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What Happens When Arena Rock Dies?

During dinner last night with my nephew Samer Diab he asked a question that echoed one in the New Yorker this week. “The same rock stars who ruled the arena’s when they were in their 30s, 40s, 50s are ruling the arenas in their 60s. Why?”

I said, “What about Coldplay?” Samer laughed himself sick over the comment. I replied that because there is no center to the music business any more there are no consensus artists. He got testy: “The last band to break big was U2. They are in their 40s. Why is their no band in their 30s who can fill an arena?”

Well, Dave Mathews can once in a while but the point is well taken. Why can no one hold the center younger than two steps away from gentrification. It’s as if when the 90s split music into two -hip hop on one side, grunge on the other, the break was so big nobody seemed capable of filling it. In retrospect, maybe if Lauryn Hill hadn’t disappeared the Fugees might have been able to do something but Nirvana -who were the grunge contenders (Foo Fighters aren’t even close) self-destructed and Biggie was murdered so the top of the heap. To put it another way: we lost the Madonna, Prince and Stones of the 90s and nothing replaced them.

The 00s are still in play but Jay-Z is too slimey, Conor Oberst too restless, and Matchbox too slight to garner the overwhelming audience necessarry to follow in Springsteen’s and the Stones footsteps.

Part of this is the result of death of the major record labels. There is no Atlanta Records, no Geffen, no Reprise, nobody who knows how to nurture talent and let it grow. AIG Live’s 360 degree contracts only works with established acts. How can you give a 360 to a band with 3 mp3s. How can you find them and bring them up when you don’t know how it’s done. AIG and Itunes are the same difference: they are warehouses for artists with no handle on what to do with them. Look at Lady Gaga… she is the latest in a line from Madonna to Britney Spears but it just seems as though they can’t get her to the next stage -she has the talent but not the management, not the belief system.

I am a populist. I like meeting people who like the same music I do and I think a wide audience leads a depth to a song, an additional meaning, through its communal interpretation. On the other hand, despite our inability to agree on any music the 00s are a better decade for music than the 80s or the 90s or the 50s. Wider and deeper but not as popular. It is a bit like television. It is asinine to say the 80s had better television than the 00s and it is untrue -how can you compare a collective 15 hours of prime time per night with a collective 750 hours of prime time per night.

And the result is the same. The 40 share is dead and buried. And so is the consensus rock star. The problem is it’s not enough for me I want the 15 rock acts and i want the 750 rock acts and if I don’t and if the business doesn’t get it, how are we gonna to make money from music. in 2025, the next Jay-Z may remain slinging not singing rock…

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