Sunday, May 11, 2008

Music and Politics

Brenda and I went to the Embassy Theater in Fort Wayne the other week to see Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert. Lynyrd Skynyrd has long been one of our favorite bands. They make wonderful music and are great showman as well, so it was a thoroughly satisfying concert. No big surprise there.

What was a bit of a surprise was how much we enjoyed the opening act, Whiskey Falls. Usually, when you're at a concert because you're a huge fan of the star performers, you just kind of tolerate the opening act, waiting respectfully, but somewhat impatiently, for their part of the show to be over so you can get on with the main attraction.

It wasn't that way with this new, young band, Whiskey Falls. They were good enough that we were in no particular hurry for them to quit the stage. Whiskey Falls plays similar music to Lynyrd Skynyrd, basically, what I guess what we used to call southern fried rock. We emerged from the concert as Whiskey Falls fans.

On the way home from Fort Wayne, we talked about what that meant considering the current state of rock and roll. Where does a band like Whiskey Falls get its audience? Rock and roll radio stations in the 21st century seem to consist mainly of two formats: 1) classic rock or 2) rap/hip-hop/alternative. I'm not really sure of the ins and outs of these various modern genres because rock and roll lost me in the 90's. Even beyond Lynyrd Skynyrd's heyday, when they were young and fresh and so was I, I stayed with them and what were then new bands like U2 and INXS and Van Halen and ZZ Top. I loved Guns 'n' Roses and Motley Crue and The Scorpions and Def Leppard.

And then rock and roll just took off in directions I wasn't prepared to follow. Rap and hip-hop seemed boring and ugly. I hated the depressingness of grunge with its monotone despair. I wasn't a bit surprised that Kurt Cobain committed suicide. His music made me feel a little suicidal myself.

Well, all this is old age talking, I know. The kids have a right to their own music. They probably prefer me to feel the way I do because when you're young, who wants to idolize musicians who make your parents happy? When I was a teenager, I got off on the old folks tut-tutting over Elvis' hips and the Beatles' hair and asking how I could like Bob Dylan when he couldn't even sing, for God's sake! And Janis Joplin's screaming, good Lord! That wasn't music!

But, still, where does that leave Whiskey Falls and the people, presumably, even many young people, who still like the old kind of rock and roll? Where do they go to get played and where do their fans go to hear them?

Well, I'll tell you. It's to country music. Those of us who used to consider ourselves died-in-the-wool rock and rollers, who wouldn't have turned to a country station if someone held a gun to our head (because we were too cool for country) have gravitated away from rock and roll because the country stations have welcomed us and our music in when rock shut us out, if we didn't want to listen to music at least a decade and possibly three decades old (all of which I love but you do reach a point when you say, "enough already, I can't handle Stairway to Heaven one more time!".

Actually, there has been some entwining of the two types of music for many years. For instance, in the 60's or maybe it was the 70's, Bob Dylan recorded an album called Nashville Skyline. But in more recent times, the intermingling became more prevalent with bands like the Eagles going country. This year, Jon Bon Jovi won a Grammy - for a country song. And, that's where Brenda and I discovered we had to go to find Whiskey Falls.

All of this is fine. It has brought more country fans to rock and more rockers to country, both discovering music they might not have enjoyed if not for this ethnic musical joining of forces. But, I still think its sad that rock and roll basically threw us out and defined itself as selective to only certain desirable groups.

In a way, it sort of reminds me of the Democrat party of 2008. The new Democrat party, as defined by Donna Brazile, doesn't need us old working class types anymore, because they have the African Americans, the young and the upscale and those constituencies are enough to take them where they want to go.

Oddly enough, the music melds better than the politics. Although I love much country music, I still tend to think of the country attitude as being Republican, NASCAR, conservative whereas rock and roll was more anti-establishment, liberal, Democrat. That's still where I feel most at home so its a little like I've moved into a neighborhood where I don't quite fit in.

I'm trying to make it work with country music but that may be as far as I'm prepared to go. I can't see myself becoming a Republican so I guess, for the time being at least, I'm a political orphan.