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This is the fourth and final posting of this series that concerns a model I’ve stumbled upon correlating emergence of new American music genres with Strauss & Howe’s Fourth Turning theories. This last posting looks at how this progression of new music genres points straight to People vs. Corporations — just like the book seems to.

The analysis starts by observing that each new succeeding music genre expanded upon the preceding genre. Historically, this expansion could concern: (a) ease of performing or (b) scope of material from which to draw inspiration. An example of the first type of expansion is Hip Hop. Hip Hop comprises:

  1. ripping out the beat and rhythm from Soul or Funk songs, and throwing the rest way
  2. chanting rhyming poetry in time with the beat
  3. possibly scratching some vinyl records

So with Hip Hop, one not need learn to play an instrument nor even learn to sing. This made Hip Hop much easier to perform than Soul, Funk, or Rock.

Psychedelic rock is the latest example of the second kind of expansion — i.e. increased scope of material. Where Rock and roll limited its base material to old African American rhythm and blues, Psychedelic rock expanded this limited pool of inspirational material to include the music of the whole world. In particular, Psychedelic rock in the late 1960s looked to India for melodic inspiration.

Stepping back, Hip Hop and Psychedelic rock seem to represent the final expansion possible from a substance perspective. That is, Hip Hop says that for music, anything goes, so long as there is a funky beat. Psychedelic rock says that for music, anything goes, so long as there is some kind of melody.

So after Hip Hop and Psychedelic rock, where could American music possibly go to further expand the national music? I say that there is no further place for music to go from a substantive — i.e. melody or beat — perspective. The only places left to expand are “meta” places.

In the previous posting in this series, I have identified Mashup as the next emergent American music genre. But after doing the podcast companion to this blog series (see the link at bottom), I have come around to identifying a second possible current emergent genre. Let’s call this second genre “P2P”, where the first “P” is a musician, the second “P” is a listener, and “2” does NOT include the music industry. Here’s the idea.

To do Mashup, we need not even have a performance bone in our body. We just need a little technical acumen and maybe it helps to have a bit of an “ear” for what sounds compelling and what doesn’t. But beyond that, what does it take for any of us to rip out rhythm and beats from one digitized piece of music, and merge that with the ripped out melody from a second digital song? Mashup has ripped music out of the jealous hands of the musician priesthood, and placed it in the hands of the pedestrian hordes.

As for P2P music, it has nothing to do with the substance or creation of music. Rather, it concerns only the distribution of music. That’s why I missed P2P when I first created the model of this blog posting series. Unlike every other new American music genre, P2P has nothing to do with how the music sounds. Instead, it’s just about how the musicians get out their music, and how we listeners get their music. P2P says: “Musician, thy will upload; Listener, thou will download or stream.” Maybe some micro-payments change hands; maybe not.

The above analysis describes the difference between Mashup and P2P. But what is the similarity? Here it is: Big Music hates both of them. Unlike Hip Hop, Psychedelic rock, Rock and roll, Swing, Jazz, and Ragtime before them, Mashup and P2P do not sit well with the music corporations.

All of these music genres rose up from the “street”. That is, in every case, young unknowns (for the most part) brought forward the new genre. Once the nation’s youth began expressing interest in the new genre, Big Music would swoop in, sign the popular performers, and rake in the money.

But with Mashup, every “performer” who does the sort of “ripping” I described above, is violating the copyright laws as written by the music corporations. So every such artist is an “outlaw” before he or she ever sits down with Big Music. Where is this genre headed? Read about Grey Tuesday to get an idea.

As for P2P, that’s even scarier for Big Music. For every new artist who gets her head above water and receives confirmation of her broad popularity on Garage Band, what is her incentive to sign on as a fledgling artist with Big Music? Well, that is what is telling musicians to do once they make it big on that site.

But sooner or later, and maybe it has already happened, some successful musicians will choose to snub Big Music and continue on the P2P road to greatness. Once a few of these do so, and become quite popular and rather blinged, they’ll inspire more emergent musicians to make the same choice. And when that happens, what could Big Music do to stop the bleeding?

