Tag Archive | "Clay Riedesel"

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Two Cents Presents: Borrowed Idols

Posted on 30 June 2011 by Mylynda Guthrie

Borrowed Idols: Why My Generation Hasn’t Replaced Kurt Cobain And Doesn’t Deserve To

-Clay Riedesel

A strange thing happened yesterday. I woke up and proceeded to blare Nirvana’s Nevermind as I went through my morning rituals. After Nevermind ended I listened to In Utero, then I learned “Polly” on guitar. When my hands were too sore to keep playing I got online and read Cobain and Nirvana’s Wikipedia entries while streaming Bleach, then I watched live performances of Nirvana on YouTube. Still not satisfied, I watched the documentary Kurt & Courtney.

Finally, my obsession with Nirvana was washed out of my system. I looked at the clock. It was midnight, and I was tired. I lay in bed, but I couldn’t drift off to sleep. A single thought kept nagging at my mind: Nevermind is the most critically acclaimed album of the past two decades, and at twenty years old it’s officially considered “Classic Rock”. How does it stack up compared to other critically acclaimed “Classic Rock” albums?

Think about it. Rolling Stone named Kurt Cobain the “12th Greatest Guitarist Of All Time”, but can he hold a candle to Hendrix or Jimmy Page? Is Nevermind even in the same league as Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Highway 61 Revisited? As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not trying to imply that today’s music is worse then the music of years past, but how do the greatest albums of my generation compare to the greatest albums of generations past?

I described yesterday’s events as “strange” because I’ve never been a huge fan of Nirvana. Sure, I like them, but I never worshiped them with the devoutness of my peers. I was never in awe of Kurt’s songwriting skills, nor did I find any of Nirvana’s members virtuosic instrumentalists. Nirvana was important to me only because they were important the people I made music with. Virtually every musician I knew growing up went through a “Nirvana phase”. I may not have been Kurt’s biggest fan, but like it or not his influence could be felt everywhere around me. Hell, when I was in high school I only listened to Nevermind and In Utero so I wouldn’t look like a fool for not being familiar with them. After all, I had a reputation as an elitist hipster to uphold.

My musical idols were the poets who just happened to be musicians: Bob Dylan, John Darnielle, and Will Sheff to name a few. Kurt was careless with his words. He make up lyrics minutes before recording a song. He constantly mumbled when he sang, and even when you could understand him rarely did his words make any sense. How could I respect someone who treated what I loved more than anything with such contempt?

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “But Clay, that’s the whole point! Kurt proved that the lyrics didn’t matter. It’s all about the emotion and melody, man”.

While I’ll admit that Nirvana did write some of the catchiest pop songs ever recorded, does “Lithium” manipulate and explore the power of a melody the same way as The Beatles “A Day In The Life”? Does the guitar solo on “Breed” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” captivate and impress you like the guitar solo on Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” or Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker”? Is the passion in Kurt’s voice on “Scentless Apprentice” and “Serve The Servants” more moving then Iggy Pop on “Search and Destroy” or Freddie Mercury during “Bohemian Rhapsody”?

I’m not trying to hate on Nirvana here. I’m just trying to understand what those classic albums like Dark Side of the Moon, Blonde On Blonde, and Revolver have that even the most critically acclaimed modern artists can’t seem to replicate. There isn’t a shadow of doubt in my mind that life in 2011 is better then life forty or fifty years ago. The draft isn’t in place, medicine is better, racism and homophobia don’t have a death grip on society, etc. But it’s hard to deny that something special happened in the world of music between 1965 and 1973. Maybe it’s because the LSD was more potent or the Internet and satellite TV hadn’t brainwashed the creativity out of everyone. Maybe it’s because Rock ‘n Roll was still in it’s adolescence and hadn’t yet matured into the bitter, conservative 30 something exactly like the parents it swore it would never become. Who knows?

What I do know is ever since that fateful day in April ‘94 when Cobain took his own life the world hasn’t had a rock star of his status rise up and replace him. Sure, those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but so were Hendrix’s and Lennon’s.

Where the hell is the rock star to speak the voice of my generation? For my peers that star was Cobain, but we were still learning to potty train and speak full sentences when he was writing music. I was three when Kurt killed himself. The kids who were actually old enough and really had the chance to be inspired by Nirvana, the ones who saw him in the flesh and got hyped for In Utero, those kids are in their mid-30s and 40s now. Those were the kids who were supposed to carry the torch he left behind and inspire us, but instead my generation has been abandoned.

Thanks to the Internet, instead of watching our inspirations in concert we watch them on computer screens, picking and choosing whomever fits us best. Love it or hate it, Grunge was the last music scene to have an impact on our culture. Ever since then we’ve been left with “Alt Rock” and “Indie”.

