Daily Archives: July 15, 2009

Growing Pains

david_seattle7

David’s fans, the Arch Angels, are notorious for getting into online quibbles over how David’s career is being managed (well, perhaps a certain segment of his fanbase, and I have to include myself in this group).  We want him to conquer the world, to have his star shine brighter than others, to be the most successful Idol contestant ever.  No one knows what the future will bring, but our hopes for David are incredibly high.  I think the arguments mostly come from, not if this will happen, but when.  And, unfortunately, because the music scene is presently dominated by the 18 and under set  – Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift, etc. – there is a certain panic that sets in if David doesn’t set the same sales numbers or the same popularity as his Disneyesque  peers.

I’m starting to appreciate some of the Disney-type marketing pursued by David’s label – it’s such a lucrative business, I can see why David has been pushed into certain markets.  But, artistic wise, such directions are obstructions on the road to greatness.  Still, I’m learning to be patient.  Just a quick survey of the life and times of the late Michael Jackson has put things in perspective for me.  When Michael Jackson was 18, he had yet to become legendary.  He was embattled in a move from Motown to CBS records and was experimenting with disco music in an attempt to move away from “bubblegum soul.”  He was 20 years old when he met Quincy Jones, who worked with him in finding his musical identity on his two most career-defining albums, Off the Wall and Thriller.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Another legend, Stevie Wonder, also had similar struggles when he was David’s age. He was already a child star working with Motown, and when he reached 18, he was struggling for his music identity.  At David’s age, he gave us “Ma Cherie Amour.”  But, the classic Stevie Wonder we have all come to know and love developed his greatest music in his early to mid-20s.  A more recent example of a child-prodigy-turned-music-star is Alicia Keys, who signed a contract with Columbia records at 16, but mostly struggled for her musical identity, until she signed with Clive Davis and released her Grammy-Award-winning album, Songs in A Minor, at the ripe old age of 20.  

I bring up these examples because of their promise as child prodigies with great artistic potential and, also, because David curiously reminds me of each of these music artists in one form or another.  I think of their music careers and, in that context, I learn more patience when it comes to David and what stage he’s at right now.  He’s got so much time on his hands to become the great artist we expect him to be.  My only concern is the music industry itself because it has lowered the age of musical success and caters to an immature audience for the quick bucks rather than for musical integrity.  I do get the impression that a great musician would be sacrificed for a subpar musician if mediocrity brings in more money.

It’s that environment in which David is functioning, and we hold our collective breaths in the hope that he sells whatever requisite sales he needs to get another shot at another album, another shot at greatness.  For example, what is this madness I’m hearing that Jive wants “Zero Gravity” to sell a certain number of sales per week before it gets its shot at radio play?  Are you kidding me?  Release the dang thing, and let the public decide for themselves!  So, that right there is the problem of the current music scene and the dysfunction of our cultural climate.  The music industry has become cowardly in putting out unique products.  Time and again, they choose cookie cutter over innovation.    

No wonder then that I’ve been revisiting the classics since contemporary music has lost its soul – literally and figuratively.  Yet, there is something about David.  I feel it in my bones that he’s got what it takes to bring the soul (and the sexy!) back to the rope.  This particular cycle of David’s early start in music is but “growing pains.”  The difference is that we, his fans, are now apart of the struggle in ways that we never would have been in the past.  Thanks to reality TV, like American Idol, and digital culture, we get to participate in the making and cultivating of a music star.  And David is so refreshingly honest that we get glimpses into this world of star-making and music-making.  But knowing the struggles of other music legends, knowing that these early-years struggles  are every musician’s struggle, the struggle of “growing pains,” is a reminder that greater things are still to come.  With David, can we expect anything less?