Who knows? Just realize that Big Music, like pretty much every old, obsolete industry, has enough money and Governmental power to make this P2P transition quite interesting, messy, and painful.

So at bottom, whatever the current emergent genre is in American music — i.e. Mashup or P2P — both reek of People vs. Corporations.

Here’s the compendium podcast to this blog series:

  • (111) American Music and Turnings. An analysis of how emergent American music genres correlate with the social turnings described in The Fourth Turning. What is the music telling us? Same answer as the book: People vs. Corporations.

I just uploaded a backlog of podcasts. Been awhile. But here they are:

  • (107) My 2006 Greece Trip. Back after two weeks in Greece. Same story about the amazing food there. Some notes on body odor and Serbia. Also picked olives with my dad, had them pressed, and brought back the olive oil. Mmm mmm.
  • (108) You Know You Are in a Fat Country When … . My experiment making bread — weird results. Also, NYT Magazine article says that Fat Studies are starting to be taught in universities from every perspective but health. Only in America.
  • (109) Predictions Update for 2006. Two years after I issued these obscure 8 predictions, 5 of them are looking even money or better to come true.
  • (110) The Countercorp Film Festival. A sparsely attended film festival in San Francisco with compelling People vs. Corporations-themed movies. Every movie I saw featured a hot, direct battle between people and corporations, unlike my own cool, passive battle to become self-reliant.

Before I finish up with the “American Turnings and Music” series, I thought I’d do a quick entry on Barack Obama. This fellow has been getting so much frothing sycophantic attention from the media as the possible (probable?) next President that I figured I should comment.

Well, my first instincts were highly suspicious. After reading much about him, I’m still suspicious, but also a bit intrigued.

I’m suspicious that he’s a garden variety ego-maniac like just about everyone whose name I know and hear repeatedly but who I haven’t met. Particularly one who wants to be King.

Those thoughts didn’t change after reading about him. But what did change is my initial assumption that he will turn out to be just another useless politician. I’ve reversed field on that. I now suspect he may turn out to be useful after all.

Personality-type wise, he seems to be an obvious Seven. “Charismatic”, “beloved by all”, “non-confrontational, non-belligerent” … all point to the Seven. But what sealed the deal was reading that his political career got going early on when “mentor” politicians credited him for their own legislation. That he accepted credit that he didn’t deserve points to the Seven in him. So he’s no enlightened fellow.

However, Sevens, unlike Threes (like Bill Clinton and Arnold), actually hold solid beliefs. They’re not mere chameleons who listen to polls to tell them which way they should come out on the issues. Instead, they harbor a deep suspicion that they are the Messiah and that they alone know the Truth.

So then, the key question about Obama is: What does he believe? Among all the quotes of his that I’ve read, the following jumped out:

“If you make political discourse sufficiently negative, more people will become cynical and stop paying attention. That leaves more space for special interests to pursue their agendas, and that’s how we end up with drug companies making drug policy, energy companies making energy policy, and multinationals making trade policy.” (emphasis added)

He clearly seems to “get” that the corporations write the very laws that govern them. Not just in one industry, but in all.

Now, I disagree with the simple cause he gives for this effect — namely, negative political discourse leading to voter apathy leading to Corporate control. The problem, I believe, is much deeper and enduring than that. But maybe Obama knows that, but is practiced at giving out quick sound bites that hit home even if they’re simplified.

Anyway this is a long way to say that Obama may prove to be the vehicle through which my Prediction #1 (“Democrat Demise”) comes to pass. You may recall that that prediction reads as follows:

The Democratic Party will either go the way of the Whigs, or undergo a profound metamorphosis whereby the current leadership of the party (DNC, the Clintons, U.S. Senators, etc.) is replaced with anti-Corporate leadership.

Obama could end up personifying the latter part of that prediction (i.e. an anti-Corporate metamorphosis).

Time will tell. But it’s food for thought.

This is the third part of this blog series on music and American social turnings as described in The Fourth Turning. Here, we’ll look at how each new music genre seems to embody a protest against limitations inherent in the previous genre — or at least, in what the previous genre has evolved to by the time of the next turning.

