In the 1970s, oil shocks, inflation and unemployment (along with a bloated, silly and going nowhere music scene) helped spawn punk, new wave and rap in the U.S and the U.K.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s a similar set of economic and music industry circumstances helped birth grunge rock. While it may not seem as big a deal now in the rear view mirror, Mr. Cobain and his colleagues did us all a favor back then. Remember Poison? Mr. Big? Whitesnake? No? Well, that's because Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and others made you forget.
Since then, the music industry has been on cruise control offering up a massive helping of "bitches and hos" rap, meaningless sugary pop "punk," diva acts, big hat country, stadium rock and nostalgia trips. Along the way, someone convinced the public that a DJ mashing together other people's songs and rapping over them was original. It's not and it's not entertaining.
Sure, there have been some great bands and performers come out of the past 10-15 years. But, for every Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Glasvegas or Arcade Fire there are 100s of bands like Coldplay, The Dave Matthews Band (yes people, the honest truth is that DMB is boring fratboy crap), the Fray and others serving up vapid nothingness. And that's just in the rock area.
Not even the real-time disaster parade of the George W. Bush years pushed music ahead. After all, after five minutes of "really caring," the people of this nation's primary response to the 9-11 attacks, hurricane Katrina and conservative attack on the economy was in the end a big, "eh...lets go to the mall then to Outback." This is not a culture ready to have an open ear or mind to new music. Nope, give them more of the same or more of what sounds like what they used to like years ago.
I can only think of one exception of protest rock being really popular among the masses over the last eight years - Green Day's American Idiot. Yeah, most people were responding the nice tones and and pop soundscape. None the less, listen to the words on that album.
Anyway, back to my main point...
Will the all-to-real economic hard times and rising unemployment re-generate the music scene? Will kids without much of a future spend more of their afternoons in the garage working up a set of songs with some buddies on guitar, bass and drums to express themselves rather than eating cheetos and playing video games? Will their friends across town channel their bleak futures to take rap to new places and say something real? Will laid off factory workers pick up acoustic guitars and pen new and inventive country tunes expressing their situation? Will techheads whose jobs have been outsourced to India finally use their free time and expertise to create new and revolutionary electronic beats and sounds?
In short, will the societal dissatisfactions that come with massive layoffs, spectacularly expensive education, poor healthcare, the housing crisis, a weak dollar and other results of the past 20 years now culminating in the U.S. motivate music in new and interesting directions?
I'm going to say yes. I think the conditions are unfortunately right in the economy and the music scene that this will happen over the next couple years. But, for all our sakes I'd like to have the economic hardships addressed and improved sooner rather than later.
OK, those are my thoughts. Anyone care to comment?