Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Faceless, but in Front of the Fans
In today's Globe, Renee Graham contends that most rock stars and musicians today are nameless, faceless generitrons who won't be missed when they die. She compares the Who's John Entwistle, who was widely eulogized, with such anonymous auteurs as Nickelback's bass player, Creed's drummer, Hoobastank's guitarist, Default's lead singer, and Linkin Park's turntablist.

Renee's got a point. Bands are bands these days. And so many are corporate creations -- and styled after similar bands -- that the world is awash with unidentifiable cookie-cutter copycats. Add to that replacement members -- Iron Maiden, anyone? Van Halen? -- and it almost doesn't matter who's in a band. The band retains the name. Renee holds up bands like U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers as musical groups who rise above this aural anonymity -- as well as a whole slew of old-school rock and pop personalities: Keith Richards, Joey Ramone, and Kurt Cobain. All of the above attract their own followers in addition to the fan base that resonates with the band as a whole.

What intrigues me about Renee's thesis is its parallels to the local rock scene. Sure, if you're involved in a scene, you'll know who's in what band -- and what they're like. But so much local music is still band-centric or sound-centric. The people are secondary. We could learn a lot from the jazz scene, which has always focused on individual players and reveled in the innovations and intricacies that result when people move around and play with other people.

I'm not saying that individual players should be more celebrated than bands in the rock world -- who would I be without the Anchormen? -- but that people should share their personalities, pursue strong stage presence, and perhaps align themselves with creative collectives such as Handstand Command, the Elephant Six, or Initech. As individual participants in a given band or scene, we should share our strengths, strive to be supportive, and stand out from the predominant cookie-cutter crowd.

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