Thursday, September 15

The Color of a Rock Star

I haven't posted much largely because I've been pretty much obsessed with the show Rock Star:INXS and it's unfolding psycho-rock-opera. For me the focus point was the contestant Ty Taylor - easily the best singer and performer on the show and his eventually ousting. As he departed, through tears he commented that he "knew that the real reason for his leaving - that his people simply weren't seen as Rock Stars".

Interviewed the Chicago Tribune just after leaving the stage - Ty had the following to say.

Coming off of a great performance last night, which the crowd and the band loved, how did it feel when you were called into the bottom three today?

TY: Well, I've gotten used to it a little bit. Like I was saying, it was exciting because I got to sing an INXS song ["The One Thing"] which was far from mediocre, like they said. I guess they needed some reason to say I was going home because I know my performance wasn't mediocre. [Laughs.]It hurt, really. It's hard. And I've spent this whole show really never taking any platform about race issues at all, but I know how hard it is just judging by history, judging by the fact that I can count on my hands how many successful artists there have been that are African-American in rock 'n' roll. And it's just like a lot of people aren't going to watch the television show that aren't into rock music, and then therefore those people that have not seen enough black people in rock 'n' roll don't think to put me in [the band, INXS]. That's the only reason, that's the only reason. I know things. I'm very in touch with myself and the world and spirituality. And I know what my performances are like and I know – now that I don't have to deal with being so politically correct – I know where they land as far as substance. And you know, I hate having to live history [Starts crying]. You know that's it. I just hate being a part of something that
just doesn't seem like it's gonna change.

His comments ontage and off generated a torent of outrage that he would use the excuse of being a black person (or possibly gay according to some viewers) as a cop out for his own failings. I myself deeply questioned the intensity of the outrage, many seemed to take his comments as a personal affront, insult and accusation, as if to say - "How dare he accuse ME of Racism"? It reached the point of becoming a near-mantra, almost as people were reading from a prepared script. (Much like GOP-Talking Points.) It was almost creepy.

  • He was a great singer - just not Roit, that's my opinion and you need to take it as fact, cuz I do and you should too..
  • He'll do great on his own. - (somewhere, anywhere - but not in a Rock band - maybe Broadway or as the new lead singer of Kool and the Gang! or the Village People)
  • It had nothing to do with race - (except that he said his people aren't accepted in Rock bands, and he's right! But It's they're own fault - they know their place and they stay in it - away from Rock!)
  • See look there was a black guy accepted in a Rock band named Hendrix - once - long ago - he's been dead 35 years, but he was accepted -- kinda -- oh well he's dead now and nobody else had followed him -- but Ty's still wrong.
  • It has to do with how he performed - (which happens to be heavily steeped in black music and black culture -- which is where Rock n Roll orginated -- but it's not about race, remember!)
  • Hootie! See there's another one! Yay, can we all go home and forget about this now? I'm missing a rerun of Desperate Housewives.
  • He shouldn't have spoke his mind, because he couldn't possibly be right --("Sure, we have freedom of Speach - Just watch what you say" - Ice T)
  • Yeah, there's racism and bias somewhere - out there - maybe Connecticut or Boston - but not here!
  • Lenny Kravitz - Wow, were on a roll - three guys in 40 years - it's an epidemic! What more could he possibly want?
  • It's not MY Fault, why did he have to insult me personally? (Besides, J.D.'s so hot and sexy - how could I resist!)
  • Why do all those blacks always DO that? It makes me so MAD!! (But I never look at race, honest I don'! - except for those whining black guys - DAMN THem, Damn them all to H*LL)
  • He had been in the Bottom 3 (elimination group) three times - that was enough - didn't he get that? (Yeah, not like Jessica had already been in the Bottom 3 times and stayed, or that Suzie had been in the Bottom 3 times - uh, I mean 4 times - and stayed. Oops, never mind.)
  • Didn't he know *my* opinion on him sucking, why can't he just accept that and move on?

I've personally walked a few miles in Ty's shoes as a Rock performer of color myself, and I have to say that his comments are not completely without merit. But in my view the main reason for his leaving, beyond the rather silly set of excuses given by those who seem intent on denying the continually deteriorating state of race relations in America, was a case of marketing - not strickly racism per se.

On the main Rockstar forums I've had many discussions of this subject over the past two weeks and I've mostly said all along that racism might have played a part in how things turned out, but I've repeatedly said I don't think it was the primary part of what happened to Ty.

What I've said is that racism is what drove black people out of Rock N Roll back in the late 60's and early 70's (which even the biggest dullard knows was not exactly a period of racial harmony), and that it's marketing and apathy -- on all sides -- that keeps it that way today.

Now that cooler heads are gradually begining to prevail -it's time we had the real discussion - not "find the racist" - but FIX the problem!

And the problem is that Black people were the primary architechs of Rock N Roll. They didn't do it alone, but there were right there in the thick of it -- then suddenly they weren't anymore. That wasn't an accident. Rock is built on Blues - and where Blues is about the sharing of pain and the commiseration of people going through hard times, Rock N Roll was originally about overcoming that pain and focusing on the positive. If Blues was a person in tears and despair about their world, life and home going up in flames (or drowning under water) - Rock was an affirmative declaration by people who weren't going to burn up with the house, who were instead were gonna party their butts off and build a new one once the ashes cooled off.

