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So you wanna be in a rock band?: The other side of the mic with Alan Cross

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | September 29th, 2008

When chatting with music listeners as to why they enjoy particular “popular” tracks, I all too often hear the heart-sinking reply that it's because they find said tracks “catchy and easy to dance to.”

We've gotten to a point in music listening in which lyrical content has sunk to such minimal importance that artists such as Katy Perry (aka Katy Hudson) who began as bible-totting “holier than thou” gospel singers, can take on new last names, and start singing about lesbian affairs. Worst yet, despite these blatant hypocrisies, and obvious marketing ploys, no one seems the wiser.

Back in the hippie days however, musicians, such as Bob Dylan, were not merely considered the producers of a consumable art form, but rather the people looked up to them to be their voice, and to address issues, in their lyrics (among other places) that needed addressing.

This apparent debasement of the musical craft has left me contemplating how it is possible that we have come so far technologically, and globally, yet lost so much of the dignity that the music industry once had, in the process?

The only person I felt capable of taking on the challenge of responding to this query of mine was music history guru and host of the infamously popular radio show, The Ongoing History of New Music: the one, the only Mr. Alan Cross.

Though our discussion with each other regarding the music industry's current state of affairs did enjoy a fair amount of bantering and debate (including a dissection of the character, that is, Madonna) as he took the position of the industry and business expert, and I, the one of the lowly indie rocker, out of our, at times, heated discourse, we came to the conclusion that we have at least three convictions in common:

1) there is no easy or quick solution to the current illegal downloading situation

2) the ease of access with which people can obtain music as well as the over-saturation of the music marketplace has led to a devaluing of the art form coupled with superficial music listening, and finally,

3) the Canadian music industry really needs to bone up and acknowledge all of the talent that it has given birth to, otherwise we are going to continue to lose our best acts to the US of A.

On that final point, Cross went so far as to say that Canada has an inferiority complex when it comes to its artistic offerings, which is why so many Canuck acts have to break in foreign markets, before they get recognized in the True North Strong and Free.

Cross feels our national preference for “egalitarian mediocrity” (as opposed to elite excellence) is also the driving force behind industry standardization regimes such as Cancon which force radio to spin a certain percentage of Canadian content on a weekly basis in order to honour quota mandates. Such programs, in Cross's view, prevent Canadian artists from ever being taken seriously on the world stage.

For those of you unfamiliar with the colossal CV that Cross has managed to amass for himself, before we get too deep into our interview, I feel it's necessary to provide a brief (and hopefully entertaining) overview of some of the highlights of his life.

Cross grew up in a small rural prairie community in which FM radio ceased to exist and one of the few venues that actually sold music, in a consumable form, was a clothing store named Robinson's, of all places. It was 1974 and The Ramones hadn't yet formed. The Beatles had fallen out of favour, and Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones were far too exotic for someone who was secluded from urban life and reared in the sticks. Contrary to the alterna-head image with which Cross is now notoriously linked, the first album that Alan ever set his sights on was the work of, perhaps, the industry's most ultimate diva.

It wasn't Madonna (she didn't launch until ‘83), Cher was still doing her thing with Sonny, Celine Dion was, likewise, still “in the making”, and though Tina Turner would have been a viable option for the prelude to Alan's remarkable career, the credit goes to a Sir Elton John and a certain dance variety involving crocodiles who like to rock.

From that point onwards (well perhaps, after puberty set in), Cross bounced from radio joe-job to radio joe-job acquiring as much technical, and media know-how as possible. He also started to expand his musical horizons to include everything from highly experimental jazz to bands he describes as psychedelic versions of Jesus & The Mary Chain to straight up unapologetic fuzzy alt- grunge rock like that of, whose origins have been credited to, Nirvana. In fact, Nirvana's very existence marks a rather important juncture in Cross' career.

As one of the radio DJs burdened with the task of delivering the news of Cobain's tragic end back in 1994, it is clear that this is a band to which Cross will forever remain emotionally attached. Though he is the first to acknowledge that Nirvana were, in actuality, a fluke, and that their success can largely be attributed to the fact that the world was ready for a bunch of “hard rocking cynical anti-stars”, he is also the first to defend the brilliance of Nevermind, and the important lasting effects of Nirvana's influence...

See next week's Interrobang for part two of Alan Cross interview
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