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Tucson Weekly Soundbites

By Al Perry

SEPTEMBER 14, 1998:  ARTISTIC LICENSE: You hear it all the time: "Support Local Music." No one seems to notice the implications of this tedious little phrase. Is live music really some sort of charity case, in dire need of being propped up and revitalized lest it wheeze its final, choking breath? Funny, but I've always assumed people attended gigs simply because they wanted to hear some good sounds.

It's certainly no secret that audience numbers for live music, especially on the nightclub level, have been declining for quite some time. Corporate marketing techniques, with their emphasis on demographics rather than originality and passion, have caused music to become fragmented and compartmentalized. Fans now "identify with" music (rather than listen to it)--with each little sub-grouping of fans wearing their chosen style like a coat. Disco/dance music, TV (in particular MTV), and now the Internet are a few other factors that have contributed to people choosing to stay home rather than venture out. People line up and pay stiff cover charges to dance to bad techno, but when a cool national act comes to town they clamor to be comped admission on the guest list. What's the deal?

How many times have you seen a truly worthless and clueless band limping through an awful set and wondered, "What the heck are these clowns doing on a stage, anyway?" And worse yet, "What am I doing here, suffering through their ineptitude?"

It's time to face facts, ladies and gentlemen: There are simply too many bands out there, way more than the average club-goer can reasonably bear.

Too many bands, and most of 'em blow dog. Too many CDs by bands that either aren't ready for the studio, or have no fan base. Too many venues where the music is only an afterthought. Too many greedy club owners who make it impossible for a decent musician to earn a living. Too many people involved in music for the wrong reasons.

To improve the quality of music and prevent further audience abuse, I propose a sort of Brady bill--or Hippocratic oath to "above all, do no harm"--ought to apply to the purchase of any musical instrument intended for public playing. We'll even keep it simple:

1) Who performed "A Love Supreme"?

2) Name five songs by Hank Williams.

3) Who's the "King of the Delta Blues Singers?"

4) Why is Brian Wilson the greatest? (essay question)

You get the idea....

Those demonstrating a modicum of respect for their craft are free to own and use said instrument, and a permit would be issued allowing the bearer to perform in public. Violators (and those who book them) would be subject to severe penalties. Those who fail the exam would be required to attend a class where they could learn the basics of musical style and theory.

I realize that this proposal would make buying a guitar substantially more difficult than buying a handgun, but the cultural benefits would be enormous.


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