Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Music Has No Power to Change Anything

One of the enduring myths of popular music continues to be the notion that it matters.

It does not matter who plays what at which gig. It does not matter what's on that new album. Music doesn't matter anymore and it does not connect more than a handful of people to one another. An entire generation of kids does not buy the same albums anymore. In America, Adele sold over 3 million copies of an album containing similar songs about being sad. Where's the uplift and change in that?

When you read Bono these days, you're reading the last words of a dying movement that actually thinks a song sung a certain way matters:

Bono says despite the deadly attacks in Paris last month, he believes Paris will remain strong and he is hoping U2's concert there this week moves the audience.

U2 was set to perform in Paris on Nov. 14 and was in a middle of rehearsing when 130 people were killed in suicide bombings and shootings the day before in what has become the worst attack on French soil in more than a half-century.

"Well, knowing our French audience and having a sense of them by now, I would say joy as an act of defiance," he said of what concert-goers can expect when U2 performs at the AccorHotels Arena on Dec. 6-7. "That's what U2 does, that's what French people want from us and that's it."

"They took a lot of lives we're not going to get back, but they're not going to change the character of the city of Paris," he continued in an interview with The Associated Press.

If there's even a remote chance that public safety could be threatened, no, you don't play the show. It's all well and good to play a concert for the people of Paris--in fact, why not let everyone in for free and see what that gets you? Ultimately, that's up to the people who decide such things. Whether it's a U2 concert or a classical music show or Muse does not matter. Whatever goes on there will be seen and heard by a fraction of the people who live there. Many will be high on drugs and will wonder when Bruce Springsteen comes on, and fewer still will remember to put down they phone and actually watch the show.

And that's what's really sad about watching Springsteen, et al, do their thing nowadays. They still get up on stage and play as if what's happening is some sort of religious experience. They make it out to look like something really special is happening, as if there isn't a set list or lighting cues or a plan to get the whole thing over with in order for the roadies to break it all down in time to get on the road. They make it out to be something that It's not. Those people in front of the stage paid somewhere around 280 euros, each, to pretend they were watching a show from forty years ago when tickets were only $20, if that. They want a nostalgic experience worth the face value of the ticket they paid way too much for. They want spectacle and they want the whole thing to matter more than it does. 

Music is nothing more than a nostalgia trip these days, but only if you can afford it. You're not playing to "fans" anymore because your fans can't afford to come see you anymore. You're playing to bankers and lottery winners now. You're playing to people too rich to care whether or not you used to matter. And none of them bought your last album, brother.

And so, here's Bono. He's defiantly promising to play a show in France that may or may not happen, depending on the logistical concerns of safety and security. He's going to play to a fraction of the population--the wealthier fraction that's willing to pay a lot of money, of course. The only fans he rubs shoulders with will be well-heeled enough to get back stage. He'll play songs that are thirty or forty years old, and if he doesn't play enough of them, people will shuffle back and forth during the newer songs or go back to whatever is on their phones (funny how no one demands they play No Line on the Horizon and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb back to back instead of the hits). 

The real aim of terrorism is to get people to change their lives. The real aim of people like Bono is to make damned certain that when people do make changes to their lives, they don't inadvertently stop going to overpriced concerts. We can have freedom, but we can't have an interruption of touring profits. And that's okay--no one should be mad that Bono and the lads are already well into another decade of making ridiculous amounts of money playing old songs in front of people who are willing to pay to hear them.

But let's not make this out to be a fight against terrorism. U2 doesn't fight terrorism. There are actual men and women fighting terrorists and they often lose their limbs or their lives doing so. They get paid peanuts and they risk everything. Theirs is the real fight that matters, and we belittle their efforts when a mere rock and roll show is elevated into the pantheon of things that actually matter. Do you know who else is playing that same venue this year? Madonna, David Guetta, and the Cure. I suppose they fight terrorism, too, just with less bravado than Bono.

Ah, but they played Pride, so that showed everyone.

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