Of particular resonance with me was this observation about the singers working the cuircut today: "A lot of these guys don't even know the country standards, the songs you always heard and had to know," Watson says, calling in from his Austin home. "You couldn't get onstage anywhere in any honky-tonk and not know 'Your Cheatin' Heart,' but some don't." Watson says most of the new country boys and girls who came along during the '80s and '90s had no roots -- they just started doing country music a year before they had their record."
In the very same issue, I noticed another interview with Bob Mould, one of the small fraternity of musicians who used to crash at my house in Norman Oklahoma during the mid-80's punk rock explosion. Like Watson, he is touring behind a new release and he too spoke to the shift in culture that has lead to the state of affairs music finds itself in today:
"The current state of the business is enough to get a man all worked up, but today's Mould discusses it calmly, with a sense of humor. "Music used to be a religion to people, and now it's simply an accessory," Mould said by phone from his Washington, D.C. home.
The singer/composer recalled the sacred ritual of procuring vinyl records in his youth. First, you saved up your money from the crap job you hated, caught the bus to your downtown record shop where you frantically perused all the hip music magazines to see what was worth a listen. You took hours making your selections before working up the nerve to see if your selections were good enough to escape the disdain of the hip employees who rang up your purchases. Even then you wouldn't know if you had wasted your hard-earned money until you unwrapped the cellophane and put the platter under the needle for the first time.
Now, the journey is only as far as a keyboard. "It wasn't as easy as walking to a laptop and going, 'Look, an MP3 blog with 38 new songs that aren't even out yet,'" says Mould. "I'll just download all of those. I have no idea what the artwork is, I don't care anything about the band, maybe there's 15 seconds in here that speaks to me. If it does, I'll drag it into my iTunes library and maybe I'll remember it's there tomorrow.Mould says he wouldn't have made it in the current marketplace. "If I was coming up now, I'd just throw my hands up and go 'This is nonsense,'" he says. He thinks he'd be better off as a graphic artist, a painter or perhaps in social work. "I think that's always a good alternative to music, to get out in the community and help people less fortunate," he says. "You're actually gonna have a much richer life than if you try to be a musician."
Now, the casual reader, a younger music fan perhaps, might think from these riffs that these guys are complaining or are bitter or even burnout. But in reality they are simply reporting accurately on the field they find themselves in. Both Watson and Mould are about my same age and experience, albeit with quite a lot more commercial success than I've had, and both are cats I respect a whole lot, though in completely different ways.
Personally I find it encouraging that even in the current atmosphere of "good-enough" that they strive to continue to make "great."