We start with 1950. By 1950, the once dominant swing music genre was moribund. Swing employed the big band model of performance, and while fun, that model had proved too bulky and not nearly nimble enough. Light-footed rock and roll arose from the African American R&B community (try this link). Via the radio broadcasts of Alan Freed, it spoke to American youth, thus dealing a mortal blow to swing.

But by 1967, rock and roll had been thoroughly “corporatized”, and thus become stale and forumalaic. Over the previous couple of decades, the once fertile field of old African American rhythm and blues tracks had been thoroughly picked clean by the endless hordes of rock bands. By the mid-sixties, insipid early-era-Beatle copycats (try this link) were the order of the day.

But in 1967, Psychedelic rock exploded into public consciousness (try this link). Where 50s rock had reached the limits of its raw material, Psychedelic rock introduced Indian melodies, thus opening rock to the music of whole wide world. Where 50s rock had become uniform, formulaic and banal, the fashion of psychedelia was wild, and its subject-matter spanned mysticism and surrealism.

But as the decades passed, Psychedelic rock itself became ponderous, overly theatrical, and, like its predecessor, rather tired and predictable. For example, compare this 1967 clip featuring a young and fresh Jimmy Page humbly but powerfully strumming out some sweet chords (try this link) … with this late 1970s clip of an older now decadent Jimmy Page skillfully strumming out a masturbatory, self-indulgent passage (try this link) (don’t get me wrong; I like Stairway to Heaven).

If that didn’t reasonate with you, how about this one: Here’s a useful, mystical message presented in that ponderous, bloated, overly-theatrical way that defined the late 1970s and early 1980s (try this link) (and yes, I admit, I did have this album when I was in high school).

Anyway, this bloated circus of an obese Psychedelic rock provided an easy target, and the response from the street was raw and decidedly unpretentious. First, from the gutters of England came Punk (try this link). Next, from the ghettos of America came Hip Hop (try this link). And a bit later, from that corner of America where the sun don’t shine (saving May-September), came Grunge (try this link).

Of course, there were even more responses. However, as I mentioned in the last posting, I believe that the survivor and ultimate victor among all of the challengers to Psychedelic rock was Hip Hop. And just as the passage of time had not been kind to Psychedelic rock, Rock and roll, nor Swing, neither was it to Hip Hop. By the late 1990s, “gangsta” rap was here to stay, and the arrival of “bling” served as a call to the new generation of youth: “Please, for the love of God, come up with the next genre, and put this crap out of its misery” (try this link).

Now, in the new millenium, I believe that the next generation has answered this call. I further believe that their answer is: Mashup. The paradigm of Mashup is, I believe, the Grey Album of Danger Mouse. That album comprises a merger of vocals from Hip Hip artist Jay-Z’s Black Album, with samples extracted from the Beatles’ White Album. In effect, Danger Mouse merged Psychedelic rock with Hip Hop.

Judging from a quick perusal of the web, the mashup movement is well engaged.

Stepping back from the past 55 years, we see a pattern:

  • Step 1: The dominant genre of American music has become stale and formulaic.
  • Step 2: From the street, a new, raw, and compelling genre of music emerges and captivates American youth.
  • Step 3: Music corporations embrace the new genre, and make a few leading artists fabulously wealthy, while the corporations reap massive profits.
  • Step 4: The new genre becomes dominant, but as time passes, the genre is slowing turning predictable and bloated.
  • Step 5: Return to Step 1 and repeat.

Nice, pat model eh? Kind of an infinite loop, no?

Well, not exactly. The last time around this loop has proved a bit sticky. This time, with Mashups, the corporations have become stuck on Step 2.

Thus we have come to People vs. Corporations. To be continued …

Continuing on from my previous posting, this posting will set forth a model correlating emergent American music genres with the social “turnings” described by authors Strauss & Howe in The Fourth Turning. For each of these turnings, I will set forth:

  1. the name and year range of that turning assigned by Strauss & Howe
  2. the name of the youth generation during that turning as assigned by Strauss & Howe
  3. the year and name of the new genre of American music that emerged during that turning and “spoke” to the youth

On point #3, the year of relevance is not the year during which the genre originated. Instead, it is the year during which the genre became generally popular around the nation — at least among the youth.

