It seems to be the destiny of man to make the same mistakes over and over, even when we have insurmountable evidence of the fallacy of our actions right in front of us. Country music might be one of the greatest examples of this as it cycles from being obsessed with pop and contemporary sounds, and then gets reeled back in towards its traditional heart during the tug and push of its sometimes tumultuous history. These are the cycles country music almost seems to be predisposed to, regardless of how fans, artists, and the industry try to smooth them out.
But what would be even more dangerous for country music and its roller coaster destiny is what would happen if eventually it was not allowed to be reeled back in when it goes too far in the pop direction, just like how it could be smothered if it is not allowed to evolve at least somewhat.
Over this last weekend, geeks and freaks from around the world gathered in San Diego, California for the annual Comic-Con convention. As part of the festivities, the latest teaser for the upcoming Star Wars movie was unveiled, with lots of behind-the-scenes footage of the sets, characters, and landscapes where the the film takes place. Some are asking why filmmakers would give such a revealing view of the movie’s inner workings before the film has even been released. But for many fans of the legendary sci-fi franchise, such a glimpse was absolutely necessary.
To rebuild the confidence lost in many viewers after the second series of movies was made and relied too much on technology, too much on CGI, with entire scenes created on computers to where the soul and the substance of the films couldn’t hold up against the test of time like its predecessors did. The story was overlooked in an over-reliance on technological eye candy.
Now with the new movies, the trailer shows us that they are using real sets, real actors, real puppets and models to remake the Star Wars world that enchanted generations of audiences with its authenticity. Sure, the second series of movies with their CGI-enhanced scenes made lots of money and still hold sway with some viewers, but it was a short-lived sugar high that over time left a bad taste in the mouths of many of the franchise’s most fervent supporters. That’s why the 3rd generation of movies not only had to be created more organically, but they had to be out ahead of the movie explaining this to rebuild confidence in the minds of many viewers.
“Real sets. Practical effects. You’ve been here, but you don’t know this story. Nothing’s changed really. I mean everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed,” says Mark Hamill, the original Luke Skywalker, who along with the rest of the original cast from the 70’s has been rehired in the new series. “That’s the way you want it to be really. To see the way technology has evolved, and yet keeping one foot in the pre-digital world.”
“J.J. [Abrams] is trying to make sure these movies have a physicality to them,” says one of the behind-the-scenes crew members. “We truly are out in a desert. A real desert.”
Compare this to the quotes about a recent recording session on Gary Allan’s latest single “Hangover Tonight.”
“I remember my daughter walking in and going, ‘I’ve never ever been in the room when you’re writing and there wasn’t instruments everywhere.’” Gary later talks about recording the song in the studio and says, “At one point, I had like over 100 inputs, and we crashed the board a couple of times.” Then the author Tom Roland chimes in with, “The original intent was to use the human tracks exclusively, but as Droman (the producer) started combing through the material during mixing, some of the programmed parts were irresistible.”
Now read some other quotes from the new Star Wars movie trailer:
“It’s always just an important part of everyone’s history.”
“I was in the same room with all of these legends, and with all of these new people who I’m sure want to be legends themselves.”
When Eddie Van Halen—one of the most revered guitar players of all time—decided to start messing around with synthesizers on the album 1984, the exercise felt revolutionary and groundbreaking. But it didn’t take very long for much of the synthesized and drum machine-based music material of the 80’s to feel uninspired, and bereft of soul and mojo. It was lacking that beautiful imperfection that the human element brings to all great music and art.
Now think about a song like “The Ride” made famous by David Allan Coe, and the chills one felt when he sings out “The whole world called me Hank!” It’s that powerful link to the past, and all the history behind it that gets brought to the forefront in a single awe-inspiring moment.
And it’s not just name dropping, it is putting the inertia of many years of country music history, and many people’s personal narratives that are interwoven with those songs and artists behind new music. That is what inspires awe and chills as you recall all the great memories an art form bestowed to you in the past while new memories are being formed right before your very eyes. Look at other genres of music with Leon Bridges, Mark Ronson, and Meghan Trainor. Nostalgia and vintage sounds are being used to tie the music to the past left and right.
That is what country music is missing right now. That is what they are overlooking as they “evolve” in a direction where the human element is unceremoniously scrubbed out of the music to where the ties to the past are being eradicated, instead of being used to enhance the new material. Yes, technology and evolving sounds can still play a part, and probably should still play a part, just like Mark Hamill said. But so should the legends, and the history of the music to embellish the experience and have it bridge generational lines instead of defining them.
Think about the magic evoked when you first saw the Millennium Falcon again, or the faces of Han Solo and Chewbacca. That’s the same wonder many people feel when they see Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard walk out on a stage, when they hear the voice of Alan Jackson, Marty Stuart, and Don Williams coming out of their speakers. That magic is irreplaceable by technology or anything else, because it has the power of generations of memories behind it.
Right now, country music is in the Star Wars 2.0 stage. It’s in the 80’s synth and pop era, regardless of what anyone says about “evolution.” And though it’s finding a wide audience for the moment, what will all this music sound like 15 years from now? Will it still be going strong like the original Star Wars saga, or will the next generation be making teaser videos trying to explain what it’s not like, and why you should regain your trust in the country music franchise?
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“Nothing’s changed really. I mean everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed. That’s the way you want it to be really.”