Saturday, September 20, 2008

2-24-2047: American Paralysis

I want to talk about what didn't happened. Not just with me and music, but to us, as a species.

I remember in my thirties when "Singularity" became a household term, and the world divided itself over this notion of eternal life through technology. In those days the world was always dividing itself up into twos; we had a two party political system (The Rich and The Poor), two computer manufacturers (that shared Intel as a chip manufacturer), two cell phone companies (AT&T 1 and AT&;T 2), etc.. 95% of the world's population had "evolved" to the point where greed was our main motivation for things rather than survival, so there just wasn't much to divide ourselves over outside of material things. We tried and tried. We invented so many divisive issues---sexuality, death penalty, deities, dolphin killing, football ---but nothing stuck. Without the threat of death everything was just... really... boring. So this was the perfect time to argue over the advent of Singularity, both because we needed something massive to polarize us and because the idea of extending this boring existence indefinitely was truly horrifying to many of those old enough to remember life before social networking.

It was also at this time, the 20teens, that the human brain was maturing so rapidly that we could finally identify and verbalize our collective ailment while still young enough to procure a receptive audience, one willing to entertain the notion of being proactive, even if doing so seemed unrealistic and costly. That cancer we blogged and Tweeted about --- this was before I.N.F. (Intelligent Nonsense Filtering) was implemented, mind you --- the great sickness of our species that had chewed away at our existence since we first crawled onto dry land some 4+ million years ago, was Acceleration itself.

Suddenly there was massive debate about all things accelerated: technology, bio-engineering, environmental negligence, etc., most of which was more sensationalism than actual intellectual output on the matter. Every Hollywood director worked overtime to Green-wash any children's fable with an over-simplified good vs. evil theme (again, dividing into twos), wrap it in an ever-improving CGI candy coating, and market it to the largest movie-going demographic. Cross-industry conventions and high profile think tanks were sprouting up all over the country to aid in the advancement of science and technology. We were unified in the belief that we were marching towards something biblical, we just couldn't agree on if it was an End or a Beginning.

Now it's 2047, two years past the date when Kurzweil predicted Singularity would be achieved, and we have no such thing. I'm seventy years old, and I cannot upload my brain's data anywhere. A giant asteroid has not hit the earth and I'm not being chased by Terminators (there was that one serial killer that got caught and put down by a Terminator, but that was an isolated incident).

So what happened? Or better put, why didn't anything happen?

First I want to tell you why I divorced music. At first it may seem a bit unrelated, but my struggle with a career in music is the perfect microcosm for our universal struggle with acceleration, so it seems a proper vehicle for the story:

In 2010, at the height of my career (which looked frighteningly similar to the beginning of it), the definition of a musician had quietly transformed. This shouldn't be surprising; at the time, social networking had pushed us to define and redefine ourselves on a daily basis. As artists we were enabled to abandon our composition, musicianship, bravery and pitch in favor of much more applicable skills such as graphic design, web development, video editing, and of course, marketing. The Sony Song Structure (intro/verse1/chorus/verse2/prechorus/chorus/bridge/chorus/fadout) had been scientifically proven to be the stickiest format; deviating from it seemed illogical. The only experimentation we allowed ourselves was in regards to aesthetics and textures - in this way our music became more like graphic design and less like art. And thus our impact lessened, and our workload doubled. Understand me: we never made a conscious decision to leave art in favor of fashion --- we were coerced by the iPod culture, the download culture, the reign of Autotune, Pro-tools, and the submergence of American youth into personality-marketing.

Those of us that could not adapt to this new paradigm floundered in a stubborn fog; suddenly obsolete, instantly elderly. We met at bars and had long talks about the state of things, wondering where things were going and how we would eat. We borrowed money. We grew jealous of our friends that had gotten out early. In hushed tones some of us suggested that things had been better when the major labels were running everything... at least under that system there was due process and a clear path to financial success (however regulated). Our days were rife with depression and the American paralysis that accompanies one's transition from idealist to realist.

At first, my survival instinct took charge... for a few years I excelled at online marketing. Back then we had this network called "Facebook" that occupied most of our time. These were the early days of syndication, mind you, so we actually had to manually post things and create content from scratch (Regenerative Content and Recyclops Technology wouldn't be pioneered for several years). I made some headway, asking my listeners to vote for me here, add me as a friend there, subscribe to this, download that and repost everything. I was checking my page views, tracking my song plays, pouring over analytics and insight statistics to figure out and exploit the best sources of traffic. I made the mistake of reading reviews and comments of my work, inflating and deflating several times a day. I was so busy frantically supplying "content" and gathering feedback that I hadn't the time to produce anything meaningful, resonant, or cathartic. I went weeks without writing. It was a terrifying metamorphosis, but the alternative, falling out of sync with the industry I grew up in, was just as terrifying.

