I was more talkative than I expected to be through breakfast given that I was on short sleep and I usually didn’t express myself so much in front of people I didn’t know well. But Barrett got me on the subject of rock radio and I guess I couldn’t help myself.
“It makes no sense that what is labeled ‘alternative’ is what rock and roll is about: rebellion,” I said.
Barrett was shredding a muffin into bits with his fingers, meticulously picking out the blueberries and eating them. I still couldn’t really get a read on him. “Well, but what if what you’re talking about isn’t what this industry does? What this industry does is commidification. Rock and roll quote-rebellion-unquote has been around just long enough to be commidified into the mainstream.”
“But it’s not just about money,” I said. “I mean, heavy metal isn’t considered alternative, but at the same time it’s not considered respectable, either. There are stations that still refuse to play it.”
“That’s true of rap, too, though,” Ziggy said suddenly. “It’s not ‘alternative’ because of the lifestyle it represents. This isn’t just about what the music sounds like or whether it’s approved of or even how much money it makes. It’s about the identification the listener makes with the genre or artist.”
Identification of the listener with the artist. I wondered, who were the kids out there with the poster of Moondog Three on their walls? Did they even exist? All I was trying to do was be myself, not be a role model for a lifestyle. Right? Or was I wrong about that, because what I represented was…the escape from the suburbs? Huh.
Barrett was still talking.
“Mark my words,” he said, “because the truth will out. Rap is making millions for the companies putting it out. Even with no airplay and censors on the rampage. Heh, maybe because the censors are on the rampage. But this is the thing; it isn’t the kids on the streets of LA or New York who are pouring all that money into record company coffers. It’s white suburban kids looking for exactly what you say, Daron. Rebellion.”
Kids who grew up like me, in other words. “Okay, if that’s true though, where are all the kids of whatever color who were into punk six or seven years ago? You can’t tell me they all just completely changed genres. They didn’t all just stop forming garage bands and start deejaying instead. Are they out there and why isn’t the music business selling them something?”
Barrett swept all the crumbs of the muffin into a pile in the center of his plate and then picked a chocolate-filled croissant out of the basket. He bit into it and ended up with a bit of chocolate on his lip. “Were you one of those kids?”
“Yes.” I felt a little prickle. Barrett could read me even thouhg he barely seemed to be paying attention to me.
He nodded. “You’re right. They’re still out there.”
“And I’m telling you, what the radio and even what MTV is giving them these days is…is…” I couldn’t even figure out the words to describe it. Maybe I wasn’t quite awake yet.
Barrett held up a hand. “Let me try. In the mid-eighties it seemed like there was a thriving alternative pipeline, serving up exciting new stuff all the time via the new channel of MTV. But now it seems like it’s all warmed over retreads of that stuff.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Exactly.” I could give you a long list of forgettable albums from 1990-91 by bands whose seminal albums from the 1980s are still burning up airplay and sales but whose later efforts are too dull to be worth listening to. But I won’t because that’s how dull they are. And no, it’s not just that I was disillusioned with the industry, which was what it felt like at the time. Hindsight’s proved me right about this.
And Barrett explain why: “Because the industry has commidified ‘alternative’ to the point where they think they understand it, control it, and know what people want so they can just keep giving them more of it.” He took a sip of his coffee, saw the chocolate smear he left on the rim of his cup, and wiped his mouth with his napkin. Which meant I could stop staring at his lip. “So what’s new? What do they put their weight behind? Interesting-looking artists but whose music is so bland you can’t tell the difference between it and anyone else. Who sound like an easy-sell commodity.”
I hadn’t thought of it that way before. “That explains Jane Child and Roxette.”
“Hey, I like both of them!” Ziggy protested.
“I like them, too,” I said. “But be serious, neither of them has the oomph of Eurythmics or Nine Inch Nails.”
“Nine Inch Nails should have opened the floodgates for industrial, right?” Barrett asked. “Wrong. They were the one industrial band allowed into the Top 40 club. The Cure are the one goth band. Et cetera. You get the point.”
“Who’s the one guitar-driven non-metal rock band in that club?” I asked.
“Ooooh, tough question. Not R.E.M., the whole jangly guitar thing isn’t what you mean, I know. U2 are kind of in a class by themselves and they reinvent sonically every couple of years anyway.” He sipped his coffee. “Moondog Three had the chance to be that band, by the way, if that’s the answer you’re fishing for.”
