For a couple of years now, I’ve been fascinated by the phenomenon of black people, usually teens or young adults, filming themselves reacting to old rock, country, rap, metal, R&B songs. I’ve particularly enjoyed Lost In Vegas, probably because they’re adults and closer to my own age, so I can relate better. But seeing teenagers react is even more powerful.
The general public has taken notice of this phenomenon, now that the vid of some younger people reacting to “In the Air Tonight” has gone viral.
Why is this important? Because people are learning things about each other. Music unites. Art unites. Corporate diversity seminars and retreats are nonsense. Fuck that worksheet/exercise bullshit. Stick everybody in a room with about a pound of weed and let them hear Sly and the Family Stone, or Bill Withers. Show people the history of music and let them discover how it intertwines us all. Play ’em Tom Petty, Jane’s Addiction, Rush, The Ramones, Prince, The Doors, Black Sabbath, Parliament, Led Zeppelin, Fishbone, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Play ’em some Ice Cube, Tribe Called Quest and Outkast.
When I was a kid, I was into all kinds of music, and I delved deep and looked into artists my favorite cited as influences. I hunted down tracks by ’70s artists sampled by my favorite hip hop producers. I read the Zeppelin “Hammer of the Gods” book and it made me want to hear Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. I bought old punk albums that were mentioned in interviews with Slayer, Beastie Boys, Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses. I wanted to hear about and know about everything.
“What’s this shirt this guy’s wearing in this video? Ramones? What’s that? I need to hear it! Who’s this Celtic Frost band that Metallica thanks in the liner notes of Ride the Lightning? Who’s Mercyful Fate? Who’s Motörhead? I need to know!”
That wasn’t a common practice at the time. Most people didn’t give a shit about where things came from. They thought it was weird that I did. Just like now, people were generally only aware of and listened to what’s hot, what was going on right now. I’d hear people talking about NIN, and I’d say, “You ever listen to the Doors?” That was old, though. People didn’t care. I, on the other hand, didn’t think of music in linear terms. I didn’t understand this idea of art being disposable or having a shelf date and I still don’t.
I wanted to know all about classical music. I heard John Williams’ score for Star Wars was influenced heavily by Gustav Holst’s The Planets. I also heard that the riffs on the title track to Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut was inspired by that same piece of work, and I had to hear it, so I found it and loved it.
I liked New Order and Depeche Mode, and I’d hear bands like the Cure and Sisters of Mercy mentioned in the same breath. I wanted to hear it.
When Public Enemy and Anthrax teamed up for Bring the Noise, I was blown away. Here were two musical worlds I was heavily into joining forces, and it was amazing.
I loved the unfettered creativity of the ’90s. Record companies seemed to be giving artists much more creative control, and the result was a lot of weird, wonderful music that couldn’t have been made in any other decade. In subsequent decades, however, music reverted to its former fragmented, segregated state. People bitched if tour packages and festivals had bands that sounded different than each other. Even in more underground circles, people bitched about tour lineups consisting of different varieties of metal bands or bands of other genres entirely. It was fucking stupid. I saw Cypress Hill play on a bill with Armored Saint in 1999. That wouldn’t have happened just two years later, but it was rad as fuck.
When I see these reaction vids, they feel familiar to me. People are excited about musical discovery. They’re being exposed to artists and scenes they weren’t previously aware of, and they’re really feeling them. They’re hearing songs, for the first time, that I’ve taken for granted as iconic for 30 years. It’s a beautiful thing. These kids have been fed a steady diet of SoundCloud type bleep bloop corporate robot music for so long they think that’s all there is.
Lectures and legislation don’t change hearts and minds and bring people together. Music does. I’m excited to see what comes of all this. Oh yes, guitars will be back. Rock N’ Roll will be back. It may be something new and unrecognizable that old people hate, but, y’know, good. That’s what’s supposed to happen.
Somewhere in America, there’s a black kid watching these reaction vids and then seeking out this music. He or she is drinking from this deep, diverse well of musical history and becoming enriched and enlightened. Maybe it’s more than one kid. Maybe it’s a thousand. Maybe a thousand black kids are going to ask the question “Mom, can I get a guitar?”
Maybe some white chick is enthralled by Neil Peart’s drumming and starts setting up her own kit with boxes, pots and pans, making noise and experimenting with percussion and beats.
Maybe some other kid sees an old RHCP vid and wants to play bass like flea. Maybe his journey of discovery leads him to Bootsy Collins.
There is absolutely no way that all of this deep diving is not going to spark a creative fire in those so inclined.
To them, to these kids of various racial backgrounds struggling to make sense of a world in which people aren’t getting along all that great, I say this: Do it. Make music. Make what you feel. Express yourself. Ignore barriers, because they’re not real. Don’t let people tell you what’s okay and what’s not. Decide that for yourself. You guys can have great music, too. It doesn’t have to be a “Wow, they could really go hard back in the day” kind of thing. You can go hard now. I know the next Jimi Hendrix is out there. I know the next Beatles are out there. Come up with some wild shit that’s made with knowledge of the past but is entirely new. Innovate and don’t let anyone tell you “You’re not supposed to do that.” You can do anything you want. Rules in music are made by those who don’t understand its power… or don’t want you to.
The path is wide open. Rock sucks right now. It’s either a bunch of people playing passable retro soundalike junk without imagination, or older, established bands selling out arenas for 200 bucks a ticket. It caters to old dudes who tuck their T-shirts into cargo jorts and collect KISS bobbleheads. It’s missing youthful energy. It’s missing fire. It’s missing you. Light it up.