"Send me a kiss by wire / baby my heart's on fire...
Baby telephone / tell me I'm your own."
I don't want to start any fights. I'm a low key, nonconfrontational kind of guy. But I can't help but notice things.
And what I've noticed is that this current generation doesn't have its own music.
Sure, it has Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, etc. It has a lot of GOOD music, no question. But throughout American history, it seems like each generation comes up with its unique sound, a musical genre that is distinctive and definitive. Until now.
At the turn of the 20th century we got ragtime (Scott Joplin). Then came jazz. Then the Memphis blues. Big bands (Benny Goodman was named the King of Swing in 1935). Mahalia Jackson popularized gospel in 1947. Pete Seeger ushered in the folk revival in 1948, which branched in many directions.
Rock and roll was born in 1951, Elvis, Ray Charles and Soul Music in 1955, Motown in 1959. Reggae in 1960. Patsy Cline in 1961. The Beatles in 1964. Woodstock in 1969.
In 1975 we got punk rock. In 1977 we got disco. 1978 brought us hip hop. MTV rose in 1981. Michael Jackson's Thriller happened in 1985.
In 1990 Grunge rock slithered out of Seattle. In 2003, Eminem got a Grammy for best rap album.
And that seems to be it. The last distinct American sound, shared broadly by a whole generation, was rap.
Further back, in 1987, the term "world music" was coined to describe "eclectic" music. That was one year after Paul Simon's breakout "Graceland," featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Since then, a lot has happened technologically. And technology definitely affects music. (See the "Hello my baby" lyrics at the top of this column.) Nowadays, the Internet is the biggest factor. The sheer availability of music has soared.
In 2008, digital downloads grew by 25% to $3.7 billion (including 1.4 billion songs), accounting for 20% of music sales. But according to some sources, over 40 billion songs were illegally file-shared, which means that 95% of music downloads are illegal. By 2009, digital sales accounted for 98% of all singles sold in the USA and Britain.
Add in Youtube and Pandora, and you don't even have to break the law to hear sounds from everywhere.
Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of terrific bands and musicians around. There's no shortage of music. I hear great rock and roll, fusion, ska, blues, folk, funk, and on and on, all over the place. Successful musicals are back on Broadway.
But what I don't hear is that sudden shift in rhythm or consciousness that says a new form of music has been birthed on our shores.
So here's what I think. A distinct musical sound is always of its time and place. It's a focused reaction to a particular moment in history. And right now, a generation raised on what amounts to a global radio station has so much to digest, so many different influences, that it hasn't been able, yet, to come up with a distillation.
Music has gone global, and it will take us awhile to make sense of it.
Am I wrong? Is there a new kind of music that has in fact caught on, is shared widely in our culture? Write me at jlarue at jlarue.com.
LaRue's Views are his own.
Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.
All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.