Celebrity Clearly More Important Than Artistry, Talent

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This may be a rambling rant bordering on incoherent, but what else is new?

I think this has been true, probably forever. It just feels like the music business is really eager to rush us into eating cake because they can’t seem to provide any bread worth eating.

It’s no wonder kids today want to be rock stars and not just in time, RIGHT NOW! In some countries where music is part of the tradition of the culture, you don’t get to be an expert until you are in your 50’s or 60’s. It takes that long to master your craft and your skills are honed over years of experience. The same can be said of jazz or classical music where, generally, talent is celbrated and expected, not just considered icing on the cake.

Even in the rock music world, there was a time when artists were given time to grow – nurtured by outlaw independent labels that had more interest in finding the next great artist than in achieving a higher profit margin and a larger market share for their stockholders.

Springsteen didn’t have a hit his first time out. It took Pink Floyd a few trys to get The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon. Even the Beatles early music doesn’t compare to where it went after Help! when they stretched out and became the legends we know today. At that time, you had What’s Going On, Led Zeppelin IV, Surrealistic Pillow, Axis: Bold As Love and Abbey Road all coming out within just a few years.

In the later 70’s, Van Halen I, Toys in the Attic, Born to Run, Dark Side of the Moon, Aja, Court and Spark and many others were just years, even months apart.

What about today? Does anyone honestly think that we’re all going to look back on the first decade of the new millenium and think, “Wow, that was some great fucking music!”

And this is not some rant of an old fogie who thinks all the whippersnappers should get off his grass. Actually, I think there are a TON of supremely talented artists out there and some of my favorite records of the past 20 years have come out since 2000. The problem is that those aren’t the one’s being celebrated or getting airplay – even if that barely matters anymore anyway.

No one is giving real talent the real support it needs to grow because providing an artist three or four records to hone his/her craft just isn’t as easy as grabbing some celebrity out of the crowd and giving her a record deal.

Which brings me to where this is all coming from. Scarlett Johansson is a hot girl who has some talent as an actress. She’s done what most young, beautfiul actresses do. She does interviews, takes on endorsements (although, even I questioned her shoe deal) and branches out to maximize her growing celebrity. No one can really blame her for that.

But, now, she is about to pull a Lohan as she prepares to sign a record deal with Rhino to make a record of, get this, Tom Waits covers. WTF?

Maybe the girl can sing and she certainly didn’t make a money grab with her choice of recordings. No one is going to accuse her of trying to turn into Paris Hilton and make a crappy dance record just for the money. But, since Paris is selling CD’s out of the trunk of her car given that her record only sold about 20,000 copies (there is hope for people with good taste), being compared to her shouldn’t be an issue.

The problem is that this is the classic case of someone with no real effort exploiting celebrity for gain when people with real substance can’t earn a living. Anyone care to guess at the odds Johansson outsells Waits?

Jessica Simpson, Ashley Simpson, Lohan, Hilton, Hillary Duff…the list of cute female celebrities trying to have crossover success in movies, tv, advertising and music is just tired. The reality is that very few people have the skill, talent and dedication it takes to be great at ONE of these endeavors let alone three or four. And trying to all of it just dillutes music, as if we needed any more of that.

Of course, we are in the dying end of an era for the music business as the major labels continue to sink and no one really knows what is next. Just as the industry tried desperately to manufacture success in the 60’s in response to the scourge that was rock and roll, we can only hope that it’s death will be quick and that it will take the modern-day Fabian’s and Annette Funicello’s with it.

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