Pete Townshend gave the inaugural John Peel Lecture yesterday.
I was initially rather surprised by the choice of Townshend. Peel, it seems to me, stood for the fearless exploration of new music and the blurring of the received boundaries between “mainstream” and “alternative”. Townshend was an Angry Young Man once, but has been part of the cosy rock nobility since long before Peel played his last Blevin Blectum track.
I’m listening to the lecture in full, and now I’m REALLY surprised, and actually a bit horrified, by the choice of Townshend. This is utter bilge, for two reasons.
The crux of Townshend’s lecture seems to be that he doesn’t like Apple’s iTunes Store. He criticises it for not providing A&R functions or career guidance, for making a profit and for providing a product that consumers can copy and re-distribute illegally. He seems unaware that it’s a retail outlet, like HMV. I keep giggling every time I recall Steve Lawson’s tweet from last night…
… which perfectly illustrates Townshend’s stupidity. I’m not going to start quoting chunks (I’m tempted to do so in another blog post, time allowing) because I’ll be here all day. There’s SO much misinformation in the lecture, and to make it worse, Townshend spends too much time burbling incoherently, like the worst stereotype of the washed-up 60s acid victim.
He somehow also manages to blame Apple for causing people to discuss their downloaded music on blogs and Facebook, also damning those forms of social media in the process. Wow! Bitter about the older generation losing control of the mafia-style Old Music Industry, Pete? Later, he insists that Apple should be licensing content to bookshops and other retailers, who can create physical packages for sale. I mean… seriously… WTF?
Secondly, all this does nothing to commemorate or continue the work of John Peel. I don’t have a particular emotional tie to Peel, so I’m not going to be precious about “defiling his memory”. In my musically formative teens, I wasn’t interested in the music Peel played, so I rarely listened to his show (and then only much later). However, I have great admiration for what he did in the name of musical diversity, and Townshend seems to be reading from a very different hymn sheet. This has nothing to do with the chaotic, unpredictable punk spirit of so much of Peel’s music life… this is about re-establishing the old trickle-down record industry.
Townshend manages to conflate the various forms of artist/listener democratisation (facilitated by the internet) with illegal distribution and copyright infringement, crimes that have been around since the days of vinyl. He claims to want to support new, young artists, but then damns the new business models by which those artists can talk directly to their audiences and control their own creative and financial destinies. In short, he wants young artists to succeed on HIS terms… in an industry controlled by his generation, regaining their paternalistic (read: mafia-style) control of the music business from the anarchism of the internet.
Sorry Pete, you’re too late.