Friday, April 1, 2011

SXSW 25: The old school strikes back

One great thing about SXSW is that the conversation will take place even if it's not pleasant. Jim Caligiuri took it right to the Millenials with his controversial panel "I’m Not Old, Your Music Does Suck." The title is catchy but not an equation; even if J.C. and a lot of us along with him are old it doesn't mean that today's music doesn't suck. Of course that accusation is as subjective as the term used to define quality: "suck" is about as relative a qualifier as they come, and well enough if you consider that it was brought into the language by Bevis and Butthead to judge the aesthetic merit of MTV rock videos. Whateve stance you take on Caligiuri's panel, the premise is powerful -- the old school isn't going down without a fight. No less than that Irish bareknuckle champion himself Bob Geldof added his own proof to the premise with an artful Marc Anthony eulogy on American rock as his keynote speech. Geldof came not to bury the music but to praise it -- up until the punk era (N.B.: MTV was the beginning of the end in this reading of history). Geldof's point was forcefully brought home. American rock was a beacon for freedom around the world, he argued, a liberating force. It was a very effective political weapon that certainly helped bring about the end of the Vietnam War. Geldof implicitly chided contemporary songwriters for their self-involvement and detachment from an establishment that is bent on keeping them quiet, co-opting them at every turn. And I have to agree with him. Corporate greed and the political hegemony of the super rich is crushing the life out of America. If young people don't stand up to that hegemony they are doomed. It's their lives on the line, and very much their battle. If they allow the Republicans to get away with the argument that the threat to America's future comes from schoolteachers and union members rather than international bankers and the super rich they will suffer the consequences with a lifetime of true poverty. Maybe they won't even be able to afford that hot new video game one day. Geldof was even more strident in his press conference after his keynote speech, placing the blame squarely on the back of the bankers, but noting that the artists have to draw attention to these issues or surrender their legitimacy.

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