The Bob Seger Lesson

I was getting a haircut on Sunday and the chit-chat with the barber was about music. She is my age, mid-40’s, so she thinks the new pop music is mostly crap. Her son is listening to hip-hop, which is degenerate crap. That was never said, but the thought was in the air, so to speak. Whatever artistic merit there was to hip-hop, if any, disappeared when white boys in the suburbs became the prime demographic for music about the ghetto. That and the performer cannot sing, read or write music or string together comprehensible lyrics.

There’s lots of crap in pop culture, so hip-hop is just one example. To paraphrase John Derbyshire, pop culture has always been filth. It’s also always been a racket to skim middle-class whites of money. Read the book The Wrecking Crew and you will learn about how the early rock music was mostly manufactured by middle-aged Jews from the Jazz era. The difference between now and previous eras is that there used to be talented musicians and groups producing some quality stuff.

A good example is Bob Seger. He got famous in the 1970’s with a bunch of hits that still get airtime today. Go into a college bar and you will still find a few Seger songs getting played. Seger was before my time, for the most part, but my generation was playing his stuff in the 80’s and 90′ so it is not like he is a newly re-discovered fad because of a TV commercial. The reason he had some staying power is the quality of the music. Even doggerel put to a simple ditty can aspire to the sense of the timeless.

I was never a big fan, but I have been listening to his greatest hits lately. The lyrics and pacing are phenomenal. It is what you get when experienced professional musicians with talent make records. In all probability they hammered out each song on a piano and then brought in the rest of the instruments. The studio sessions were about getting the sound on vinyl, not making bad voices and bad musicians sound good. Seger and his collaborators had real talent and produced a quality product.

That got me thinking about what is and what is not quality pop music. There are probably dozens of examples from each decade that you can point to like this. The 1950’s were dominated by manufactured pop hits, but Chuck Berry made the electric guitar do things unheard of before his time. Fifty years from now people will find his licks beguiling. The Stones, The Who, and Hendrix will hold up and have held up. The 70’s had Zeppelin, which may have been the most sophisticated rock band ever.

Nothing in pop music rises to the level of Beethoven, of course, but there and bands and performers in most decades with artistic talent. That seems to have slowed in the mid-70’s with the rise of disco and hip-hop. I’m not sure who from the 80’s would be in the same club as the Stones or The Who. The 90’s saw things fall apart completely, as there were no dominant acts. That could simply be my age showing, but I was till plugged into pop culture in the 1990’s, so I don’t think I’m falling into geezerism here.

This apparent decline in high end quality music the last two decades is a mystery that goes without notice. Instead, the pop industry just turns up the hype to eleven figuring young people will not notice they are being sold synthetic pap. It’s not an accident that the “hype man” has become a feature of everything from sports to movies. There are thousands of people paid to tell us that the latest movie, TV show or pop act is the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel.

Still, where are the talented musicians going if not into the garage or basement to create something good? Part of the answer is nowhere. Young people are simply not picking up instruments as they did in the past. When I was a kid, everyone played something, even in poor neighborhoods. It was just the way. I was started on the trumpet at six and took lessons until I was 12. Most kids dropped it for sports or other stuff, but many stuck with it.

Today, the only kids I see with an instrument are Asian girls carrying violins. Blacks have abandoned the guitar and seem to be losing interest in the drums.  Whites have dropped music entirely. This old post describes the plight of the guitar in music. As white culture recedes, pop culture has changed to appeal to non-whites. As pop culture has become a formal part of state control, garage bands no longer have a place, so white kids don’t bother wasting their time learning to play instruments.

Another argument is that computers are filling the void. Anyone can now sit down at their PC, load some software and create the sound of drums, guitar, piano, etc. They can make their voice sound like something other than a bag of cats. There’s no longer a need to learn to read music or play an instrument. Certainly studios stopped using drummers when they could use computers instead. The problem here is the computer does not improvise, experiment or make adjustments.

Again, this a reflection of the culture. As whites become a minority in their own lands, their culture switches from that of a confident majority to that of a captured minority. There can be great art to emanate from a defeated people. James Joyce was a man from a captive people. Southern literature reflects the culture of a defeated region of old America. Maybe pop culture will change to reflect the plight of whites in the West. Alternatively, American Indians never produced a pop culture after their defeat. They just died out.

That brings me back to Bob Seger. He did not hit it big out of the womb. He kicked around for years learning how to play music that people enjoyed. Good musicians have an ear for what others will like. That comes from many nights in many clubs. Dragging your computer gear into the club and “DJ’ing” is really not the same thing. When you get down to it, you’re just wearing another man’s suit, pretending you look better in it. A vibrant people make for a vibrant culture, which makes a Bob Seger possible.

Like America, our pop culture is dying with autumn closing in…