Words: Chris Moran
For a few thousand years, musicians were essentially court jesters; on a level with jugglers, story tellers or people who’d visited far-off-lands and returned with an interesting new vegetable. Sure, the people who wrote songs on a lute might have thought that they were creating great art, but in the pecking order of mediaeval life, their string-twanging was arguably less important than shovelling shit from the stables. And paid accordingly.
“Might we be witnessing the sad demise of our beloved sport? Maybe, dare we say it, snowboarding was a fad?”
Cut forward to the 1950s, and the advent of radio stations – plus the sudden boom in teenage spending power – meant things changed pretty dramatically. In the blink of an eye, musicians became millionaires, drove Rolls Royces into swimming pools, bought private jets and did unspeakable things to groupies at 30,000 feet. Needless to say, the pay for shovelling shit did not match this remarkable inflation.
And that arrangement worked pretty fine for a few decades. Vinyl morphed into cassettes, cassettes into CDs, CDs into minidiscs, and finally, minidiscs into MP3s – which was a pretty dumb move for the music industry, because by the end of the 20th century MP3s were sharable, and our modern overlords in Silicon Valley wasted absolutely no time sending most musicians straight back to their historical norm of being skint as fuck. From kings of the world to shit shovellers again in a mere 50 years.
This is what you call a blip – a historical irregularity masquerading (at the time, anyway) as ‘the norm’. And it only really becomes clear when you zoom back and analyse it with the benefit of hindsight. I grew up thinking that people like Rod Stewart had a god-given right to marry supermodels, live in tax-havens and pontificate at Wembley about world hunger. Why wouldn’t I? It was the 1980s – the golden era of pop – when stars were afforded god-like status. Even China – at that point an ultra-communist state with little interest in welcoming foreigners – went completely giddy when George Michael asked if he could prance about the Great Wall singing songs about pool parties. (Though, in fairness, maybe the CCP thought Club Tropicana was a socialist anthem? “Club Tropicana drinks are free, fun and sunshine – there’s enough for everyone…” Yeah, perhaps the theory checks out).