Moreover, this new genre must have enjoyed staying power. In other words, 20 or so years after its popular emergence, that genre should have evoked a feeling of nostalgia among the now middle-aged, thus fueling “oldies” radio stations and the like.

Fourth, the new genre should be somewhat repugnant to the older elements of American society (i.e. “What kind of crap are those kids listening to?”).

With the above constraints in mind, here’s the model:

  • 1886-1908 Third Great Awakening … Missionary Generation … 1897 Ragtime
  • 1908-1929 World War I and Prohibition … Lost Generation … 1920s Big Band Jazz
  • 1929-1946 Great Depression and World War II … G.I. Generation … 1935 Swing
  • 1946-1964 American High … Silent Generation … 1951 Rock and Roll
  • 1964-1984 Consciousness Revolution … Boom Generation … 1967 Psychedelic Rock
  • 1984 – 2001-5? Culture Wars … 13th Generation (“X”) … 1985 Hip Hop
  • 2001-5? – … Millenial Generation … ? Mashup

A couple of observations bear noting. First, the last two genres were difficult (for me at least) to identify. Concerning the 1980s, the number of sub-genres of only rock and roll boggles the mind. And even that endless list leaves out my selection for this period: Hip Hop.

All I can say is that Hip Hop seems best to embody the constraints I set forth above. Namely, it has exhibited strong staying power. Second, it has acquired ubiquity. In fact, as of the 2000s, Hip Hop has nicely crossed the black-white chasm in American society. Name me one of those white sub-genres of rock that has stayed and crossed into black culture. Grunge? Punk? Christian? Alternative? Electronica? I say none of the above.

Third, Hip Hop seems the best candidate among the other 1980s possibilities for evoking the “What the f$%k is that?!” reaction from the older segments of society.

As for the current turning, it’s still not clear that the 1980s have ended and the next crisis has begun. If the crisis has started, then 9/11 of 2001 seems the obvious starting point. And if that’s true, then my best guess for the present emergent popular genre is Mashup. (If you’ve got other ideas, please chime in.)

A second observation concerns the role of African American music in the development of American music. Look back at the above list of the seven defining, epochal, milestone American music genres since 1886. Five of the seven emerged directly and only from African American culture. The two in the list that didn’t are Psychedelic Rock and Mashup. The former was, save for Jimi Hendrix, pretty much a white thing; the latter seems cross- and multi-cultural in its origins.

I think this is extraordinary. Since 1886, African Americans have served as the most visible and most impoverished minority group in America. Yet this particular minority group has, over and over, written and produced the scores for the great American social turnings.

That white America has accepted this says much about America. For example, Ragtime can be described as the infusion of Aftrican rhythms into classical white European military march music. Over the same 120-year period, what European country allowed its national “white” music to be continually “spiced up” and “shaken up” by its underclass? I can’t think of any such country.

This is what I love about America; and simultaneously what I fear about America. What I love about America is that it is a fluid and dynamic place in which the truth will come out. What I fear about America is that what it takes for the truth to come out is the loudest shouting. Too often in history, that loud shouting has taken the form of violence.

Over the past 120 years, black America, through its music, has shouted at white America: “Your world is stiff, false, and hypocritical! Get up and move!”

Anyway, this is all preliminary dialogue. In the next posting of this series, I will explain how each new genre of music represents a protest from the street against the old dominant genre, but over time, the forces of corporatization bloat the new genre, making it easy pickings for the next generation.

A couple of evenings ago, for some reason or another, I got to reading about Charles Manson and his “Family” on the web. I had read the book Helter Skelter decades ago and hadn’t thought much about that case since. But, as noted, my interest was drawn back in, and with the Internet, we can dive in as deep as we like.

A few thoughts occurred to me on reading this material. First, Manson’s personality type seems to be the Seven, with his emotional health down around the pathological level. Not surprising given his horrific childhood.

Consistent with my theory that all cult leaders are Sevens, Manson’s Family certainly seemed to fit the same unhealthy-self-styled-Messiah-Seven-plus-his-devoted-followers pattern that describes Scientology, Hari Krishna, World Wide Church of God, People’s Temple, and pretty much every other cult I’ve ever looked into. So not much interesting or new there.

