Before the launch of Mtv and its since-abandoned music video mission, before hip hop and its never-to-be-original beats, samples and lyrics, and before modern computerized pop muzak and its vocals-assisted, Make-a-Wish technologies, solo singers and traditional bands in the 70’s and decades previous had to develop actual TALENT to make it. Such pioneers, hard as it now seems to believe, played their own instruments.
And for this we admired them–even when they acted like dirtbag morons off stage, backstage, or under the stage: Quite simply, they did things we average dudes could not. These were the days of the Rock Gods. And we listened on the radio and watched them on American Bandstand and talk shows. We were in fact so enraptured by them we often barely noticed they were also–well…”butt ugly.”
[Apologies to Billy Joel, Elton John, Jim Croce, the Ramones, Meatloaf, Aerosmith, the Eagles, both Simon and Garfunkel, Carly Simon and anyone else whom you, the misguided reader, might mistakenly feel this shoe fits]
But, as all Gen-Xers would certainly recall: Video killed the radio star. That’s misleading, actually: 80’s music, truth be told, endured, talent-driven, cosmopolitan and interesting, during at least the first half of the decade–after which original musicianship grew rarer and rarer.
Thus, when American Idol premiered on Fox in 2002, after a long, long, long decade without Nirvana–and an endless, morbid procession of producer-modified musical Frankensteins like the Backstreet Boys, the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, and the Macerena–even I foolhardily dared to believe we were beholding a long overdue restoration of the reign of talented singers, songwriters and musicians.
It shook my confidence a little, admittedly, learning that judging the vocal talent would be the Paula Abdul–possibly the least talented singer of the previous two decades–nay, perhaps of all time. But I watched…and I waited.
And now, ten years and twenty-seven Idol knockoffs later, I am–yes–still waiting. Now the Voice, at least, one of the very latest singing competitions, purports to be less shallow than the rest by making the judges turn their backs on auditioners. But it’s funny how most of these auditioners come out looking nothing like either Simon or Garfunkel, let alone like Meatloaf.
So, I’d like to pitch one more primetime t.v. singing competition. It’s called American Gargoyle. And the rules are: all contestants, classically hideous, of course–whether as solo artists or traditional bands–must play their own music, on their own instruments, and sing their own songs. We the viewers, naturally, shall judge both their talent and their repulsiveness.
And if the music industry, by consequence, then finally recovers from this quarter-century of shameless shallowness, we could perhaps bend the rules a little and allow the merely plain-looking a chance to compete as well.