The Internet, New Music, and the Guy From Duran Duran

Live in concert with Duran Duran. November 12,...
Live in concert with Duran Duran. November 12, 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My friend Teresa recently shared an article with me by John Taylor, the bassist for Duran Duran, titled “Is the Internet Stifling New Music?“. It’s a pretty well-written article, and it’s brief, but the quick version is how Taylor’s concerned that today’s teenagers and younger music consumers aren’t interested in new music as they’ve got ready access to music from all eras.

 I don’t think I agree with him. I’m not sure if it’s a bad thing that people have (hyperbole alert) the entirety of recorded music at their fingertips. While folks might not necessarily be smacked in the face by current bands (though I’m not sure if I think that’s true either; in a recent interview with DEVO, Mark Mothersbaugh points out that while record sales are down, concert sales haven’t suffered — and while shows used to be cheaper than the album, now they’re more expensive — and most of these concerts are being put on by new acts), I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drawing inspiration from the past, either.

To use the example of his son being into Cole Porter and 20s stuff — I think the thing Taylor’s forgetting is that inspiration strikes as a combination of sources plus new stuff. So, I think if his son is smacked in the face by, say, the Carter Family, I don’t think that his kid’s band is going to be a Carter Family clone, anymore than, to use Taylor’s own youthful obsession, Duran Duran’s not a Roxy Music clone. The difference is, Taylor the Younger would just be using a different starting palette than a lot of contemporary music — instead of guitars and synthesizers and a 4/4 time signature, he might be more drawn to harmony vocals, banjos, fiddles and waltz time. And I think that’s OK (and kinda cool). And, well, too, nothing happens in a vacuum, so maybe the Taylor Tots (or whatever non-awful name they might choose) might be a band that equally draws from, say, the Carter Family, Run-DMC and Muse.

And, no, I don’t know how that’d work either. But it would probably be pretty awesome.

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  1. Josh of Arc

    It’s diplomatic of you to say “I don’t think I agree with him.” I’ll go a step further and say I think he’s full of shit.

    He pines for an atypical baby boomer childhood where we had what we had, and it was good enough. By his own admission he grew up listening exclusively to whatever was handed to him by the music industry:

    I became a teenager in 1972. In 1972, I was listening to music that was almost exclusively made in 1972. Some of it had been made in 1971, but that was about it, with few exceptions.

    The rare musical aberrations he latched onto aside, he was raised on a musical diet of Wonder White and Spam, which is reflected in his own career. Yeah, he and the others in Duran Duran are all dreamy and make people feel funny things in places where they do not often feel funny things, but they delivered a catalog of the most manufactured Top-40 schlock the world has ever known, overproduced and devoid of all but occasional (and probably accidental) moments of creativity. A dose of Cole Porter, a dash of 40s swing, or a sampling of Appalachian Mountain music would have served Taylor well.

  2. Rev. Syung Myung Me

    Yep — and I’m not sure what, necessarily, is to be gained by exclusively being inspired by recent music — there’s nothing WRONG with that, as any inspiration is good, but still. I think he’d have a better argument that access to just about everything under the sun that’s recorded could lead to Analysis Paralysis — the thing of “Oh, hey, I got this great idea……. ….that’s apparently already been done. Oh well, I got this OTHER great ide….. never mind…”

    I can definitely see that sort of thing, but, honestly, I think if you’re gonna create stuff like that, there’s a point where you need to say “fuck it, I’m going to do it anyway”. After all, there’s a finite number of note combinations that sound good — more if you include arrangements, but still, someone’s gonna hit on the same stuff eventually. And that’s fine. Especially if we’re talking about ideas and not just, y’know, straight-up plagiarism. Being all “I wanna combine rock and operatic singing” is cool; putting your name on “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us”… not so much.

  3. Less Lee Moore

    Taylor’s bass playing was actually heavily influenced by Chic, who I don’t think of as “Wonder White and Spam.” Regardless, even if you hate Duran Duran, I don’t think that renders Taylor’s arguments moot.

    In fact, I don’t see how in this article Taylor expresses a desire to have things handed to him. He argues the exact opposite, discussing how the power of “restriction” fed his obsession even more.

    For what it’s worth, I had very similar experiences and I agree with a lot of what Taylor is saying in this article.

    It’s a shame that the BBC NEWS only included part of the full text, which was a speech Taylor gave at UCLA a few weeks back. It does him a great injustice by using an excerpt and not allowing for more context.

    The whole thing is here:

  4. Rev. Syung Myung Me

    I hadn’t read it yet, so it’s good to have that link. Thanks for digging it up!

    And, why, yes, I AM cribbing my reply to the comment thread we started on Facebook!

    OK! I’m reading the full transcript right now. First, though, I’d have to say — I wonder who chose the excerpt for the BBC: Taylor hisself, or some BBC editor, who thought it was the best bit. (Not to knock editors, because, dang I know I need one — but rather, it’s important as to if Taylor chose it, I’d argue against the article-version NOT being misrepresentative of what he said in the full speech… but if an editor did — then there’s a better claim laid there that it is out of context.)

    That said — reading through the full piece: I’ve actually long said what he’s saying about packaging. that’s what’s going to get people to buy the records. If there’s something they can’t get otherwise, they’re gonna buy it. So many CDs nowadays seem to phone it in when it comes to the packaging. I tend to feel kinda cheated if I don’t even get a booklet. (Jenny Lewis’ Acid Tongue had NO artwork, liners, hardly anything. I bought a physical copy of that, and was disappointed that it was basically the EXACT thing I got digitally delivered to me at work from the label. Boo to that.)

    So, yeah — that IS one thing that the internet doesn’t have on physical media… assuming they take advantage of that…. which so many folks don’t.

    That said — did the thing about having the Clash as his favorite band before he heard them make anyone else cringe pretty hardcore? (I don’t mean to knock the Clash; they’re awesome, but they’re awesome because their RECORDS are awesome.) I don’t care how awesome your sleeve art is and how many ponies it comes with… if your record is shit, I don’t want it.

    As for the thing about restrictive access being a good thing…. eh. I’m more along the Amanda Palmer lines of anything that connects artist and fan is good. After all, I don’t necessarily have to read it. Like, I’m a fan of John Hodgman, but I found his blog kinda boring, so I stopped reading it. Am I still looking forward to his next book? Did I go “Oh crap, Hodgman’s on TV!” last weekend? Yep and yep. If too much access can hinder an obsession, it makes me wonder how good the source of the obsession was in the first place, y’know?

    And with AFP, I’ve got every record and book she’s put out, AND I’m on her twitter feed, blog feed, etc.etc. I still love the Dolls records and her solo record to bits.

    There is a lot more to his piece — and it’s not that long, so I don’t know why the BBC didn’t just run the entire transcript. That said, I’m not really sure if the BBC bit IS terribly out of context. I still pretty much stand by what I wrote, though there’d be more I could add to it… like, um, here.

  5. Josh of Arc

    Clarifying that “Wonder White & Spam” comparison upthread, I meant that as “He listened almost exclusively to what the record industry deigned to release.”

    I think his unstated beef is his perception that the speed at which one can now record and publish music is somehow harming musical development. In short, there is 30,000% more music out there now, and he’s taking the negative attitudes:
    1. There is 30,000% more crap (i.e., unvetted by record labels)
    2. It’s 30,000% harder to find “good” music out there.

    The corollary is there is 30,000% more great and easily accessible music out there that is 30,000% easier to explore rather than have to subsist on whatever the record labels see fit to release.

  6. Rev. Syung Myung Me

    And I’m glad that between this and the FB thread, there’s been a lot of good discussion! Discussion is always awesome.

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