Going On A Hiatus
By Beppe Colli
May 10, 2016

The time has come to go on a hiatus, open-ended. As it always happens in cases like this, there are multiple reasons for this decision. I could mention my trying on my swimming trunks, with disastrous results, hence my resolution to start a new rigorous fitness regime. I could mention the large wood-and-glass cabinet placed to my left which I bought three years ago and which is still empty, while lotsa records and books are scattered all over the place. I could also mention the car accident we survived, unscathed, though the car was damaged beyond repair.

And then I could talk about the true reasons for this, except for the fact that the very scrupulous legal team that reads everything I write before publication advised me not to tell the full story, and killed the previous three drafts I wrote. So what follows is the watered-down truth.

As readers know perfectly well, when it comes to "quality music" it's my opinion that for some time now we've arrived at the stage of the epilogue. The cause for this is not a mysterious powder that an evil entity added to the water supply, but a series of well-known individual dynamics that add up to a sad sum. This does not imply, of course, that there are no more works of great artistic merit being released. In fact, there are quite a few. But when one takes the past into account - something one is forced to do, due to the ever-increasing series of "rock deaths" - one can't help but notice how different the framework. Then, there is also the fact that, in order to survive, musicians have to silently accept a drying-up of their most original qualities and traits, which are dimmed by those "mercenary" roles one has to take in order to survive.

Meanwhile, musicians have come to accept the fact that their best fans (!) regard the money they give them not as a proper compensation for their music, but as a form of charity.

Quite funny to notice that, while quite a few people lament those Spartan results in music due to little money being invested when it comes to record albums, not too many bother to praise those albums which offer a high concentration of brains and bucks. A few "for instance" being, say, Paper Wheels by Trey Anastasio, Lonely Avenue by Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, and Circus Money by Walter Becker. Those are the kind of albums that were once filed under "mainstream", something which is impossible today, when the word "mainstream" stands for such artists as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Katy Perry, Jay Z, and Miley Cirus.

But even if one takes more "off the radar" music into account, things don't change that much: just check the lukewarm reaction which greeted a limpid specimen of guitar improvisation such as Self Portrait In Pale Blue by Corrie van Binsbergen.

While sitting here, there were a lot of ugly things I could see. And while it's obvious that those well-known market factors have killed - or at the very least, lowered the quality of - a lot of newspapers and magazines, both at the newsstand and online (just a side note: a few days ago, totally by chance, I happened to find a disk featuring a few mega of articles and interviews I had saved, and it was with great amazement that, reading the stuff, I noticed how much backwards we've gone in the last fifteen years), what surprises me the most is the number of fans of "difficult music" who don't care anymore about having a dialogue with other people about what they listen to, so adopting an attitude that in the long run can only lead to solipsism.

This is a condition that doesn't have the "communitarian" dimension of the "social networks" as its counterbalance, since when it comes to music all communication - which today is very fast and multi-centric - is supposed to have a high degree of depth in the listening dimension, something that most people never really started developing.

Everything lasts for just one moment, and it's widely accepted that the most common condition today is the one called "whim", like it exists in the realm of fashion: an "instant" kind of pleasure that doesn't need - nor looks for - any rationale.

Inside this framework, even those products that could potentially provide "beneficial effects" - let's think about, say, the documentary about recording studios that Dave Grohl wrote and directed - in the end just become "something we saw last night", like a program about cooking or the most recent episode of a serial.

I don't know how many of my readers are familiar with the work of Margaret Sullivan, a journalist that up to a few weeks ago acted as the Public Editor in The New York Times.

For a few years, Sullivan's role was an important nexus between the newspaper and its readers, and between the work of journalists and the truth. From various "biases" to problems concerning accuracy, the Public Editor has the unpleasant job of a kind of "supervisor" when it comes to the newsroom and their work. All this, while placed inside the fast velocity of today's stream of information, while at the same time being confronted with those economic restrictions that increasingly condition the work of the Press.

It goes without saying that the role of the Public Editor is one of great independency, and that there's a staff helping her/him in their task.

This is the crucial point: Readers who choose to pay in order to get accurate information are also participants in a conversation about the accuracy and truthfulness of that information, an ongoing process that's always perfectible. So a newspaper is also called to check if what people said in a public debate - like the ones that are about the Presidency - was true. So while a newspaper has to report facts ("X said this") but also assess the accuracy of what was said ("Is what X said true?").

There are also those issues concerning the allocation of the available resources, which are by definition finite. Did the paper allocate the right amount when dealing with a fact that at first could appear of not much importance?

So, given the current state of crisis when it comes to both sales and ads, a crucial issue is the way those resources are split. As a reader, I have to say that, compared to The New York Times, the way Italian daily la Repubblica allocates what limited resources they have leaves a lot to be desired.

Consumers can vote with their wallet. Will we ever have a quality music press that's comparable to what we had in the past? Will we settle for a constant flow of information whose real worth is impossible to determine? Will "wellness" and "whim" fill our days? The future is open.

© Beppe Colli 2016

CloudsandClocks.net | May 10, 2016