I'm fascinated by the Internet's effect on counter-culture. For example, at the end of London Calling, his history of London's underground scenes, Barry Miles argues:
"With the coming of the Internet, underground publication has effectively disappeared. There can be no avant-garde unless there is a time delay before the general public knows what you are doing… Whereas artists in the Sixties could work for years with no media coverage, the hardest thing now is to not have thousands of hits on Google or an entry on Wikipedia."
The Internet has also produced subtle changes in the way artists innovate. A recent article in Slate by Bill Wyman, Lester Bangs' Basement, remembers the days before we could take the Internet cultural treasure-house for granted:
"The music you wanted to hear wasn't played on the radio and you couldn't find the records you wanted to buy. You couldn't even find the magazines that told you what records you should want to buy. It was almost impossible to see filmed footage of the artists you wanted to see. And movie fans? We scurried like rats after what could be, for all we knew, once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunities to see this or that film at movie theaters or in unexpected showings on television."
He quotes a review of the recent Keith Richard's autobiography that discusses what it was like to make music when other music was scarce:
"Mick had seen Buddy Holly play, and played the Buddy Holly songs he heard—if he didn’t play them, he wouldn’t hear them—in bars around Dartford. Anyone reading this review can go to YouTube now and experience Muddy Waters, or Chuck Berry, or Buddy Holly… the experience of making and taking in culture is now, for the first time in human history, a condition of almost paralyzing overabundance. For millennia it was a condition of scarcity… The Rolling Stones do not happen in any other context: they were a band based on craving, impersonation, tribute: white guys from England who worshiped black blues… The early Stones were in a constant huddle, dissecting blues songs in front of the speakers and playing them back for each other and then for their few fans. They thought of themselves, not even as a band, really, but as a way of distributing music the radio never played.
This idea of making music inspired by music you love but have little access to has turned up a few times in my reading. Most recently in Days in the Life by Jonathan Green, during an interview with Peter Jenner:
"At [Pink Floyd's] finest, it was very extra-ordinary free improvisation, in the purest psychedelic sense… We thought we were doing what was happening on the West Coast, which we'd never heard. And it was totally different. Attempting to imitate when you don't know what you're imitating leads to genuine creativity, and I think that's what happened with the Floyd."
Earlier in the book there is another interview with Peter Jenner, talking about rhythm and blues:
"Eric Clapton would never have seen Muddy Waters playing live; the Stones would never have heard Bo Diddley live. You'd have heard a couple of records and just tried to get the spirit. In fact they'd have been rather brought down if they'd seen them. I saw Muddy Waters live in America in 1960 and he played sitting down. That would have really upset the Stones."
Another example: Kurt Cobain spoke of his discovery of punk rock in Aberdeen, Washington, through reading about the Sex Pistols:
"My first exposure to punk rock came when Creem started covering the Sex Pistols' U.S. tour. I would read about them and just fantasize about how amazing it would be to hear their music and to be a part of it… After that, I was always trying to find punk rock, but of course they didn't have it in our record shop in Aberdeen. The first punk rock I was able to buy was probably Devo and Oingo Boingo and stuff like that; that stuff finally leaked into Aberdeen many years after the fact. Then, finally, in 1984 a friend of mine named Buzz Osborne [Melvins singer/guitarist] made me a couple of compilation tapes with Black Flag and Flipper everything… I'd already been playing guitar by then for a couple of years, and I was trying to play my own style of punk rock, or what I imagined that it was, I knew it was fast and had a lot of distortion. Punk expressed the way I felt socially and politically."
Sometimes glimpses of a culture are more inspiring than access to the full resources of that culture. There are many obvious advantages of the Internet's cultural treasure horde, but some things are lost too. Is there any way to regain the benefits of cultural scarcity?If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list