Here’s a quick quiz. What do an oriental opera piece, a near-eastern jazz instrumental, an acoustic ballad, a new wave rock number and a pop-rock throw back have in common? If you said they are all alternative music, then you are confused enough to label your own songs and should consider a career as a musician. At least, that is, you won’t be out of place: because five musicians I reviewed this month – who wrote the songs answering the descriptions I have just supplied – listed their compositions beneath this meaningless ticket!
We need to gas the word alternative and we should do it yesterday. As a word it is hopelessly over-weight. When a word means too many things, it ceases to mean anything at all. That’s the case with the genre label ‘alternative.’
Not long ago, it was easy to define alternative music. It was any music that was not popular. You could tell it a mile away – literally. It was loud and obstreperous. This won’t greatly insult real alternative musicians because they strove NOT to be popular – they were (and are, I guess) anti-pop.
How ironic is it, then, that alternative is now the most popular genre label? And, since alternative music has become popular – for the word pop derives from popular – does it surprise anyone that it isn’t really alternative any longer?
My observation is that every artist who wants to say, “Hey, I’m different.” Chooses the label ‘alternative’ for their seldom startlingly original creations. I don’t know how to break this to everyone, but most music is not very original. On the contrary, it’s usually very derivative. So, why continue this charade? If you’re playing rock, call it rock. Call folk, folk and so on. It hasn’t become ‘alternative’ rock or folk just because you’re not Chuck Berry or Woody Guthrie – more is the pity.
Imprecise language has its place, I imagine. For example, if a dentist has both hands in your mouth and chooses that moment to ask you a question – which many dentists seem to do, by the way – you have every right to use language imprecisely – maybe even alternative language. (You also have a right to bite the dentist, but that’s a different subject.) But when labeling your music, unless you’re doing in your face Punk or Grunge – or something REALLY and deliberately anti-pop – get real and admit what you’re playing.
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