Tuesday, March 25, 2008


This past weekend Collette and I attended a performance of We Will Rock You here in Toronto. This is the musical based on the music of Queen. You remember Queen; big hair, big guitars, big hits, big music, big ambiguous lyrics filled with big words that had some of my high school buddies scrambling for a dictionary. "Hey, look up Bohemian ..." Well, at least they had finally opened a dictionary. Hell, they had finally opened a book ...

I digress. Not surprising, really, because I think digressing is the whole point of this blog. So when I don't digress and stay focused and on point, I am defeating the whole point of this exercise. Except defeating pointless points is also the point of this blog. Again. With the digressing.

Back to We Will Rock You. This won't be a review of the show but it was great. Collette and I are Queen fans of varying degree and we like the music, the performances and singing were solid and the "book" (see, I took theatre in school) was quite funny.

The story concerns itself with the homogenization of music. One of the characters states "The music began to die with the creation of something called American Idol that produced singers whose careers were shorter than the songs they sang" (Paraphrasing, imagine a more humorous and melodious syntax) Real music made by real guys with real big hair wearing their sisters make up in their daddy's garage had been replaced by corporate created muzac distributed over the Internet.

The instruments were taken, the leather jackets where shredded and people's ability to create had been compromised by commercial pablum. Well, hard to argue that. But, when did this happen? A recent phenomenon? Was there actually some long grace period where free spirited artists made their music as they wanted and everyone was able to hear it?

Maybe in the Delta, in the juke joints and the booze parties, where Leadbelly and Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson played for pennies and still liquor, often making it up as they went along cause nobody read music or knew the words. (OK, my blues name will now be Sighted Tangerine Kellar, just cause I can)

I grew up at the tail end of rock and roll, pre Brit invasion rock and roll, the era that We Will Rock You casts as some kind of musical utopia. Cept it was during this era that Fabian was signed to a recording contract before anyone ever heard him sing cause he had wet eyes and a taut butt. And Pat Boone was doing Little Richard covers and selling them. I often bemoan aloud that in this day of the music video, people get record contracts based on their looks; but Fabian was there already there and the Beatles really didn't get huge until they were on Ed Sullivan

Image has always been a part of rock and roll. Maybe rock and roll was so hugely successful because of its image. The leather jacket and blue jeans are visual icons really, associated with an aural art form, can you have one without the other? Rock and rollers enjoyed mass market success long before the bluesmen even though rock began as an expression of blues. Why is that so?

Cause more rockers were white, more rockers were young, and more rock and roll happened in the age of TV than did the blues. Sullivan, American Bandstand ... I am not forgetting or ignoring racism. Blues records weren't sold to white kids and blues music wasn't played on white radio. Though, even this art form was chained to commercialism; many blues greats, including Sonny Boy Williamson got their start on the King Biscuit Boy radio show. King Biscuit Boy was a flour label.

Lets face it, if music didn't have ties to commercialism we would never hear it. Guerrilla radio stations aside, most of the music we hear is because some one is making money from it. And if someone is making money from it, that someone damn well has their hand in the creative stew.

Early blues music was organic, shows sometimes just happened spontaneously and bluesmen often "duelled" with other (and duelled with each other, like with guns and razors "You bring the knife, I'll bring the gun, we'll go down to the alley and have us some fun" Hoyt Axton sang) Early rap music was similar. Totally uncommercial, a form of expression devoid of instrumentation cause no one could afford it. Now look at it. Queen Latifa (who once declared on black person could be racist so don't jail them) hawks lip stick and Run of Run DMC has a reality show that looks like the Cosby show.

In the mid sixties a lot of old bluesmen were "discovered" by a white audience and were applauded as real, organic, "folk" music. You could actually "find" a Bukka White album and pass it around and be pretty sure no one else in your circle had ever hear of him. I heard KT Tunsall on a little underground internet site and it seemed before I could write her name down, she had her own Bravo special. Technology has made that different, as We Will Rock You declares. But is it bad? Bukka White never got to sell a million records or play to thousands of peoples and sign and endorsement deal and make a sex tape that gets onto the net and go to detox and national TV and clean up and become a Christian for four seconds before going back on tour and producing some tiny little white chick with big tits who makes him even more money ...

But I bet he would have liked too.

Oh yeh, one final irony about the whole thing. We Will Rock You, the musical that denounces the commercialisation and branding of everything was staged in the beautiful old Pantages theatre ... except now it is called the Canon.

And life goes on.

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