“I’m not fishing for anything,” I said. I decided if Barrett could eat with his hands so could I, and I was dipping my bacon into my egg yolks. “I just feel like there’s this huge hole and no one is filling it. Quote-unquote punk is seen as retro now, and metal is in its own ghetto, but… But the guitar…” I ran out of words. I poured myself some coffee to see if that would help.
Barrett seemed to know what I was trying to say. “Maybe the electric guitar itself is just in a down period right now. Or maybe all those kids with garage bands don’t add up to a mainstream market. It’s like soccer.”
“Soccer?” Ziggy looked as confused as I felt by that.
“What’s the one sport played by more kids in America than anything? Soccer. We’ve even got ‘soccer moms’ for pete’s sake. Literally millions of kids playing soccer. But did soccer catch on as a major sport? Nope.” Barrett poured milk into his coffee cup, swirled it by the handle, and then chugged what remained. “So maybe there are a million kids starting garage bands out there. Doesn’t mean that’s what they’re buying.”
I felt somewhat demoralized by that. “You really think the era of the electric guitar is over.”
“Maybe it’s just that the dominance of the electric guitar is over. You’ll always have it. But mixed in with the synth and the piano and whatever else.” He gestured toward me. “You, you’re always going to have work. Even in an era where dance music dominates.”
“Hm.” I concentrated on eating for a bit, but then my blood ran cold as I realized he’d essentially named what they had positioned Ziggy as: interesting-looking person whose music was a bland, easy-sell commodity.
The sudden churn in my stomach went with the kick in my chest. Oh god, Ziggy.
This was a terrible moment to feel heartsick all over again. I decided to excuse myself to wash the egg yolk off my hands.
I went into the bathroom and washed my hands and then wet my face and toweled it dry, then stood there with my face in the towel just thinking crap crap crap crap crap.
The thing is, it’s not like it wasn’t anything I didn’t already know, right? I knew they were transforming him from the singer of a rock band into an “entertainer.” But somehow it hit me much harder at that moment, was much clearer than it had been before.
He chose this, I reminded myself. Don’t go feeling sorry for him about it.
But I don’t know–how much choice did he really have? I felt awful for him. The feeling I had at that moment was… heartbreak. Like a dream had died.
A dream had died. Mine. Duh. Remember? Maybe I was just feeling that grief again. Maybe this was just an aftershock of the crying I’d done yesterday.
Sissy, Digger’s voice whispered in the back of my head.
Shut the fuck up, I told it. At least I have a heart.
By the time I was ready to put the towel down, a couple of minutes had gone by. I looked at myself in the mirror. My hair was long enough now that it hid the bandage on my upper arm. I had dark circles under my eyes and they weren’t from smudged eyeliner.
What are you doing with yourself, Daron? asked a voice that sounded a lot more like my own. What’s next? The world’s changed. You’ve changed. Maybe it’s time to let go of those childhood dreams.
You got to live that dream. You toured the country and played Madison Fucking Garden and it nearly tore you–and him–apart.
But I know better now. But I’d be ready now. But…
A soft knock came at the door. “You okay?” Ziggy’s voice.
“Yeah. I’m okay.” Even to myself I sounded like I was lying. I opened the door and faced him. We were, as usual, exactly the same height and looking into his eyes was a lot like looking in a mirror. A very worried mirror.
“You okay?” he asked again.
And I lied again. “Yeah. I’m fine.” Then I told the truth: “Let’s get the fuck out of Los Angeles. I hate this place.”
Amazon Reviews campaign tally:
- Vol 2: (MNB, BNC, recording, Daron coming out to people) needs only 1!
- Vol 3: (Driving the van across the country) need 9
- Vol 4: (Major tour, Megaton problems) needs 11
- Vol 5: (Tour Part II & Ziggy’s fall) needs 13
- Vol 6: (the LA/Jonathan saga, Australia) needs 13
- Vol 7 (Spain & reunion with Z.): needs 7
All total from where we started we needed 89 reviews to hit the desired 120 review total (20 each on 6 books). Now we only need a total of 54! If just 10 people reviewed all 6 books, we’d be down to single digits.
(You know this song is about how record companies screw you, yeah? -d.)