Now, just imagine - you rebuild your house and you're throwing your party and a few neighbors show up and start to crash. Then a few more... then a few more...than a lot more - like Millions. Next thing you know they taken over the party, and they've taken over the house. They put the fire out (ended segregation and jim crow) which is a good thing, but the party's going in alll kinds of different directions -- anything you bring to it, they just take and they barely say thanks. They've moved IN to the house -they're doing renovations, they start changing rooms and putting up walls (by which I mean that in the 70's Radio began to split and segregate into very narrowly targeted MARKETS) and they didn't even say "May I" -it's just BOOM - not your house anymore and you have two choices.

1) Stay and wind up stuck in the corner or in the hall closet (niche) most of the time since there's hardly any room. In order to remain in the house you have to FIT one of the specific market brands that have now become standard, you can't just do your own thing anymore. (Not to mention some of the people who were fueling the fire, then ripped off all the furniture are still in there with you -- somewhere -- you just can't tell where anymore!)

2) Leave and build a new set of houses - create your own markets from scratch without all these other people bum-rushing the deal - houses which eventually became known as R&B, Funk and Hip-Hop.

So most you make your decision, but meanwhile your old place is still there -- with all it's squatters - jamming right along - parrellel to you, equal but seperate.

Segregated once again.

Every once in a while someone like Sly Stone comes along to visit the old place. Michael Jackson does a rock song like "Beat it" or "Dirty Diana", his sister does "Black Cat", Envogue does "Free Your Mind" and Jay-Z moonlights with Linkin Park - but almost noone has the nerve to risk their entire career on full-time rock music. And those that do - get quickly shown the error of their ways and are either sent scurrying back to R&B (Cree Summer) or see their careers come to a complete standstill (Dionne Farris). So for the most part - Rock and Black people remain seperate.

35-40 years go by -- and finally one ore person, someone like Ty comes walking up to the door of your old place and gives it a loud hard knock. Hardly anyone has seen anyone like him in most of that time, they don't know what to make of him -- the house has new tenants, he doesn't look or sound like them anymore. Times have changed. He's like a martian. All this while people like him with an authentic R&B and Soul background have been gone away, THE MARKETING OF ROCK HAS SHIFTED from classic Rock in the 70's to 80's Hair Rock to 90's Grunge, to Post-Punk to EMO)

Ty comes across musically like the original rockers who built the house, he's upbeat rather than gloomy - he's got soul rather than angst. He sounds a lot like classic rock too, since that sound is pretty close to the foundations of Rock -- but that was long ago. His look is also a bit throwback to the Punk of the 80's -- clothing is a bit all over the place. Not really sure about that. (Just rememberr It took Lenny about six years to find a look that "worked" for him - now, noone else is "allowed" to use that look without being called a "Lenny Clone") Either way, he doesn't "fit" into any of the pre-existing Markets that Rock now has. Should he pretend to be an EMO-Boy, or simply be who he is?

Most people who felt that Ty didn't fit - weren't themselves racist IMO, and I've never said they were. Some probably were, and many weren't - on the Rockstar Forums we've pretty much had that arguement already - but in the end, it makes no difference.

Many of those people who don't have an issue with Ty as a black man singing rock, are still judging him by the standards of a Market which was formed and founded upon a racist act -- the purge of Black people from Rock in the 70s. Rock music itself became racist in the 70's, and for all intents and marketing purposes - it still is.

I'm not saying anyone today was involved in what happened to Rock in the 70's, most of the dirty dealing was done by record execs who wanted to make a faster buck by taking songs away from black artists and repeatedly given them to white artists like Elvis and Pat Boone - I'm only saying the legacy of it continues (Did you guys know that Black Crows didn't write "Hard to Handle" - it was Otis Redding!!!) - -and will continue, until people take a stand to change it.

The Market for Black Rockers existed once -- it can be built again, newer, different, stronger - an black and white as all get out at the same time - just as it used to be.

All it takes is for a few people with an authentic black cultural perspetive - not just one, not just two, several - to get through the front door and back into the party, and then change the party! Rebuild the Market. A couple of tokens to our collective guilt over the past 35 years (like Lenny or Living Colour) aren't enough - it requires a miny FLOOD of them like what happened with Grunge and the "Latin Explosion" - it has to be a movement, not just a random incident.

IMO Ty was well positioned to help begin that start of such a flood - (this is exactly why he felt a lot of pressure to succeed in Rock as a black person - because it just might have made a difference for "his people" and frankly, everyone else)

Truth is, a lot of black people don't listen to rock today because they don't see and hear themselves in it the way they used to. It doesn't appeal to them - it isn't MARKETED to them. If it was and they did see and hear themselves reflected in that music - things might change, but since they don't it's likely to remain the same for the next 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years.

Hopefully, it won't. Hopefully, they'll be other oppurtunities for him and others to break down the walls that continues to segregate black and white's in music - but we'll just have to wait and see - won't we? I myself, have my doubts.

When you contrast the intensity of feeling on both sides in this situation with that of the accusations of racial bias in the lack of response to the post-Katrina flood, it seems clear that we have a very long way to go. Those walls have had over 30 years to solidify into place - it's going to take something huge to loosen thier foundations.


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