A second thought came to me reading about ATWA — Manson’s “Air, Trees, Water, Animals” organization. Basically, the psychopathic, murderous Manson Family also happens to fancy itself as proponents of love, holism, and nature. This perverse humor reminded me of Right to Life people who demonstrate their love of human life by bombing abortion clinics. Also brought to mind the American public and both political parties who, in 2002, listened to Mr. Bush’s “We’ll bomb Iraq into democracy and they’ll thank us for it” speeches and didn’t so much as blink.

But the above two thoughts are dead-end ones for me. That is, I’ve “been there, done that” on those thoughts. So they don’t interest me much anymore. But a third thought did interest me.

I thought about Charles Manson getting out of prison in March of 1967, and walking straight into ground zero of San Francisco’s “Summer of Love.” Through 1967, Manson had spent more than half of his life in institutions, including prisons, reform schools, and orphanages. That Spring, Manson was the human equivalent of those crazy self-raised elephants about which I podcasted a few months ago.

With 100,000 young “flower children” from across America and around the world flocking to Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of 1967, the predator Manson found easy pickings among the more troubled and insecure of these children. Thus began the “Family”.

But what really interested me about San Francisco’s 1967 Summer of Love is that that summer marked the public emergence of psychedelic rock. If you’re not sure what that is, watch this short video. That’s it right there — in style, lyrics, and melody.

The interesting thing to me about psychedelic rock is that it is so obviously a child of the Sixties. In some way, it helps define what we mean by “the Sixties”, as distinguished from the “Fifties”. For example, some of those 60s versus 50s distinctions include:

  • hairy versus trimmed
  • wild colors and dress versus staid
  • Indian melodics versus purely “American”
  • drugs versus “wholesomeness”

Another way to put it is: picture yourself as a middle-aged parent in 1967. You’re one of those crew-cut “gray-flanneled” “organization” types who went to college, got married and started a family in the suburbs in the 1950s. You’re sitting there in front of your TV, watching Ed Sullivan or some such show, when all of a sudden nice Palo Alto-private school-bred Grace Slick pops on the screen in that video linked to above. As you fall out of your chair, you’re thinking: “What the f@$k is that!?”

Anyway, this reminded me of a theory about which I have podcasted concerning music. Basically, my theory is that music is simply a form of emotional communication. If that communication “speaks to us”, then we experience a pleasant physical response, such a “goose pimples” or tingles. But if it doesn’t speak to us, the “music” can feel like painful noise.

In 1967, when psychedelic rock emerged in all its full Fifties-burnin’ glory, I suspect that this music spoke movingly to much of American youth, but at the same time, harshly to their parents and grandparents.

So that observation then got me wondering: Does every American turning produce a new form of music that helps define that turning? When I say “turning”, I am referring to the social framework described by authors Strauss and Howe in their book, The Fourth Turning. As I have written, I believe that that book predicts an upcoming People vs. Corporations crisis in America.

As I noted in the above paper, these turnings give rise to the notion of generations, i.e. Boomers, Generation X, and so on. During every turning, one of the generations is going through its youth — i.e. 20s, give or take. I believe it is during youth — after childhood but before middle age — that music is able to speak most clearly to us. That is, as youths we are most open to identifying with the current emergent genre.

So my question about American turnings and music can be restated as: Does every generation of American youth have its own unique genre of music that its parents might not much like, but which genre showed staying power?

Psychedelic rock fits this profile nicely. Its staying power is evidenced by the bands the Yardbirds and Pink Floyd. The psychedelic Yardbirds of the 1960s morphed into the hard rock Led Zeppelin. Similarly, the psychedelic Syd Barrret-led Pink Floyd of the 1960s grew into the “ponderous” Floyd of the 1970s that many of us fondly remember.

So there we have one piece of the puzzle:

  • 1964-84 Conscious Revolution — Boomers are the American youth — psychedelic rock publically emerges in 1967.

What about the other turnings? Do they all have defining genres of music? Read on …

for the money has gone too far

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December 2006