for there to be a Sam Smith, now will Sam Smith make it possible for Adam to get radio play? How much has the industry changed and how much is still basically the same BS Daron is dealing with?
Or is the truth that radio play actually hardly even matters anymore? It’s Youtube views and other things that really matter, but the industry is only slowly catching on.
How’s this for 21st century, though–I downloaded the new Adam Lambert single today directly to my car and played it on my way to (and from) work.
I have to admit, when I heard it, my first thought was: Ziggy.
You’re talking about grunge. I know you are!
Also, did we say ‘stat’ in 1991? Are you sure?
I believe we picked up “stat” from M*A*S*H which officially went off the air in 1983 but of course was in reruns forever after that, too.
Shhh, no spoilers. LOL