“I work my fingers to the bone. Not a pretty little penny have I got to show. Not looking for much, just a little bit of rest by the side of the road…” -David Lamb of Brown Bird.
Brown Bird was formed in 2003 by David Lamb, a multi-instrumentalist and singer in New England. While singing, playing drums with his feet and guitar or piano or some other instrument with his hands, Lamb was able to communicate a huge amount of emotion in his music. His somber tone and unique rhythms effectively set him apart from other current folk and rock artists even before his wife joined the band a few years later. His wife, MorganEve Swain, sang and contributed to Lamb’s songs with violin, cello and upright bass. Releasing eight albums and a book, the band toured and published music until Lamb was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2013 and passed away in April of 2014. A final album, Axis Mundi was released a year later, using demos and recordings from Lamb’s last few years. So it was, the end of Brown Bird. The album creates a strong parallel to the beginning of this year when David Bowie released an album two days before he died. While Bowie’s album was much more avant garde and electronic than Brown Bird, Axis Mundi and Blackstar are both very melancholy, emotional albums created by artists quickly facing their own mortality.
This may seem like just another sad story in the music industry, and one that has happened before and will happen again. A band tries its best, but alas gets lost in the great tide of artists in the current state of the music industry. Is it a factor of luck that makes someone famous? Or is it hard work, knowing the right people, being wealthy, or some other factor most of us have no idea about since we obviously don’t have it, and thus aren’t getting paid millions to talk or sing or play an instrument for thousands of people. It is a hard metric to quantitate, and trying to decipher it by looking at the current pop stars and literati has frustrated millions of hopefuls since becoming a ‘Rock Star’ started dominating the dreams of kids in the last century or so. How do artists like Brown Bird and David Bowie share the same artistic integrity, the same hard work ethic and talent for soulful expression, yet one becomes an international icon and the other dies with no more than a few devoted fans across the US.
Unfortunately there has been a trend recently, a movement towards musicians and entertainers with less musical integrity, less hard work and less talent than ever before. In every genre it seems like the vast amounts of money at stake bring in those who aren’t worried about whether or not their music has vision and soul, but how much money they can rake in with it. This results in formulaic pop stars, rock stars, electronic artists and most of all country music stars dominating the top 40, as well as radio stations and television. We see them every day, the Justin Biebers, Keith Urbans, Taylor Swifts, Skrillex’s and Iggy Azaleas. These genres used to be derived from creativity in the face of oppression or systematic persecution. Hip hop was originally the outcry from people in the most destitute of areas, trying to fight the powers that were putting them down and writing what was basically poetry to capture listeners’ attention and show solidarity with their own situation. Now some of the most famous rap artists and hip hop moguls spend entire albums talking about how rich they are and how many girls they’ve had sex with. Obviously there are still those with integrity, like Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and others, who talk about real issues and preach oneness and peace, but its obvious to anyone around twenty years ago how far the genre has strayed. This can be seen in almost every other style of music, such as country which started as cultural heritage and talented musicianship and has devolved into formulaic phrases being spouted by millionaires who have never once driven a tractor or had a cheap beer while driving down a back road, as their music repeats over and over.
A new form of music that can be hard to dissect, especially in relation to this issue, is electronic music. Only within the last few decades has electronic music been a functional genre, and only within the last few years has it come to the forefront of music culture. Originally it was some of the most creative music out there, using what was brand new technology in novel ways to create a style of music never before available or possible. Recently it has become the life of the party, for better or worse. Some of the largest music festivals on earth are solely electronic music, especially in Europe and North America. These artists, who range in talent and style as diversely as those in any other genre, bring thousands of people together, and while some purely love the music, for others it might as well be a tapestry with trippy shapes on it for them to stare at while overloading themselves with MDMA, LSD and a host of ever changing party drugs that change hands faster and are more plentiful at places like Tomorrow World and Electric Daisy Carnival than water and food.
We are taught that music is subjective. I can’t truthfully say that you banging on an oil drum with a stick and yelling is any better or worse than the new Strokes or Red Hot Chili Peppers album. But there are elements of music that can be formulated to attract the largest audience without any care to who plays it, sings it, or what message it sends to the impressionables that are listening to it. These people, like Taylor Swift, who take lyrics and music other people wrote and attach their attractive face to it, and often pretend it’s some kind of diary entry from their life, are phonies. Their music can’t be said to be any worse objectively, but the process that they go through and the effort they’ve put in to the music is portrayed in a completely false way. While there are plenty of musicians in every genre who have put in the time, effort and pieces of their heart and soul into their music to deserve recognition and our attention as an audience, there are an unassailably large amount that have completely faked their way to the top by being attractive and occasionally having a spare bit of talent. It is heartbreaking that these people get the money, attention and credit from the vast majority of listeners while artists that deserve it, like Brown Bird, are left to the wayside, achieving minor amounts of fame while they put every last breath and effort they have into creating beautiful, original music.
This article was written by Jake Perry, a writer for dusk magazine.