Anytime I’m in the Upstate, I turn the radio dial to WNCW. For those of you who don’t know about the North Carolina station, it’s a real gem, offering up a mix of bluegrass, Americana, Celtic, and jazz with an overall granola-munching, crystal-rubbing vibe. As you can imagine, this goes over like gangbusters in hippie-dippy, goddess-lovin’ Asheville. And surprisingly, it’s got a pretty big following south of the border in Greenville and Spartanburg, too.
Now, I’m not a bluegrass enthusiast or a jazz junkie or a spell-casting druid. And yet I feel compelled to listen to WNCW. In part, it’s because I just can’t stand what has become of rock radio. The days of deep cuts are over with. The era of the lost classic is no more. Now, all that we are left with is the top two or three songs by the top 10 or so bands.
“Sweet Emotion” — I’m done with you. The same goes for “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Back in Black,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Comfortably Numb,” “Bad Company,” “Layla,” “Stairway to Fucking Heaven,” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Seriously, my balls draw up into my body every time I hear that song, and I cry myself to sleep at night when I think about how the cool kids these days just can’t get enough of that damn, despicable tune.
I know I can’t be the only person who thinks that Glee is the worst thing to happen to music since Kids Incorporated and that Glee creator Ryan Murphy is a musical mother bird who consumes pop’s best, spits it back up, and then tries to feed all of those regurgitated bits and pieces back to his starving chicks. And, believe you me, the kids these days are starving for good music. They want something new. They want something original. But I fear that they would be confused if they heard a song that didn’t at least sample another song, much less an entirely original composition.
If we keep going the way we have been going — what with our endless mashups, remakes, and reboots — sometime in the future, not too far from now, some prefab band with a show on the Disney Channel will top the Billboard charts with “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but this time it won’t be Journey’s version but Glee‘s. And when that happens, the Big Bopper will descend from the heavens and smite us all with his big bopper.
When a culture becomes overly consumed with its past artistic achievements and those achievements become static forms, that culture is no longer vibrant. It’s as dead as Elvis. Which is why it bothers me to no end when I’m listening to WNCW and a brand new bluegrass act comes on the radio with their brand new Triple-A radio hit — a song that was written and recorded last year — and the tune is about the trials and tribulations of Depression-era farmers or the still-building hillbillies living in the Appalachian Mountains over half a century ago.
Here’s the thing, folks: Just because you’re a bluegrass band, that doesn’t mean you have to sing about the exact same subjects that all of the greats did 50-some-odd years ago. People have changed. More importantly, their stories have changed.
Before they may have plowed the fields from dawn to dusk, but now they stock the shelves at Walmart during the third shift. Before they may have asked the nice young man two streets over for a glass of lemonade and an adult-supervised chat on the front porch swing, but now they’ll send you a sext of their bedazzled va-jay-jay. Before they brewed moonshine up in the hills, but now they’re running a crystal meth lab out of a room at the Motel 6. This is the world we live in now. Tom Joad gave up the ghost a long time ago. Enough already.
That said, there are still plenty of new ideas out there. Songs that haven’t been sung. Movies that haven’t been made. Television shows that weren’t hits 20 years ago. We don’t have to live in the past. I don’t know about you, but I believe our best days are ahead of us. And I won’t stop believin’ that they are, Ryan Murphy be damned.