Monday, February 13, 2012

Foo Fighters, Wasting Light, and The Grammys

When Dave Grohl (wearing a Slayer t-shirt!) got up to give his Grammy acceptance speech and stated that "To me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of music is what's important. Singing into a microphone and learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft, that's the most important thing for people to do,” I couldn’t help but think back to Eddie Vedder’s acceptance speech for Pearl Jam’s winning of a Grammy for their track “Spin The Black Circle” several years ago. Eddie stated “I don’t know what this means” in reference to his band’s winning of a Grammy. There was a time that I would have agreed with Eddie. I myself wondered  just what winning a Grammy meant, especially since so many musicians that I really am not into win most of them. That time period extended from just about the time that I became interested in “alt” rock to just before Dave’s speech during the 2012 Grammys. (Well, not exactly…but it makes for a better story don’t you think?)

At first I thought, “What? What is Dave saying? Eddie dissed the Grammys and Dave is just about as cool as Eddie is!” What Dave was saying and doing though was more “alt” rock of him than what Eddie said all those years ago. Let’s stop and think about it for a second. What are the Grammy awards based on? Everyone pretty much knows that it’s record sales. Adele, as talented as she might be, sold a ton of records this past year. Bon Iver, as boring as he might be, sold almost as much. As did Mumford and Sons. As did Deadmau5. As did Bruno Mars. As did Foo Fighters…

It is a fact of life that in Western Culture the following beliefs are held as genuine by a vast majority of people. The more money one has the more blessed one is. The more money one has the more talented one is, the more credible one is, and the more popular one is. This is not to say that I agree with this. This is to say that this is the way it is in eyes of most Americans. So obviously, if you’ve sold the most records, you have the most money. If you have the most money, you must be the most talented. The Grammys pretty much follow this tried and true tradition of honoring the most profitable, i.e. biggest selling, musicians. Honoring those who sell the most while reinforcing their style, musical and otherwise, helps perpetuate the business. The next Adele is just around the corner. I’m not saying that Adele, or Bruno Mars, or Bon Iver, or any of the Grammy nominees aren’t talented. They have a hell of a lot of more musical talent than I do. One just has to wonder how much of their music and “talent” is manufactured to make a buck?

Thus, we return to Dave and his band. There’s no doubt that Dave is a rare talent in the world of rock. He drums, he sings, he plays guitar, he writes songs, etc. etc. He’s a great front man and has great stage presence. He’s also quickly becoming a living legend in many ways, not the least of which involves his stint in a certain band called Nirvana. People recognize his talent, and therefore buy his records. He, in turn therefore, makes himself, his band mates, and the industry a good amount of money. Most importantly though, Dave uses his status as a Grammy winner to champion the “human element,” as he called it, that the most vital and worthwhile musicians make the most of. I don’t think he was dissing on electronic music as some have been saying. Deadmau5 definitely uses the “human element.” His music inspires and is inspired by sweaty, body slapping, and tripping humans. He mixes his own stuff, and creates something unique in the realm of dance music. No, Dave was referring to things like auto tune, manufactured pop princesses, bandwagon bands, etc. He wouldn’t have rocked with Deadmau5 if he completely disapproved of electronic or “computer” music. Butch Vig, Wasting Light and Nevermind’s producer, and someone who Dave highly respects, is a bit of an electronic music fan himself. Remember his band Garbage?

Dave used his platform to champion something that has its roots in the rock world. Dave championed the hard work that goes into “learning to do your craft.” Sure, many of the greatest guitar players in history have been naturally talented, but they didn’t get the chance to discover that talent until they practiced and studied guitar playing well enough to branch out and experiment and create. Picasso didn’t start his career by drawing really weird and distorted pictures. He mastered proportion, dimension, and style first. Then he cut loose. Bands or manufactured performers who are trotted out for public consumption in order to make a buck (Do I really have to name names?), are shortcuts masquerading as art. Bands like The Foo Fighters, and their enduring popularity, are the antithesis of that. So like Dave shouted as they cut the lights on him and started to roll the segue way music, “Long live rock and roll!” Long live the Foo Fighters. Long live the dedication and hard work that many musicians put into their music in order to develop their talent. Most importantly, long live the inspiration that rockers like Dave Grohl are to musicians and all hardworking people alike. That's what winning a Grammy, by doing it yourself, means.     

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