The West Michigan singer-songwriter pulls no punches in panning the “exclusive fraternity” of today’s hit-makers while embracing Friday’s local Jammie Awards show. Leave your own comments about the Jammies and you could win a Local Spins gift package.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This Local Spins guest column is one of a series of essays giving a voice to West Michigan musicians on topics dear to their hearts: assessing their craft and the ups and downs of the music industry, in their own words.
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Go take a close look at this week’s Billboard Hot 100 chart. We’re going to play a game.
Now, this game is similar to something you would discover in that sweet magazine you could only read at the dentist’s office when you were a kid. It’s called “See What These Things Have in Common.”
It’s the artists.
They have each other in common. By my count, the February 2015 weekly Hot 100 has 31 songs in which a Billboard act “features” another artist.
As a musician, and hopefully, an artist, this struck me as particularly interesting. It spawned a bevy of questions.
Was popular music always so, for lack of a better term, collaboratively exclusive? Were historical Billboard 100s more or less diverse than today’s age: numerically, stylistically and culturally? Did the top 100 have more representation of people from all walks of life? Does modern popular music royally suck??
I don’t have all the answers, except maybe, to one of those questions.
I may be a 41-year old dinosaur holding on to the musical vestiges of my youth. I may have some hidden, primal, deep-seated envy for artists who “make it,” like Taylor Swift. The cynical rains of life may have left me stone-hardened. It could be a combination, frankly, and these kinds of questions shouldn’t be considered lightly.
Music is a beautiful thing: for me, one of the most beautiful things. I don’t pretend I can generate a grand, sweeping conclusion about the state of music. I don’t think I can answer these questions without extensive study.
TAKING A LOOK BACK AT THE LESS EXCLUSIVE CLUB OF YESTER-YEAR
So, I looked back in the books – 30 years ago, to be exact, to Billboard magazine for the second week of February 1985, to a time of bandanas, muscle shirts, parachute pants and moonwalks. At that time, I was probably in pinstripe jeans, taking apart a Rubik’s Cube, jamming to “Born in the U.S.A.,” and likely as ignorant of the lyrics as President Reagan’s campaign crew.
That week saw some of your old favorites soaring up the charts. Yes, the Boss, but also Phil Collins, Journey, Survivor, Hall & Oates, Paul McCartney, John Fogerty, Don Henley, Prince, and Stevie Wonder. Heck, even The (ancient) Temptations made it that week. Some awesomely named bands like Frankie Goes to Hollywood and The Honeydrippers. John Waite and Bruce Cockburn broke the century mark. George Benson, a jazz guitarist, made the list. George Benson?!? I could go on and on.
On that fair day on that fair chart in 1985, 81 of the artists were represented just once in the top 100. Only nine acts appeared twice, and most of these doubles came farther down in the chart.
Skip 30 years ahead to 2015 and you will only find 52 artists with single occurrences on this list. No fewer than 24 acts appear more than once, with many artists appearing three times, capping off with Nicki Minaj, who makes a mere six appearances in the top 100 this week.
It seems as if a relatively simple flow chart connects most inhabitants of the top 100. I am not saying that the world’s best artists should not be connected pals and occasional collaborators: I’m just saying that they are more than connected.
It seems as if music that enters our collective consciousness (aka, pop music) is brought to us by the musical equivalent of an owner’s club, where the songwriters, producers and the means to the marketplace are shared, and the formula for success is a well-oiled complex.
It’s as if modern music has become an exclusive fraternity.
GRAVITATING TOWARD THE ‘WIDE OPEN’ NATURE OF THE JAMMIES
I guess I liked music when it was a little more wide open. And that’s what the Jammie Awards are: wide, wide open.
So, I eschew exclusive events, like the Grammies and the top 100, and gravitate instead toward shows like the Jammies, which will take place for the 16th time on Friday, starting at 5:30 p.m. at The Intersection in downtown Grand Rapids. (Read more about the Jammies and see the full downloadable schedule of performances at Local Spins here.)
I’ve been attending this annual Grand Rapids show for about 12 years now and look forward to this event each year. Sponsored by community radio station WYCE-FM (88.1), it’s a free event to the general public and there are more than 25 acts playing on two stages.
You basically have to finish a CD/album/online project and submit it for WYCE airplay to be nominated. That’s it! The geographic area from which the Jammies draw encompasses most of Lower Michigan. Our musical community congregates to talk the trade, listen to great music, enjoy the camaraderie, and take in what real artists have been doing since the dawn of time: creating something out of nothing.
I would argue that most musicians want their music to be inclusive in nature. You’d be hard-pressed to find a musician who wants to play to a wall. Instead, artists want to present their works, engage with an audience and elicit responses.
In a perfect music venue, a listener is present and can feel free to glean, analyze, enjoy or hate. Music and art should allow the freedom to discard, disbelieve or dismiss. It’s difficult to achieve that sense of artistic union when exclusivity is the norm.
Young musical acts find it increasingly difficult to make touring economically feasible. Ticket prices for the biggest acts approach house mortgage levels. It’s insane. I could be over-generalizing, but the more I look at modern popular music, the more I witness a good ol’ boys and girls club, where the disconnect between the artist and most of the community widens before my old, out-of-fashion eyes.
Thank goodness, it’s not like that everywhere.
The entire Grand Rapids musical community invites one and all to the Jammies this Friday evening, to sample the musical art, to realize that music is still the wonderfully diverse landscape it has always been – at least at its roots.
Welcome to the club.
ABOUT JOSH ROSE: The Ada-based singer-songwriter recently released his third studio album, “Old Laminate,” continuing the story-telling, poetic grace and heartfelt sentiments that marked his earlier recordings, “Slow Bloom” and “firework letdown.” Rose is also a high school chemistry teacher in Lake Odessa who’s passionate about reading, running, writing, basketball, gardening, fishing, camping, canoeing and hiking. He last contributed to The Musicians’ Soundboard in February 2013, writing about his evolution in accepting the Internet as a place to share his music. Find more information about Rose and listen to his music online at josh-rose.com.
Copyright 2015, Spins on Music LLC