By Charlie Carroll
ArtsPost staff writer
As self-involved egoists, it seems that human beings of every generation, once they have passed that important and deceptively short period of childhood and teen angst, develop a severe case of “Back in My Day,” a condition that tends to increase in severity as the person grows older. Music journalist Dave Thompson’s 2008 release, “I Hate New Music: The Classic Rock Manifesto” is evidence of this British ex-pat writer’s late-stage diagnosis of this disease. “I Hate New Music” rails in defiance against the corporate axles grinding underneath the rusting machine of the music industry in a way that, although passionately written, will only play into the hands of other BIMD victims.
Thompson made a big name for himself over the last few decades as one of rock culture’s premier students and critics. Thompson first began his writing career by publishing his own fanzine on the cusp of the punk movement of the late 1970s. He published his first book, a U2 biography entitled “Stories for Boys,” in 1984 and moved to the United States five years later. In his career Thompson has written over 100 books and contributed to a number of notable music publications, including Rolling Stone and Alternative Press.
“I Hate New Music,” in true rock n’ roll fashion (Thompson insists that is the only true way to spell the term) is a vitriolic and unapologetic crusade against what he believes to be the evils of a vapid and talentless modern music scene. In the book Thompson picks apart the finer points in the era of classic rock, which he defines as lying somewhere between 1968 and the late 1970s. This piece of heavily opinionated nonfiction amounts to an all-out rant against the music industry that took the passion, innovation and genre-defining character out of rock music. Thompson blames artists, fans, and of course those big, bad corporations as the downfall for the quality of music (or lack thereof) that people are subjected to today.
The book doesn’t, as you may think, adhere to a strict chronological order, but rather a logical order. The story begins with an idiom-driven, slang-centric rant of a foreword by rock critic Richard Meltzer. The rest of the book then follows with Thompson’s reasoning for his argument, defining the generation known as classic rock, identifying its most positive attributes and leading into where exactly everything went wrong.
“I Hate New Music” is definitely an enjoyable read, entertaining the reader as Thompson blissfully reminisces about the days of wanton excess and true rock n’ roll spirit that fostered reactionary, controversial and gutsy artistic expression. In line with his years of dedication to his art and the love of his life that is music, Thompson provides well-researched, in-depth insight into the interplay between bands, record labels and the social norms that they aim to challenge. Aside from general social history, Thompson highlights his points through specific case studies of bands, such as Neil Young and Queen, while scattering his other favorites, such as Led Zeppelin, throughout the book to elucidate his arguments. One of his more interesting chapters examines how music listeners today suffer for not having 8-tracks, which used to force fans to listen to and appreciate the concept of the album as a total package.
For Thompson, the music industry became too much of a corporate process, centered on generating profit and prioritizing production and promotion over music quality. According to him, all the rock music today is either an attempt to cling onto this scheme of endless copying or a lack of creativity and desire to produce unique music. While the book is appealing, at times the criticism can seem a bit heavy-handed and completely one-sided. There is no room for another point-of-view or sort of defense for contemporary music. As homogenized as the scene is today, to lob it all together is unfair to the positives that have been able to stand out in contemporary music. Despite this shortcoming, a lot of the criticisms are admittedly tongue-in-cheek and are meant to underline the very real inadequacies of modern rock music. After reading “I Hate New Music,” you will either be a fresh convert to the cause of nostalgia or a fierce defender of the banal. Your call.