I have come to the conclusion that it will never stop – persons telling you angrily that today’s music is “garbage”. They will tell you, sometimes jabbing you in the chest to make their point, “The music from 30, 40 years ago – that was music, man; not this trash we have nowadays; just boom, boom, boom. What happened to all those great songs from the seventies? That was real music. When is it coming back?” The short answer is, “Don’t hold your breath. It’s not.”
The popular music you hear being played today is, as it has always been, an expressionof an appetite that goes with the times.
It’s not like classical music which does not follow the times. Beethoven sounds today like it did 80 years ago; 80 years from now, the same thing. Popular music is not that. Popular music is fundamentally a reflection of current (emphasis on the ‘current’) life styles and mores, it’s essentially driven by young people, and as those things change the music follows suit; much of popular music 30-40 years back was about contemplation or rumination; now it’s more about creating a vibe or a feeling usually to do with revelry or partying, whereas the music from 30 years ago reflected that earlier more benign time. Today, with the tempo of life speeded up and “instant” everything, and high energy, there isn’t much interest in the music of that previous time, which is why it’s not coming back. We are, as the music industry boys put it, in a different gear.
It struck me recently, driving past one of those mobile pirate CD sellers, with their audio going full bore (I wrote a note about it on my deskpad) that you hear only today’s music coming from them…wherever you see them, any time of day, whatever street, it’s the same thing; the beat driven energy push of now. The music from the earlier eras – the ballads and Latin rhythms, the calypso, soul, etc – almost none of that is heard on the street machines or on the chart-driven radio playlist. In the Caribbean broadcasts, you never hear Blakie or Gabby or Sparrow, even Shadow − listen to the radio or the TV all day; you never hear them. Merrymen, same thing. Tradewinds get some occasional play here only because I’m Guyanese. Even Eddy Grant, almost no play. Dennis deSouza? Zero. It’s all the modern pulse. When that earlier stuff is gone, the people from that time try to cling to it, but it’s essentially gone. A man stopped me some weeks back in a store in town − Tradewinds fanatic, he’s excited to meet me; he’s almost hopping on one foot. He has two kids, 10 and 11 or so, I would guess, and he’s trying to hype them up, calling the names of my songs, “this is the man”, he says; the kids obviously don’t know the songs and are looking at him blank. They haven’t a clue what he’s talking about. It made me laugh. He’s going like a marionette, and the two of them are standing there, mouth open, staring at him in a generation gap played out in real life.
A couple years ago, coming out of the National Park after flag-raising, a man carrying a child about four years old, brackled me as I was getting in my car. “Wait, wait, wait. Don’t move. Stay right deh.” He opens his cell phone with the free hand, and takes a picture. He says to the girl child. “Shake dis man hand. Shake dis man hand.” He said it twice. “Dis is Dave Martin. Dis is a Guyanese icon. When yuh mo’ big, yuh gun know he songs.” He gives me a hug, almost crushing the poor child, who is wide-eyed staring at her father. Of course, it is touching. This is one of my people spontaneously telling me that my music has become a part of his life – that is a powerful thing. You move away from those encounters with a spring in your step, but the hope in his comment is faint; the harsh reality is that his children will know the songs only if he keeps hammering them in his home or his car. In the world outside, that music, generally, is extinct. His children will not know Lord Funny, or Gabby, or David Rudder.
Examine all the efforts to hold onto “this old music”, as Sparrow rightly terms it; every one of them is a commercial failure. Producers put together these compilations of hits-gone-by, nicely packaged, sometimes digitally remastered, and attractively priced, but apart from a handful of senior citizens, and a few curious tourists, nobody buys them or pays attention to them. The radio stations ignore them. The pushcart vendors don’t play them. The DJs look at them as something from a museum; that may be a harsh word, but that’s essentially what they are.
Understand that I’m not bitter about this. I understand the shift and accept it. My point here is don’t hold your breath waiting for that style of music to be the rage again. The music recording studios and music production businesses are not pumping out that product anymore. The popular music they produce now reflects now, and rightly so. The folks who call it “garbage” are wrong. Yes, it’s stripped down, and it’s driven by drums and bass, and the lyrics don’t matter much – the whole thing is designed for partying – but that’s exactly what the young people market today wants. It’s simply supply meeting demand.
Now I’ve said this before in different ways but last week, yet again, somebody accosted me with the “garbage music of today” gripe, as if I was in a position to fix the problem. So I’m saying it again and for the last time – I hope. As is the case with the electric typewriters (when last have you seen one of those?), and phones with a dial, and 8-track tapes (young people don’t have a clue what I’m talking about), that music is from another time; a time that is no more. If you love that stuff, don’t go looking for it in today’s music; the stuff you love is history.