Where Did Authentic Music Go?

12/04/2011 17:27

Today we are living in a world filled with innovations that were unimaginable fifty years ago, as we can communicate wirelessly through our mobile phone, read any newspaper in the world with the click of a finger and video chat through software like ooVoo or Skype. A time traveler from the 70’s would be filled with awe if he visited this wired world of ours. However, would he feel the same way about today’s music?

We learned in one seminar that the definition of art is the expression of sentiments by means of beauty. When this definition is applied to music, we get that music is the expression of one’s inner-self through auditory means. Are most mainstream songs of today worthy of being called “music” by this definition? I honestly cannot think of a song playing on the radio right now which expresses the singer’s sentiments or refers to events from his/her life. Of course there are exceptions such as Akon’s “Blame it on Me” in which he describes his life from the beginning up to present and apologizes for his previous scandals such as the sexual harassment incident in Trinidad and Tobago. Yet, most songs that have hit the music charts in the past twenty years are completely bereft of authenticity; songs such as  “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga or “Low” by Florida. Although all fused with catchy tunes, and thus fun to listen to, they just don’t emanate the sincere emotion of singles from the 1960’s to 1990’s. Nor do they contain any poetry, symbolism or allusions. Songs like these are written solely for commercial purposes, charged with motivational lyrics that will boost the listener’s party mood, sex drive, etc., however not possessing any deep lyrics, they will not stand the test of time and will probably be unknown in twenty years. It would be biased if I were not to mention that there wasn’t music like that during the days of old, but I can just spontaneously name songs of authentic or poetic value from the previous times, such as: “Ride on”, “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Dead Flowers”, “Hangfire”, “Atlantic City”, “Born in the U.S.A” and many more. If you asked me to name such songs from this era, it would take me a while. The lyrics of some of our modern day hits are so crude and unrefined that many people find them entertaining to listen to just for the comedy factor. “Get Loose” by TI, or “That Whisper Song” by the Ying Yang Twins definitely make this list of fame – or rather shame.

I’m going to quote Bob Seger and say “Today’s music ain’t got the same soul, I like that old timer rock and roll!” I mean, back then musicians wrote songs from their hearts, they contained references to their personal lives and songs were like excerpts from their daily diary. Let’s take Rolling Stones’ songs for example. “Respectable” rails at Mick Jagger’s wife for having cheated on him with the president’s son, calling her “a rag-trade girl, the queen of porn, the easiest lay on the White House lawn.”  “Hangfire” expresses Jagger’s disdain for the U.K, which he sees as plagued by laziness and corrupt politicians. Another fantastic Rolling Stones song, “Dead Flowers”, one of my favorites, contains an authentic tale about a spoiled rich girl that the band members have probably encountered.  Apart from authentic experiences or sentiments, they made songs that alluded to intellectual concepts. For example, “The Sympathy for the Devil” is about the dark side of man and “Undercover of the Night” is about political corruption in Latin America. ­The Stones were truly masters of their own work, unlike the artists of today, who bear closer resemblance to mere puppets of music producers. ­These days the sole purpose of making music is to make money, and music is just the means to do so. Back then, artists made music for music’s sake. The older generation of singers weren’t afraid of being “uncool” by using big words such as in Bob Dylan’s “”Hey Mr. Tambourine Man”” – “Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands.“ Speaking of the song, it is a complete marvel, a great work of poetry embellished by a catchy tune that makes it the ultimate song. The lyrics make one feel as if one’s soul stepped out of the body and embarked on an adventure across the blue, halcyon sea,  somewhere far away from all the troubles encompassing life,  into the wild. A world apart from the generic songs I hear every day in the dormitory cafeteria.

            Modern-day music is to a large extent bereft of authenticity and deep meaning as it is mainly driven by pecuniary motives rather than intrinsic factors. One would have to be blind if one were not to notice this dearth of soul and sincerity in the mainstream music of today.  Most of the popular mainstream songs one hears on the radio today are blatantly generic and just can’t compare with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, AC/DC or Iron Maiden. Back then songs had a soul and authenticity that made them stand out of the crowd. Each album was like a novel and the songs were chapters telling a story. The songs could be analyzed and interpreted in several ways. God knows how many ways Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” can be interpreted. It is truly a shame how music has been dumped down over the years. Even non-English music was much better back before the second millennium. My favorite German song is Nie wieder werde ich weinen um Dich, my favorite Slovak one is Sestricka z Kramarov, from Hungary I’m most fond of Gyöngyhajú Lány and my favorite Czech song is the Czech cover of the former – “Divka s perlami ve vlasech“ and from the Russian world the song “Ya Shagayu po Moskve“.  As far as music is concerned, I don’t really feel ‘at home’ in this epoch.  I want authentic, meaningful music back.

Tomáš Buš