Ebony & Irony
(A nearly serious look at modern music)
By Jonathan ‘Killstring’ Herzberger
The Cauldron Contributing Writer
After a few brief moments of silence, the crowd erupts as lights violently snap to life. Our heroes revealed, they acknowledge our tribute, exploding in a cacophonous roar of sound. Complete strangers stand shoulder to shoulder, shouting platitudes in unison, and for a brief moment, there is a palpable sensation of magic.
So yes, suffice it to say that I think live music is kind of neat. It’s sweaty. Loud. Personal in an immediate sense that’s difficult to replicate via recordings. And in a local sense, it’s dying out.
Back in my days as a concert promoter/tour manager/all purpose rock star accessory, people all over this fine nation of ours had a lot of preconceptions about Cleveland. Shockingly, most of them were positive. “Birthplace of rock and roll – you guys must have a great scene!” Patriotic native son that I am, I would dutifully reply that yes, yes we certainly did. Do. Have such a thing. And sonically speaking, it’s true that Northeast Ohio has a wide variety of local and independent acts spanning all genres and tastes, and a lot of that is focused here in Cleveland. And while normal artistic ratios of tone-deaf and horribly misguided folks do apply, there’s a lot of very high-quality music being produced right here in our backyard. (Quite literally ‘on-campus’, if one is to take the brochures seriously) So in a sense, what I told them was true – from a certain point of view.
But the harsh reality is that for many local acts, the support just isn’t there – record contract or no. Acts like Brandston, Driver Side Impact, The Vacancies – they have no trouble drawing a crowd all over the country – provided that place is anywhere but Cleveland. In a conversation with Labor Force guitarist Josh Vardous, I commented on their laudable success in the surrounding markets – Detroit, Columbus, etc – to which he agreed that yes, they were off to a pretty good start, but it was (in his words) “too bad Clevo doesn’t rep us.” Wondering what that meant exactly, I headed to their show at The Grog Shop. The Grog’s an institution, having proudly hosted bands like Fall Out Boy long before most folks had any idea who they were. So I made it a point to attend.
12 other people made it a point, too. Now, if there is any haven for blue-collar punk rock in the area, surely it’s The Grog, right? Bands like The Street Dogs constantly fill it to capacity – so what gives? Where’s the love? Granted, this was one show out of the dozens that go on every week in our city – which might actually be part of the problem. Are we oversaturated? We live in a time where musical equipment is the most affordable it’s ever been, and easy access to software means that making a demo is no longer an investment requiring thousands of dollars. And this is a good thing, right? Who wouldn’t want artists to have access to the tools they need? (Besides professional recording studios trying to make a profit, but that’s another story) Toss in the power of the internet, and BAM! A brave new world of creation and distribution for the everyman, free from dependence on record labels – Karl Marx would headbang in approval, no doubt. This is all well and good, but the greatest strength of the ‘information age’, that being that everyone has a voice – is also its greatest flaw. Because, you know… everyone has a voice. Every. One. A cursory search on myspace will reveal hundreds of acts within a meager 5 miles of campus. And while some of these will doubtlessly be pretty good, the normal ratios still apply – not everyone is a brilliant artist, and that’s ok. But my ears get pretty fatigued trying to find any diamonds hidden in this rough. Finding new music should be fun, and exciting – it shouldn’t feel like work. Also, despite what certain political figures may claim, our economy is All Manner Of Suck right now. If you have to scrimp and save so that you can see a big national tour, why go to all that trouble for some scruffy local kids?
I’ll tell you why.
Because something worth doing is simply worth doing – regardless of who else thinks so. Because there was more honesty in that concert than in a year’s worth of over-commercialized glitz. Because some guy you’ve never met said it was cool in his newspaper column. (The logic of this last one is virtually unassailable) Besides, there’s always the chance one of these bands will explode in popularity – then you can be that insufferable jerk who saw them first, before they were popular. Who doesn’t love that guy?