By Beppe Colli
May 10, 2016
The time has come to go on a hiatus, open-ended. As it always happens
in cases like this, there are multiple reasons for this decision. I could
mention my trying on my swimming trunks, with disastrous results, hence my
resolution to start a new rigorous fitness regime. I could mention the large
wood-and-glass cabinet placed to my left which I bought three years ago and
which is still empty, while lotsa records and books are scattered all over the
place. I could also mention the car accident we survived, unscathed, though the
car was damaged beyond repair.
And then I could talk about the true
reasons for this, except for the fact that the very scrupulous legal team that
reads everything I write before publication advised me not to tell the full
story, and killed the previous three drafts I wrote. So what follows is the
As readers know perfectly well, when it comes to "quality
music" it's my opinion that for some time now we've arrived at the stage
of the epilogue. The cause for this is not a mysterious powder that an evil
entity added to the water supply, but a series of well-known individual
dynamics that add up to a sad sum. This does not imply, of course, that there
are no more works of great artistic merit being released. In fact, there are
quite a few. But when one takes the past into account - something one is forced
to do, due to the ever-increasing series of "rock deaths" - one can't
help but notice how different the framework. Then, there is also the fact that,
in order to survive, musicians have to silently accept a drying-up of their
most original qualities and traits, which are dimmed by those
"mercenary" roles one has to take in order to survive.
Meanwhile, musicians have come to accept
the fact that their best fans (!) regard the money they give them not as a
proper compensation for their music, but as a form of charity.
Quite funny to notice that, while quite a
few people lament those Spartan results in music due to little money being
invested when it comes to record albums, not too many bother to praise those
albums which offer a high concentration of brains and bucks. A few "for
instance" being, say, Paper Wheels by Trey Anastasio, Lonely Avenue by Ben
Folds and Nick Hornby, and Circus Money by Walter Becker. Those are the kind of
albums that were once filed under "mainstream", something which is
impossible today, when the word "mainstream" stands for such artists
as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Katy Perry, Jay Z, and Miley Cirus.
But even if one takes more "off the
radar" music into account, things don't change that much: just check the
lukewarm reaction which greeted a limpid specimen of guitar improvisation such
as Self Portrait In Pale Blue by Corrie van Binsbergen.
While sitting here, there were a lot of ugly things I could see. And
while it's obvious that those well-known market factors have killed - or at the
very least, lowered the quality of - a lot of newspapers and magazines, both at
the newsstand and online (just a side note: a few days ago, totally by chance,
I happened to find a disk featuring a few mega of articles and interviews I had
saved, and it was with great amazement that, reading the stuff, I noticed how
much backwards we've gone in the last fifteen years), what surprises me the
most is the number of fans of "difficult music" who don't care
anymore about having a dialogue with other people about what they listen to, so
adopting an attitude that in the long run can only lead to solipsism.
This is a condition that doesn't have the
"communitarian" dimension of the "social networks" as its
counterbalance, since when it comes to music all communication - which today is
very fast and multi-centric - is supposed to have a high degree of depth in the
listening dimension, something that most people never really started
Everything lasts for just one moment, and
it's widely accepted that the most common condition today is the one called
"whim", like it exists in the realm of fashion: an "instant"
kind of pleasure that doesn't need - nor looks for - any rationale.
Inside this framework, even those products
that could potentially provide "beneficial effects" - let's think
about, say, the documentary about recording studios that Dave Grohl wrote and
directed - in the end just become "something we saw last night", like
a program about cooking or the most recent episode of a serial.
I don't know how many of my readers are familiar with the work of
Margaret Sullivan, a journalist that up to a few weeks ago acted as the Public
Editor in The New York Times.
For a few years, Sullivan's role was an
important nexus between the newspaper and its readers, and between the work of
journalists and the truth. From various "biases" to problems
concerning accuracy, the Public Editor has the unpleasant job of a kind of
"supervisor" when it comes to the newsroom and their work. All this,
while placed inside the fast velocity of today's stream of information, while
at the same time being confronted with those economic restrictions that
increasingly condition the work of the Press.
It goes without saying that the role of the
Public Editor is one of great independency, and that there's a staff helping
her/him in their task.
This is the crucial point: Readers who choose
to pay in order to get accurate information are also participants in a
conversation about the accuracy and truthfulness of that information, an
ongoing process that's always perfectible. So a newspaper is also called to
check if what people said in a public debate - like the ones that are about the
Presidency - was true. So while a newspaper has to report facts ("X said
this") but also assess the accuracy of what was said ("Is what X said
There are also those issues concerning the
allocation of the available resources, which are by definition finite. Did the
paper allocate the right amount when dealing with a fact that at first could
appear of not much importance?
So, given the current state of crisis when
it comes to both sales and ads, a crucial issue is the way those resources are
split. As a reader, I have to say that, compared to The New York Times, the way
Italian daily la Repubblica allocates what limited resources they have leaves a
lot to be desired.
Consumers can vote with their wallet. Will we ever have a quality
music press that's comparable to what we had in the past? Will we settle for a
constant flow of information whose real worth is impossible to determine? Will
"wellness" and "whim" fill our days? The future is open.
© Beppe Colli 2016
CloudsandClocks.net | May 10, 2016