Friday, February 22, 2008

An Obituary for MuchMusic

If you are over the age of 25, you probably haven't had MuchMusic on your radar for some time. If you bothered to flip by the channel while searching for a repeat of Seinfeld or The Family Guy, you would have noticed something very disturbing about a so called music channel: there is no longer music played on MuchMusic. In fact, even its sister station, MuchMoreMusic has given up on the music. No, now-a-days all you can see on these formally relevant television stations is endless reruns of various semi-celebrities attempting to market themselves as hip and cool. If you managed to make it through the "Jessica/Nick" years without wasting too much of your time watching the idiot box, I can only tell you that as an art form, TV is dead. From Scott Biao (who?) to Gene Simmons, our airwaves are clogged with arrogant, self-righteous so-called artists, pushing their idea of reality on us like corporate salesman, spinning their web of crapulence and over bearing Americanosity. I know that all one has to do is change the channel, and frequent readers (okay, I know its just you and me mom) of this blog will note the hypocrisy of me complaining about something I don't care about, but it is a further indication of the coming collapse of our cultural identity. Watching celebrities fumbling their way through sad, cold and filmed existences is somewhere between watching the execution of a puppy by lethal injection and one of those videos on of a guy getting whacked in the groin by an errantly thrown baseball.

MuchMusic began life, in my opinion, as a brash, charismatic and often controversial purveyor of culturally relevant pop, rock and sub-culture music, proliferating the belief that music alone, could change the very times we lived in. In its early days Much focused not only on mainstream, media friendly pop music (Madonna, U2, etc.), but had invested itself with a conscience that guaranteed its youthful vigour through three decades of change. Much showed us early in the 80's the power of hip-hop music to move mountains in terms of social awareness; in the 90's it was at the forefront of the grunge movement and even into the early years of this century it attempted to maintain some visage of relevancy with such forward looking segments as "The New Music" and "The Wedge". These things slowly died off as teenagers, taught to idolize celebrity heroes and believe that gossip was news, turned their focus from music to religious devotion to Britney and her ilk. I am not so stupid as to believe that MuchMusic, even at its best, was not a purely commercial enterprise, bent on selling cassette tapes and CD's, but I can't help but feeling that we lost something, somewhere on its winding road. Gone now is the pushy capitalistic tendencies of Moses Znaimer, City TV's founder and visionary; all that is left is hour after hour of some rich pre-teens rolling around swimming pools making Survivor look like the artful brushstrokes of Michelangelo.

But the larger question is why? Why has a once vast audience strayed from its desire to tune into music videos as a form of entertainment and instead, prefer the voyeuristic "peeping tom" existence of reality TV? The simple answer is of course the proliferation of alternative forms of media: UTube, Ipod, downloading and the like. But does the obvious significance of those forms of mass commercialism really explain the hedonistic cult-like following by our society of celebrities, most of whom are very poor role-models and many of whom are probably not even literate and more to the point, is the cult of celebrity the cause or result of something much more sinister. So what happened?

First, If you ask your average 20 year-old (or any female for that matter), why they follow celebrities with such interest, you'll probably get an answer like "I love to watch them screw-up and die". Sad, but frankly true. Watching idols fall has been a past time since the dawn of humanity and don't expect anything to change anytime soon. We have all witnessed the fall of someone we really felt deserved it, and somewhere deep inside, smiled. Who couldn't but laugh when the New Kids starting dropping like flies. But there is more at stake here than meets the eye. The problem is one of distraction: while we observe the rise and fall of some, irrelevant, washed-up 1970's celebrity, we are actually avoiding dealing with real issues and confronting real problems. Frankly, the way the media is now controlled by a few multi-nats, puking out corporate hand-jobs like its news, its hard to pay attention to anything that actually matters. So what happened is we now have 24 hour a day coverage of the rich and powerful, appearing to rise and fall with their own idiocy. I say "appearing" because as a sceptic, I am of the belief that the whole kit-and-caboodle is scripted for your entertainment. "Don't believe anything" is a good motto for interpreting print and television media. Media, thy name is Con-Job. Second, culturally active media, such as MuchMusic once was, creates two problems for their corporate owners: 1) You can't control someone whose job it is to be controversial; and 2) Controversy doesn't sell products, it sells dissent, and no CEO wants that.