What the hell does “Indie” even mean now? It used to be shorthand slang for “Independent”. Bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat and Mudhoney started their own labels and starved while touring in shitty vans and slept on strangers floors so they could make their art “Independent” of outside support. Record stores didn’t carry their records. Venues didn’t book them to play, and when they did get gigs they were paid pennies and poorly attended. Extreme sacrifices were made so they could follow their dreams.

You know what my generation does? We record a few songs at home, upload them to bandcamp, YouTube, Facebook, and iTunes, play a few local gigs and call ourselves “artists”. It’s fucking embarrassing. No wonder nobody has stepped up to take Kurt’s place. Cobain was homeless for several years because he followed his heart. Before Dylan became a household name he used to busk on the street and hop trains. Just because you can play an instrument in time with your friends while singing your shitty Livejournal poetry doesn’t mean shit. If you don’t risk your health and sanity to have your voice heard, then you don’t deserve to be listened to.

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The King Is Dead: Is Musical Immortality Possible?

Posted on 13 May 2011 by Mylynda Guthrie

-by Clay Riedesel

Elvis Presley, The King of rock ‘n’ roll, is dead. I’m not saying that Elvis fans are extinct. Spend a day in Vegas and you’re bound to run into more Elvis impersonators than hookers. But in this day and age, The King has been glossed over, and I can’t quite figure out why.

According to popular culture music didn’t begin until around 1963. Everybody from my Grandma to high school Freshman will endlessly gush about how The Beatles are the best band ever (usually spouting bullshit the whole time). When I was in high school the majority of the band t-shirts I saw were Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Grateful Dead (the worst were those kids who un-ironically wore Woodstock ‘69 shirts). I can’t tell you how many times I had to resist punching some smug fuck who just discovered his Dad’s old record collection ranting about how rock ‘n’ roll died after 1973, even though they couldn’t grow facial hair yet.

For the unaware, Elvis was sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll incarnate before anyone else. The ultimate rock star, the rebel without a cause, the guy who kick started the teenage angst that fuels the music industry to this day. There’s a deleted scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman asks John Travolta if he’s a Beatles man or an Elvis man because those are the only two kinds of people. If you traveled back in time to 1964 and told a passerby that those upstarts who recorded “I Want To Hold Your Hand” would go on to become bigger than The King they would have laughed in your face.

So why is it that Elvis hasn’t stood the test of time? I’m sure among those dusty, fatherly record collections there had to be an Elvis record or two. Why did Elvis Presley get glossed over in favor of Revolver, Dark Side Of The Moon, Led Zeppelin IV, Exile On Main Street, or Are You Experienced?

More importantly, when my generation grows old and has children and they grow up to thumb through our record collections, which ones will they pick? Will they find Funeral and Is This It as exciting as we did in 2004? Will Tim Kasher be their indie messiah like he was to us? Or will they go straight for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Who’s Next?

While Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Ke$ha may be dominating the Billboard Top 100 now, all us smug indie hipsters laugh and talk about how obscure they’ll be in ten years. How can we be so sure? The King of rock ‘n’ roll is dead. Who’s to say the graduating high school class of 2030 won’t endlessly spout bullshit about The Jonas Brothers musical legacy?

That begs the question, as an artist, should you appeal to the pop sensibilities of the current year so you can earn your place in the history books, or should you toil away in obscurity? Because even if you become the biggest band in the world, everyone will forget you in a decade or two.

If music is supposed to bring humanity closer why does it seem to be yet another thing that divides us? What separates a rapper, a classically trained pianist, and a punk rocker? Race? Social class? Intelligence? Technicality? They’re all just playing variations on the same theme that’s been around forever, right?

Maybe the difference is just something we invented. Maybe it’s because we can’t accept how insignificant we really are. Maybe we haven’t evolved out of our tribal instincts just yet. Maybe we never will. Maybe it’s a good thing that The King has been reduced to Vegas imitators and a featured night on American Idol.

We all want to be the king of the world, the richest, the strongest, the prettiest, the smartest. Doesn’t our fortune cookie remind us that it’s about the journey, not the destination? I think we’re all discovering what Elvis knew in 1973. After you become The King you only have two options: fight to stay on top, or get knocked off your throne.

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Technology and the Past Decade In Music: Indie College Takes a Look Back

Posted on 27 December 2010 by Mylynda Guthrie

Technology and the Past Decade In Music: Indie College Takes A Look Back

-Clay Riedesel
The music scene of the sixties was defined by LSD, the 70s by cannabis, the 80s by cocaine, and the 90s by heroin. Music and drugs have been inseparable since music was invented, but the drug of choice for the new millennium isn’t a psychoactive substance, it’s technology. 

