Friday, January 16, 2009

2009: Year of the _______

My dear patient reader:

I'm finally back from an unexpectedly long hiatus. See, what with school and finals and all, and then the holidays, and then the serious illness of a loved one, I haven't had time to post to Rock and the Single Girl.

During this hiatus, I had the pleasure of reading what is secretly my favorite kind of album review: a bad review of what I know is a terrible band. It was in a magazine that I secretly read almost every week, Entertainment Weekly. (My excuse is that my stepfather gets it, and that I only read it because it's always there waiting for me at home.) It was a review of a band that I make no secret of despising: Nickelback.

In the recent EW that reviewed the entirety of 2008, critic Leah Greenblatt rated Nickelback's Dark Horse a C+. She calls the lyrics of the album's first track "execrable" (hello SAT word!), and further calls it "kryptonite for feminists". I guess that's not a serious criticism for some people, but I'm pretty sure she meant it in the most negative way possible. Greenblatt goes on to call the entire album a "marvel of low art", which might sound like a compliment, but probably isn't really.

Here's the only part of the review that wasn't enjoyable for me to read: Greenblatt writes that based on the massive success of Nickelback and other laughably lame cock rock bands like Hinder and Metallica, that we are in the "Year of the Dude." "The only sure thing in the music business in 2008? The testosterone caddies of AC/DC, Metallica, Hinder, and Nickelback..." says Greenblatt.

This news came as something of a surprise to me. It's impossible to not be aware of lame guy rock, there are more Nickelbacks and Hinders and Buckcherries and Three Days Graces and Avenged Sevenfolds every single day, they're coming at us from all sides, it seems. It's equally impossible to not be aware of what I consider high quality music that happens to be made by men: according to numerous best-of-2008 lists, 2008 was the year of TV on the Radio, a band that certainly deserves the critical acclaim. But Year of the Dude? That strikes me as a bit of an overstatement.

But then, I'm probably the wrong girl to ask. By this point, I'm pretty well-studied at the art of shutting out the mainstream. Reading Entertainment Weekly is the only connection I have to big mainstream media, and otherwise, I live on a different plane. For me, 2008 will always be the year I volunteered at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn. It will always be the year that I had my faith in women's collective ability to create something powerful through music revived -- and by the keening, wailing, joyous racket produced by two hundred or so young girls, aged 8 - 18. (The other volunteers, who worked as their instructors and mentors, a small but fierce group comprised mostly of radical lady musicians, had a different, but positive impact on my faith in humanity.) I was so busy setting a positive, empowered example for my campers, and then so busy supporting the bands the volunteers play with that there was no room in my musical world for these dude bands, though I knew in the back of my mind they were out there.

'Out there', yes -- but I certainly wasn't aware of how popular these dude bands are. This review says that Nickelback and other related bands "collect platinum plaques like they seem to collect hangovers and cocktail waitresses." Nickelback alone has allegedly sold 16 million records! I can hardly even fathom that, in this day and age it's rare for a band to go platinum, forget 16 times platinum. I hate to say it, but I read the review several times, and I was convinced: in 2008, shitty guy bands dominated the industry. How depressing.

I was approaching the edge of despair over this news when it occurred to me: hey, 2008 is over. It's 2009 -- and while the lame bands that were so popular in 2008 are still here, that doesn't mean that they have to continue to be popular. It's a new year, reader, and it might not seem like it, but we have the power to decide what this year will be about. Maybe we can't control the ailing music industry, or the increasingly monolithic radio industry, or the frankly disappointing music television channels. But we can control what we pay attention to, and how we decide to live 2009. I didn't realize it at the time, but that's what I did with Rock Camp, I effectively changed my approach to music and life.

And who knows? Maybe if enough of us change the way we listen to and think about music and live performances, we can impact the industry. It might seem impossible, but think about it: a year ago, most of us thought it was impossible that Barack Obama would win the United States presidential election. Through out his campaign, Obama had millions of people cheering: "Yes we can!" Here's hoping that in 2009, we can keep saying "yes we can" to the challenges that lie ahead -- including the challenge of reviving our languishing music and pop cultures.