Third, and inescapably, kids have lost interest in music, because it just doesn't provide the drama they are used to and kids are the biggest consumers of the products advertised on Much and MuchMore. Its undeniable, and probably a sad state of affairs at Much to be sure. Kids don't want music videos anymore, they seem to want, primped and preened, semi-nude, untrained, musically retarded, half-wits, performing for laughs. Don't get me wrong, listening to an interview with most bands now-a-days is hilarious indictment of the world's view of education, and full of giggles. But again, we sacrifice a more important value, in this case talent, for performance or laugh-value. Not a good trade in my books. One only needs to look at the never-ending series of high profile B.S. television shows imitating the 'American Idol' idea. People don't want talent, they want drama. Nobody is bothered by the fact that 99% of the these people can't write music, can't play instruments and in the case of at least one contestant, think Europe is a country.

So, what is the solution? Well, its hard to say because of the depths which music, and thus MuchMusic have fallen, but all we can hope for is another Kurt Cobain, another Axl Rose or another Lemy to save us from the continuous stream of under-talented, over-paid corporate spit-wads that stream through our computers and MP3 players. Aside from that, there is not much hope. Music has a way of exploding when things get bad, and given the economic and social problems that we are watching evolve around us, it won't be long before someone gets right pissed off enough to start singing about it. I laugh when I think of Gene Simmons announcing on the Henry Rollins show that downloading is stealing and will be the death of the music industry. I imagine the only person left (other than music industry executives themselves) sad to see the industry fold into the very bowels of hell, would be Gene Simmons, a consummate con artist and 24 hour commercial pitch-man. Gene, for Gods Sake, have some integrity, stand for something other than your own gratification, after taking so much from so many, don't you think you owe the world that much? Since when did the proliferation of an art form bring about its downfall? I am not sure what historical or philosophical point you are trying to make, but let's face it, for you, its all about the money. The music executive is dead. Nobody cares about coked-out losers, with high school educations and bad haircuts anymore. Its over, turn out the lights.

So, as Much and Muchmore slowly fade into that good night, I am forced to reminisce on some the great music moments in my life: the first time I heard Tool; listening to real blues music in a ATCO trailer in Massachusetts; seeing the Tragically Hip perform in a venue the size of my bathroom. Lost possibilities and lost dreams. Goodbye Much, you were a loyal friend to me once and it was a nice ride. You will be missed....but don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Smartest Guy in the Room

I watched "The Smartest Guys in Room" last night. It is an enthralling look at the rise of fall of Enron at the start of this century. What was fascinating to me was that the fraud perpetrated on investors, employees and consumers was richly and readily eaten up by the Big Banks: Citibank, CS First Boston, JP Morgan and others. They all clammered on board to take advantage of financial schemes designed to rape investors and consumers of power, schemes that were eventually uncovered by a journalist and an accountant. Enron, you see, had devised a way, with the help of its lawyers, accountants and bankers to book revenues for deals it made regardless of whether they acutally made money, whether the deals caused losses or whether they closed at all. I know this sounds crazy, but all they did was "fudge" the numbers. That's it, that's all. And nobody asked questions, 'cause they were all getting filthy rich. Interestingly, the so-called financial geniuses (Skilling, Lay and Fastow) at Enron who navigated the company's stock from a buck to $150 and then back to $0, were able to make themselves rich at the same time, although for the most part they will probably spend the next few years of their lives in prison. All except Ken Lay, who died awaiting trial.

