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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

EDITORIAL: Yearning for the Time When Music Had Soul


I remember a time when guitars had⁢ strings, when voices danced out of vocal cords, ‍and emotions flowed ‌raw and unfiltered from a songwriter’s heart to a listener’s soul. This was not some idyllic past that one dreams about wistfully. No, it⁤ was the ​year ⁤1973, and here,⁤ in my beloved ⁢town of Schenectady, ​music was more⁣ than sound. ​It was the rhythm ⁢of life.

The first record I ever bought was ⁢The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sticky⁢ Fingers’, a masterpiece of raw, blues-inflected⁣ rock ’n’ roll. I was not some⁢ privileged child with a silver spoon;‍ I ⁢worked long, gruelling summer days⁢ at⁤ Rob’s⁢ Corner Store to save up ​for ⁢that precious vinyl. Life was tough; through poverty and the grim realities of blue-collar life ‍in Schenectady, it was music — genuine, soulful music — that provided ⁣solace.

Recall James Brown’s ‘The Payback’ and it’s biting ​guitar⁢ riffs⁤ blending seamlessly with Brown’s strained wails, creating ⁢a⁢ powerful symphony of rage ⁣and vengefulness that made your spine shiver. It was not just music; it was a battle cry, a poignant narrative of personal struggle ensnaring listeners in ‌its ⁣visceral rawness. Or consider the band I saw at the Electric Circus in New ⁢York City, “The Velvet Underground,” and their ‍song “Sweet Jane.” Amid the flashing lights, ⁤the‌ vibrating floor beneath, and faces contorted in ecstasy of the sonic pilgrimage, the music was not a million-dollar production with ⁤autotuned voices and machine-made​ rhythms — no,⁢ it was raw, pure, human.

In the present year, 2023, it pains my⁣ soul to witness what music has become. As I often have to reluctantly explain to my grandchildren, the beautiful art of creating ⁢elevating, soulful music ‌has been usurped by industrialized production lines of insipid melodies and synthetic beats. ⁣Flipping through the radio stations,‍ all I hear ‍are ⁢hollow lyrics appeasing the lowest common denominator, devoid of the rawness and authenticity⁢ that once was⁢ the essence of music.

Popular contemporary ⁣musicians​ like Lizzo or Billie Eilish, while talented, showcase a commodified version of ⁣emotion crafted by an industry hell-bent on harvesting dollars‌ out of universal feelings. ⁢Gone are the days when a band like​ Cream could stand onstage and churn out a 17-minute improvisation, allowing Eric Clapton’s mind-numbing guitar solos to ‍run wild ‌with ⁣Ginger Baker’s ferocious ‍drums and Jack Bruce’s growling bass. Today’s music is over-processed, autotuned, and engineered for mass ⁢consumption,⁣ just ‍like our nutritionally‌ bankrupt fast food.

It’s heartbreaking to remember the closing of Aerodrome, a local venue where I ‌saw ‌legends like Aerosmith, Grateful Dead, and Pink Floyd live in concert. Once booming with music that was‍ visceral,⁤ real, and untamed, now it’s been replaced by a⁢ sterile shopping plaza. It’s‌ emblematic of ‌the vanishing soul in music, replaced by quantized ​beats‌ and glossy production.

Living in Schenectady for over fifty years has ‍allowed me to witness this insidious vacuuming of soul ‌from the music landscape. It’s not just a decimation of art; ⁢it’s an erasure of cultural history. Simultaneously, it’s an indicator of ​a‍ broader societal plague – the dilution of individualism, the disregarding of masterful technique for quick virality, the sweeping dismissal of substance for shallow popularity.

I long⁣ for the days of⁤ Nina Simone, whose haunting voice in the song‍ ‘Mississippi‍ Goddam’ carries a despairing ⁣outcry against⁤ racism that can still move you to tears. Simone’s voice was drenched in authenticity that wasn’t propped by⁢ sonic manipulation; it was ​honesty captured ​in a time capsule,⁤ echoing⁤ in eternity.

Is it ‌too late to resurrect the soul that music has ⁢lost? Perhaps. The industry’s primordial sin was allowing the shift⁢ from creating beautiful art towards minting money, fanned by an insatiable appetite ⁤for instant gratification. And while there might still be artists producing raw and soulful music in the recesses of ‌the industry, they are often buried, ignored, or overshadowed by ⁣the manufactured glitz ⁣and‍ glamour⁣ pumped out by record labels.

Mired in this modern ⁢soundscape, I often find myself retreating to the classics, to the vinly records that litter my attic – relics of a time when⁣ music wasn’t a branded commodity but an honest expression of life’s‌ inscrutable⁤ truths.

If we are to ⁣recover that old soul, we must revert to acknowledging and‍ teaching ​music not as a mere profession but as ​an⁤ intimate language, a sturdy bridge⁢ between ​hearts, a catharsis born out of life’s joys and tribulations. Remember, the‌ most beautiful music was birthed ⁣not out of⁤ pandering for popularity, but by‍ digging deep into the trenches⁢ of raw, human emotion, and their ⁢unfiltered expression.⁣

Nostalgia,​ folks often tell me, is a dirty liar that insists things ⁢were better than they seemed.⁢ Yet, when it‍ comes ⁤to music⁤ and ⁣what’s become of its heart‍ and soul, I beg‍ to differ. I yearn, not ​for a past that didn’t⁣ exist, but for a time when music – ‍our universal ‍language – had a soul. Those were the days, ⁤my friends. Those were the ‌days.

Brian McCarthy
Brian McCarthy
I'm Brian McCarthy! At your service to offer traditionally informed perspective on today's issues. Some call it out of touch; I call it time-honored wisdom.
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