On July 2, 2001 the music world was forever changed when Bram Cohen released BitTorrent, a peer to peer file sharing software. The software works by utilizing “torrents”, media files that are broken into “bits”. These easily download-able bits are shared between computers running BitTorrent and the selected torrent. While downloading, the program acts as a “leech”, primarily downloading and sharing little. Once the download is complete, the program then “seeds” the torrent bits to other lechers. Every BitTorrent user has a leech to seed ratio that tracks how much they seed and how much they leech. People who leech but never seed have low ratios, and are frequently kicked out of torrents. This encourages BitTorrent users to keep a 1:1 ratio, the ideal balance between giving and receiving.

BitTorrent is so effective that even people with dial-up Internet can download media quickly. While torrents exist for everything from movies to video games to computer software, Mp3s are by far the most commonly torrented media.

When it comes to the law, torrenting exists in a grey area. Torrent supporters claim it’s no different than sharing a CD with a friend so he can burn it to his computer. Opponents argue that torrenting is more like going into a record store and taking whatever you please without paying. While technically illegal, so many people torrent that it’s impossible for companies to sue everyone. So instead of prosecuting individual users companies go after torrent websites like The Pirate Bay and torrent software developers.

Some musicians adamantly disavow torrenting sties. Gene Simmons, bassist for the rock band Kiss, has been quoted saying “Make sure your brand is protected. Make sure there are no incursions. Be litigious. Sue everybody. Take their homes, their cars. Don’t let anybody cross that line.”

Other musicians that abhor torrenting include legendary metal band Metallica. In 2000 Metallica discovered an unreleased demo was receiving radio airplay. They tracked the leak back to the first peer to peer file sharing website, Napster. There they discovered their entire discography was available for free. Upset, the band took Napster to court. Other artists including Dr. Dre joined in on the lawsuit. The artists won, and Napster filed for bankruptcy. Napster would later reincarnate itself as a digital music store similar to iTunes.

Not all musicians are opposed to torrenting. In June 2003 English rock band Radiohead fulfilled their six album contract with EMI. Instead of renewing it, they chose to record their seventh album In Rainbows independently. On October 10, 2007 Radiohead released In Rainbows on their website, declaring that fans could play whatever they liked to download it, including nothing at all, and encouraged fans to spread the album via torrenting. In Rainbows would go on to be a huge commercial and critical success. While bands like Asthmaboy have been releasing their music for free online long before Radiohead, In Rainbows made free online music distribution mainstream, and played a huge role in advocating torrenting as a positive thing. Other major label bands including Nine Inch Nails would go on to release albums with a pay what you want system similar to In Rainbows

Torrenting has had a huge impact on artists, and not where you might expect. Bands get very little money from record sales, the majority of which goes to record companies. Instead artists make bank from ticket and merchandise sales at live concerts. Torrenting is usually beneficial to artists, helping them gain more fans than what they might have had otherwise. On the downside, torrenting has made it much harder to become a successful, innovative artist. Why should somebody listen to you when they can listen to The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Cars, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam for free? As an artist, how do you out innovate Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Rage Against The Machine, Sonic Youth, or David Bowie?

Torrenting has had a major effect on consumers too. Before the Internet music acted as a badge of cool among fans. Going to a live concert meant you experienced your favorite artists and songs differently than people who only heard them via vinyl or CD. Thanks to streaming video sites like YouTube and torrented concert DVDs, you can experience your favorite band live from the front row in high definition relaxing on your sofa without getting distracted by the noisy drunk standing next to you. Live concerts mean nothing anymore. Who cares about your shelf full of records when I can fit 3000 albums in my pocket?

The other piece of technology that revolutionized the music industry was video streaming website YouTube. With YouTube, any musician with a web cam and an Internet connection could have their voice heard. While streaming video existed before YouTube, it was awkward, clunky, and difficult to use. Artists like Bo Burnham and Tay Zonday have become famous and acquired record deals from their songs distributed on YouTube. While bands like OK Go, which write shitty music but direct amazing music videos, achieved unprecedented levels of success from YouTube distribution. 

Many people complain that modern day music is inferior to music from the 60s and 70s. What these people don’t realize is there was just as much music floating around back then, but only the best musicians acquired record deals and garnered radio play. The truth is the quality of music hasn’t changed, the volume has. Forty years ago the music market was much smaller and tighter than it is today. Thanks to technology we are exposed to more music than ever before, and while our crop has gotten larger, so has our cream, and it’s just as sweet if not sweeter.

Ed. note: Thanks to Clay for this thought provoking piece! Read more from Clay Riedesel on our sister site, Radio Free Chicago.

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