Come January, I’m going Paleo. Given the choice between continuing to take a bunch of pills every day for the rest of my life or suspending my skepticism for a month to eat only what my caveman forefathers ate, I’ll stand in solidarity with the Flintstones outside Whole Foods to get my almond flour and organic vegetables.
Sarcasm aside, the idea that what we eat has evolved faster than our bodies ability to digest it, thus causing many of our health problems, is an intriguing idea. I’ll let you know in February how it all works out. I may even become one of those health nuts. In the meantime, if you see me starving hysterical naked, dragging myself through the streets at dawn looking for an angry Twix, you’ll know what’s up.
But does this Paleo idea hold true for music also? Has the evolution of the music business done more harm than good since the caveman days? Let’s look at Caveman Elvis (CE). His primary gig is hunting and gathering (and standing in line at Whole Foods) to support his family and tribe. When the weather is good, he’ll play some tunes around the campfire for everyone’s entertainment. On days when the tribe is flush with free range woolly mammoth steaks and organic carrots, he’ll spend the chill days in camp practicing and teaching the children, and anyone else who is interested, how to play “Snake Skin Shoes.”
I’m assuming that during this downtime is when other advancements, such as improved weapon technology, were made...leisure being the basis of culture. I’d like to argue that every technological innovation regarding music since that time has actually diminished the importance of CE in his tribe.
Take written communication, in an oral culture, CE had to have a good memory to play “Snake Skin Shoes” and other hits. He learned them from an elder in the tribe, and he is obligated to teach the repertoire to the next generation. CE is valuable for what is in his mind and his ability to teach what he knows to others. However, once “Snake Skin Shoes” is written on the wall of a cave, a student can learn it in the privacy of his cave, and CE’s value as a teacher is diminished. Also, since songs were written down, they could be more complicated because you don’t have to remember everything. This also diminished the importance of CE's mind. This was the origin of Prog. (Just sort of kidding. There will be another post my complicated relationship with Progressive Music later.)
At some point, one of CE’s frustrated students found that he could make an extra stone or two by writing CE’s tunes in other caves so that students didn’t have to go to CE for lessons at all. Enter the middle man who eventually hit full stride in sheet music publishing in the mid-1800s.
I don’t want to get tedious about this, but all the advances from recording technology, to commercial radio, to amplification, to records, to Mtv, to streaming has diminished the importance of the individual musician, allowed middle men to come in and take a cut, and lifted very few to “rock star” status.
The problem with “rock star” status is that it presents a measure of success what is about as attainable as winning the lottery. The rest of the musicians are considered “non-essential,” as we've seen by Covid-19 restrictions that have wiped live music off the map without even the slightest, “Hey, wait a minute.”
But I’m not defeated. The end of the year is a time for optimism. Hopefully, when I start eating better, I’ll have more energy, practice more, play more gigs, not to become a rock star, but because that is my role in the tribe…like back in the days of old – before Covid.