On a night that promised a hard rain was gonna fall, Rosanna Arquette dropped by New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival to introduce her new music documentary All We Are Saying.
She didn’t have much to say by way of an introduction, but perhaps her past close (in the biblical sense) association with some of music’s greats makes that unnecessary.
She first splashed onto the scene holding her own opposite Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan and she is the “Rosanna” that Toto sings of in their 1982 hit of the same name. Then there was also Peter Gabriel and . . . well, you get the picture!
Being a music lover and lover of musicians Rosanna obviously had easy access to almost every musician/band on the face of the planet. Unfortunately, having the ultimate backstage pass does not necessarily a great documentary make. In a Q&A after the screening, Arquette mentioned that she didn’t have any musical training – she just loves music and musicians.
Therein, lies a bit of the problem. Rosanna fawns and gushes like the fan that she is instead of a serious interviewer trying to create a provocative portrait of rock n’ roll from yesterday to today and into tomorrow.
All that being said, a hazy picture of the music industry does manage to rise from the ashes of this mostly D.O.A docu and, like some of the aging rockers profiled – it ain’t pretty. Rock ‘n’ roll is quickly turning into an opening act for hip hop. One of Arquette’s major gets, Interscope head Jimmy Iovine, who once produced major rock acts such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Stevie Nicks now works his magic on the likes of Eminem. He expresses hope that rock can catch up. But as the head of a major label, he has to be where today’s scene is – and that isn’t rock.
How did we come to be playing a dirge for rock n’ roll? There are probably many answers and every rocker that Arquette snuggles up to has a theory. The majority of her interviewees are members of the so-called “classic rock” set. The whole idea of a corporate music industry was built on the mountains of cash they raked in. That’s where the trouble started. Art and commerce, uneasy fuck friends that they are, soon popped out a bastard money monster that threatened to eat its more artsy parent.
What was the musicians’ response to the greedy little green gobbler they helped to create? Unfortunately, much like Dr. Frankenstein, they quickly denied all responsibility and abandoned the industry part of music until it threatened to bite them in the ass . . . (cough) . . . wallet.
David Crosby, who formed one of rock n’ rolls first super groups Crosby, Stills, & Nash describes music today as being “outsourced to huge corporations”. Tom Petty thinks the reason rock is free fallin’ to its death is because popular music is fake and listeners can no longer handle music with a message. Don Henley rages on and on about how people “don’t want to hear a song with content because they’re used to wading in shallow water”. Joni Mitchell, the first lady to make chicks with guitars cool, has retired because she can’t bear turning her creative work over to a business machine who has no real interest in the music.
Has the public at large really deserted rock ‘n’ roll? Are those artists hovering at the half century mark the only ones who really care about music anymore? Should we all go around waving our best devil horns and raging against the machine in defense of the supposedly innocent musician? Well, to quote the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want”. And that seems to be what aging rockers want most – to have their gourmet triple layer cake and eat it too – especially when it comes to technological advances that threaten to dramatically alter the industry that made them millionaires.
Advances in music technology have usually been extremely friendly to musicians. The baby boomers originally bought vinyl albums of their favorite bands. Then, voila, the cassette tape was invented leading music fans to repurchase their collection on this exciting new format. And just when they’d loaded up on tapes – ladies and gentleman, meet the compact disc. Fans frothed at the mouth at the idea of better sound and upgraded their collections again. By the year, 2000 a Beatles fan probably purchased Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band three separate times in three different formats (possibly four if anyone really wants to bring up 8 tracks).
Then there was the invention that no one was prepared for – file sharing. If kids today want to get into Aerosmith, they don’t have to dust off their parents old records or go to Tower Records. They can just log on to Napster (before it was legal) and download “Dream On” or “Love in an Elevator” onto their computers without paying a penny. Aerosmith front man, Steven Tyler, told Rosanna that because of this new invention, his catalogue went from “being worth $24 million to 12 cents”. Those darn kids!
Okay, Mr. Tyler – let’s see what those brats have done for you through the years. You were kind of liked by them in the 1970s, but by the early 80s, Aerosmith was over. Enter MTV, one of the most important advances in the music industry. Rappers Run DMC were covering the old Aerosmith tune “Walk This Way” and invited the Boston rockers to appear in their video for the song. Thanks to that video, a whole new generation was rockin’ out to Aerosmith and Tyler and the gang now had the opportunity (i.e. fan base) to go out and make some of the best-selling albums of their career.
So, message to the “classic rock” set – stay involved in every facet of the industry you created. Thanks to iTunes and its copycats, you are now making a new fortune from legal downloads of your music. Neil Young prophesizes in his anthem-like song, “Hey Hey My My (Into the black)” that “Rock and Roll will never die”. That could become an absolute truth if the giants of rock (and with your egos, you know who you are) would stay in the game and have an open dialogue with young fans about the technology they are using, instead of pointing their fingers like a bunch of cranky next door neighbors. After all, rock n’ roll has always been about revolution and the rebel yell. Please, please don’t become just another brick in the wall!