I tried to book a small west coast tour to get out of my bedroom and back into hands-on music making, but the resistance I was met with made all those months of online activity seem pointless. As a last ditch effort, I recorded some demos for a new album and submitted them to my label in hopes of garnering a small advance to pay my rent for a few months. Expecting a Coffeelocks 2.0 and 3.0, they were not impressed with these tiny stripped down songs about disillusionment and personal revelation. They asked for more, promised less.

A few days later, my only companion, a 13 year-old doberman/shephard, walked face first into a door. He was diagnosed with mature cataracts, resulting in near blindness. I could not afford his surgery. That night I did what all white people do when faced with uncertainty: I went back to school.

A few years later, when I was well on my way to corporate stardom and sporting a lovely new bride, the audio-destroying virus known forever as "Noah15" ripped through every tablet and pod like acid. You may find it odd that it took Google two years to beat it, but you have to remember that this was the very first truly I.A. computer virus, so the technology to remedy it hadn't even been comprehended yet. At first it was devastating. In those two years, the music industry changed drastically once again: the number of "musicians" in the country fell from millions to thousands. Since streamed performances were now out of the question, live shows were again heavily attended and well paid for. Laptop/Pod artists disappeared, acoustic instrumentalists were revered again. Everyone that still had their old vinyl collection held special listening sessions and charged admission. My friends were getting their bands back together and touring. I considered it, but only for a few minutes at the end of each day. Chris was on his way and Sarah frowned heavily on any time away from the nest.

So you see that the panic of those times was perhaps not warranted. And clearly we didn't accelerate into extinction, either. Why?
Because time has never been a straight line and it's never been a circle. It's always been a sine wave. There is long-term balance to all things - eventual equalization. Eastern thought wins again. In regards to Singularity and technology acceleration, no one predicted the great reactionary Habitat Flush of the 20's (in which 68% of the population returned to cave-dwelling... albeit with Ikea furniture and proper plumbing), the neutralizing effects of vegetarianism (and its subsequent cattle reduction) on our atmosphere, or the impact of diabetes-related fetal gigantism and its sudden reversal of the overpopulation issue.
Likewise, no one in the music industry could have predicted the swift and total domination of live performance revival bands like Black Flag 2.0 (or "Blog Flack" as they were affectionately known). Yes, you'll be quick to point out that Black Flag 2.0 and many other bands in the forefront of the digi-punk movement (and, much later, the Noah15 virus itself) were eventually exposed as highly-strategized products of Warner Sony, but you'd be missing the point:

If I could go back and talk to 31-year-old me --- the debt-ridden, apocalyptic guy filling out college applications --- I would grab him by his allergic face and say to him only this: have faith in the balancing act of nature. Above all things, believe in that.


Cory said...

I'd like to thank your 70 year old self for coming back in time to tell ME that. It hits hard having just wasted several hours reading about marketing and bookmarking music blogs to send stuff to. I'll also keep this in mind next time I hear Ke$ha in the car. It will help me fight the impulse to yank the wheel into oncoming traffic. Noah15 is coming for you bitches! Oh, and assuming it's true, sorry to hear about Lumas.

hevans said...

I always enjoy reading TGC. I am not a musician, but I still gain so much from your posts. So, here’s to success on your upcoming tour… ¡Salud!

Ben Carroll said...

brilliant. you're improving as a writer, no doubt, and you wedre no slouch before.

what i really want is to hear these 'tiny stripped down songs about disillusionment and personal revelation,' though. you can quote me on that.

Nick said...

Thank you for this, that last line made me feel a little better about my current life.

Sims said...

This was very well written! I will pass it along to all my friends that can identify.
I think you have hit a common thread among artists here. Kurzweil has definitely filled me with intrigue as to the future. As for the present, I have been reduced to the soul stripping job of playing Bon Jovi and Def Leppard covers to our nations future leaders to make ends meet and am currently filling out college applications to escape this plight. I contemplated selling my vinyl a few times as well. Thanks, man. You brightened my day!