Patti Smith's going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight. She writes that she wrestled with herself about whether to accept, and finally decided she should - for the outsiders who "will be the guardians of our cultural voice. The Internet is their CBGB. Their territory is global."
Too bad they may be closing that CBGB's, too - the metaphorical Internet one. (Although I have to say, I played the real CBGB's and wasn't enchanted by the experience -- but then, I was no Patti Smith. Plus, I know what she means.)
See, here's the problem: Internet radio not only exposes new artists to the world, but it could help reinvigorate the music "industry" - if they'd let it. But in the latest blow to musical freedom and common sense the The Library of Congress Copyright Royalty Board is imposing a stiff hike on royalty rates for Internet music purveyors.
This is likely to put struggling ventures like Pandora.com and BlueBeat.com out of business, although (as I've written before) the music industry needs sites just like these if its going to evolve and survive.
I understand why Patti struggled with the question of whether to be inducted into the "Hall of Fame." The people who put on and attend this black-tie event (black tie? for rock and roll??) are in many cases the same people who are killing modern music with their short-term greed and lack of long-term vision. Rock music is a corporate venture now, and the price of entry's so high you almost need a portfolio of Halliburton stock options to even give it a try.
"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination," Diane Di Prima writes in her brilliant poem Rant. "All other wars are subsumed in it." Rock and roll is rebel music, music of the unfettered imagination, if it's real rock and roll. It's entartete kunst, outsider art, art like that which the Nazis rejected as "degenerate" because it was too destructive to the centralized traditional authoritarianism on which they depended.
Real rock and roll - entartete rock and roll - is the seedbed of rebellion, and therefore the seedbed of change. And change is life.
"History is a living weapon in your hand," says Diane Di Prima. Will somebody raise that weapon at the "induction ceremony"? "There is no way out of a spiritual battle," Rant continues. "There is no way you can avoid taking sides."
I could rave on and on about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or money, greed, and poetics. But here's the thing: Saving Internet radio will help the people at tonight's ceremonies, too, but most of them they're too change-resistant to see it. BlueBeat and Pandora are early attempts at harnessing the power of the Internet to help people navigate the vast uncharted ocean of available music and locate the tunes there that could make their lives better - if they could only find it.
Creating those navigational beacons is, as I've written before, the industry's real challenge. And now, with the advent of Internet 2.0 and Metaweb, we may well find that your music player will someday know what you want to hear before you do. Think about it: I picture an iPod that can read your skin conductivity and vital signs and discover just the right music to improve your body and soul (based on your previous guidance and instructions, of course.)
Music could someday merge with technology - soul with silicon - and help make you a better person, if you want to be. Imagine that. In fact, vinyl merged with a desktop record player to do just that for me in the early 1960's. Soon we can take this merger of man and machine - best symbolized for me by a man or woman holding an electric guitar - to the next level.
But first things first: If this new industry is going to grow and flourish, it can't be strangled in its infancy. Speak up if you can: Ask the government, or Congress, to reverse this dangerous and sad decision.
"Every man / every woman carries a firmament inside," writes Di Prima, "and the stars in it are not the stars in the sky." Nor are they the "stars" who will dominate those award ceremonies in Cleveland.
Patti Smith is a star, and she'll shine tonight with a more genuine light than some of the others. But in what rough galaxy will new stars be birthed - real stars, rebel stars, stars of the spirit?
Let's save Internet radio.
Follow Richard (RJ) Eskow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rjeskow