Admitting you like columnist David Brooks is kind of like admitting that you’re not trying to get to the right or left of anyone. The guy goes straight up the middle, which, in these polarized times, is rather annoying to some on the fringe. I suspect that a few of them will be upset by his characterization of the present-day pop and rock scene in this column from today’s NYT.
The column deals with über-segmentation, which is, as Brooks asserts, a long tail issue. That is, the many (all the bands that sell under, say, 100,000 to 500,000) can rival the few (the blockbusters) as long as there are good sales channels, such as Amazon or ArkivMusic.com. Brooks thinks it’s a problem. His solution? Ask Springsteen sideman Steve Van Zandt.
“Van Zandt has a way to counter all this, at least where music is concerned. He’s drawn up a high school music curriculum that tells American history through music. It would introduce students to Muddy Waters, the Mississippi Sheiks, Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers. He’s trying to use music to motivate and engage students, but most of all, he is trying to establish a canon, a common tradition that reminds students that they are inheritors of a long conversation.”
It seems to me, though, that the long-tail thing is a by-product of democratization. Just because you play kids a bunch of Dylan records doesn’t mean that they’ll like them better than the T-Pain track they just downloaded onto their iPod. When I was a kid, I would’ve much rather purchased a Joy Division record than a Dire Straits record, but, in my hometown, the Dire Straits record was all you could find. So, what we’re seeing now boils down to choice. More choice equals greater fragmentation.
It’s the downside of liberalization. When you give the people more options, you might not like what they choose.