15.2.16

Music as News

It’s one of the oft-repeated cliches about Reggae, that MCs were like news reporters. Big Youth was known as “The Gleaner” - after one of Jamaica’s newspapers. His “Green Bay Killing” was one of slew of tracks about this massacre of 14 JLP party members by the opposing PNP. To pick one of many examples; in the same way there were a number of tracks which referred to the story of a “duppy, or ghost, [that] had been spotted in numerous locations speeding through the land on a three-wheeled coffin, perched upon which were three John crows, or buzzards, one of which could talk and was asking for a Mr. Brown” - most notable of which being The Wailers’ “Mr. Brown”.

As often, the structural fundamentals of modern music were first worked out in Kingston’s ghettos. If music is going to survive in the 21st century it needs to become more like the news. In some quarters it has. The current triumph of Kanye West and Taylor Swift is predominantly because they have latched on to the internet’s insatiable thirst for news.

The theatrical concept of the “fourth wall”, in which actors do not break the illusion of their belonging to a fiction by acknowledging their audience, was applied to the PR tactics of rock behemoths like Led Zeppelin. Blessed was the groupie ushered backstage. The post-modern technique of Kanye and Taylor is, in contrast, to project an illusory “open-access” to their lives. Every bleat or tweak, kitten or carbuncle becomes a minor news item in their never-ending twittered and instagrammed logorrhea. They have newsified themselves. However, in strictly theoretical terms, Kanye and Taylor are only nearly there. West's LPs are still over-blown clearing houses for outdated liaisons. He should abandon the format and release strings of tracks - just as he tweets. Swift's gossipy videos are in effect closer.

Weird music music should learn from this. It needs to abandon its historical attachment to its own eternal preservation. It must stop thinking of itself in terms of durable statements, of poems to be remembered for eternity. It has to stop plotting its own embalmment on formats. Weird music needs to hurry out controversial missives commenting on the idiocies of a world consumed by nationalisms and hellbent on ecological destruction.