This week has seen a couple of depressing things happen. Firstly the musician Billie Eilish admitted she had no idea who Van Halen were. Secondly people got cross at her for not knowing who Van Halen were. And thirdly, people got cross at the people who were cross with Billie for not knowing who Van Halen were because Van Halen aren’t culturally relevant today.
In short: a lot of people are cross for a lot of different reasons, some to do with Billie Eilish, some to do with Van Halen and some just because they enjoy being cross.
Of course the comments condemning and mocking Eilish for not having an indepth knowledge of Van Halen are wrong. When Gareth Bale recently admitted he didn’t know who the British Prime Minister was but could name the 10 ten ranked golfers in the world, we rolled our eyes and wrote him off as another disconnected thick footballer. The fact Eilish is a woman undoubtedly saw her receive much more grief for her confession that a bloke would have but that’s not what I’m really interested in to be honest.
I’m not expecting every person who either likes listening to music or works in the music industry to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of 70 years of popular music but much like movie making is informed by what has gone before it, so too is music. An appreciation for other genres and time periods can only ever be a boon surely?
I’ve watched Billie in concert on the BBC’s Glasto coverage and although she’s not my cup of tea, I can see that she gave an extraordinary performance that should be applauded. There are plenty of forms of music I don’t like, I’m not a fan of grime, R&B, Nu metal, an a lot of modern pop but that doesn’t mean I know nothing about them. Considering I’m an old school rock fan (think Zep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath the Who, Pink Floyd, old Fleetwood Mac, branching out into 80s metal), I still love a bit of 60s psychedelia, 50s rock and roll, the new folk revival and some good old fashioned country. In the 90s I got into ambient and dance, good music is good music, pass me another Chemical Brothers album. Oh, and the best gig I’ve seen in the last couple of years was Grandmaster Flash- he was phenomenal.
So I’m sad.
I’m sad that Billie hasn’t heard of the original drummer turned guitarist (waaaay before Dave Grohl made it popular), and popularised the two handed tapping technique in the 1978 song Eruption (Guitarist magazine readers voted it the second best guitar solo of all time once). I’m sad that people think they can lay into her for it but I’m equally sad that others think the best way to stick up for her is to say Van Halen have no relevance today.
In a world where Spotify and Apple Music make it easy to skip songs on an album by an artist you love, the chances of people listening to stuff they don’t know or have any real interest in seems staggeringly remote. That also makes me sad.
I tend to find new music (or rather, music that’s new to me) from a huge variety of sources. Some of it is down to Spotify suggestions, but mostly it’s long involved tangential investigations into more or less entirely unrelated subjects on Wikipedia or Google that lead me down some very esoteric paths.
For example last month I listened to the KLF’s Chill Out album a few times and eventually thought, I wonder what actual throat singing sounds like outside of the sampled world of the KLF, so I did some digging and ended up listening to Achai by the Alash Ensemble, a traditional Tuvan Throat singing group. I’ve been mesmerised and it’s probably my most listened to album of the last few months.
I’ve also recently discovered the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and they’re great. There are a couple of tracks that you’ll probably have heard at some point on the telly in an advert or somewhere- Jollity Farm, the Urban Spaceman and Canyons of Your Mind are pretty well known. It can be something as simple as wondering where an ad on the TV sourced it’s music from.
I tend to drive the kids up the wall with the sort of music that gets put on in the car but they do get exposure to a very wide variety of music as a result. I’ve never felt prouder than the moment when we were in the car driving to Cambridge and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus came on the radio, the kids all sang along word for word. They hadn’t even heard the Depeche Mode original, rather they’d heard Johnny Cash’s cover version on the only CD in the car on endless repeat whenever we went out of decent radio reception.