At the heart of the conspriacy (and admittedly some would argue that the principles of these companies never intended to defraud anyone) was the complacency and in most cases, the eager particiaption by the biggest financial insituations in the world. In hearings before the US congress on the demise of Enron, the presidents of these Big Banks all shrugged their shoulders, batted their eyelashes and said "opps, they fooled us too". That may be all well and good, but the difference from my perspective is that all these major players walked away with millions of dollars in investments, pensions and bonuses. Employees of Enron, some 30,000 of them, lost in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion dollars of their retirment funds. Retirees, that is those already retired and enjoying the good life after contributing to the economy for half a century, lost in the neighborhood of $2 billion collectively. Imagine what that must have been like: happily retired, living a nice middle class life and then the next day collecting old age security and wondering what the gruel would be in the cafeteria that day in some old folks home recently featured on 60 Minutes. I know some of you out there who despise my rants will argue that I often say "tough luck" to these sad stories, but in this case the fact that those that participated in the fraud walked away relatively scott-free, irks me just a little.

But here is the point I want to make. The big banks have all begun releasing reports of huge losses due to exposure to the sub-prime credit crunch. Less then six years after being "tricked" by the geniuses at Enron, the Big Banks have now been tricked by twenty-something mortgage brokers. Again they cry "We didn't know!" and "Nobody told us!" rings out across the financial world. Doesn't anybody at the banks actually check any of these things? A fifth grader can tell you that if the deal sounds to good it probably is. Alas, the mortgages were bundled, packaged and shipped like so many plastic nik-nacs from Taiwan. Be the time the mortgagors started defaulting, nobody was quite sure who owned the properties to begin with and now, row upon row of newly minted colonial bungalow sit empty and vacant as lawyers fight over the rights for properties nobody wants. Caught twice looking the other way in less than a decade and all the Big Banks can say is "oops". I just don't get it. Warren Buffet calls it "poetic justice" but I think its more than that: Its criminal. As the great George W. once said: Fool me once...uh, you can't fool us again...

So here we are again, teetering on the verge of North American economic collapse because those at the top, who all remain wealthy no doubt, screwed the little guy. I guess they were all too busy, as they were in the days of Enron, slapping themselves on the back and smoking $90 cigars. And of course, in another five years, the banks will have turned a blind new to the newest investment fad, which will result in yet another collapse of the market. Greed, my friends, abuts all and stands as humanities greatest villian. So, keep your money under your mattress, and don't trust anyone with it except yourself. Building wealth takes time and experience and nothing of value comes easy. Be warned, as public attention drifts from this year's scandals, somewhere a business school graduate is figuring out a way to screw you right good. You can't count on the banks and you certaintly can't count on the government to protect your interests, so do it yourself.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Coffee Drinkers of the World! Get a life!

Nothing pisses me off more than walking by one of the 2000 thousand Tim Hortons, Second Cups or Starbuck's here in the Combat Zone and seeing lineups that make the ques at your local sports stadium at intermission look like a movie theatre just after the release of the latest Tom Cruise/Some Brunette Chick movie. What the hell is wrong with you idiots? There is free coffee in just about every office on this planet! Coffee that gets continually poured down the drains of every city on this continent. Drink some water, drink some tea, but for Godsakes having to smell your disturbing breath and horrible urine smell everytime I walk into the bathroon because you can't make it through the day without 1000 mg of caffiene in your systems is driving me crazy. Go drink your double cappa venti marde grande latte half fat double-decaffienatd half caf in HELL! Get a freakin' life!

Do you have any idea the suffering that goes on in third world and developing countries so that you can drink your drug? Here is a real neat solution to your "case of the monday's" GET OFF YOUR FAT ASSES AND GET SOME EXERCISE! God, people are working 365 days a year, earning about 3 cents a day so that you can roll your tubby ass down the elevator to pick up a seven dollar coffee to make a bunch of US millionaires even richer. And lining up to pay 7 bucks for a drink made from a damned bean? Are you insane? Go to your pharmacy and buy some caffiene pills and tell everyone you're a humanitarian and you won't support the international "drug" cartels supplying you and your large assed friends with a powerful stimulant that you scarf down with the ferocity of a rabid chipmunk. Try to get a handle on the consequences of your actions for Gods sake. I cannot even imagine the lost productivty to a bean. Oh well, at least those Columbians are working 18 hours a day to make up for your laziness. My God, what have we come too....