Thursday, May 31, 2007

After the Love Has Gone

Seeing this op/ed in The Onion's archives brought up a bizarre/curious fact of life. Its headline says it all:

I Don't Wonder What Jesse Camp Is Up To These Days

If you frequently watched daytime MTV in the late-'90s, you might remember the name. For everyone else that doesn't, here's his Wikipedia page. But what I wanted to talk about is how this satirical piece speaks so much truth. "Hey, you know who I haven't been thinking about lately?," it began. "That guy Jesse Camp who I never used to watch on MTV." The point to be made is how something or someone can seem so big and popular in the present, but is reduced to a cynical joke when it's in the past.

Something that still pisses me off is how promotional dollars can create the illusion that people actually care about something or someone. Meaning, when you hear a song constantly on the radio, see its video in regular rotation, see the artist in multiple magazines and constantly see news items online about them, you could think people sincerely care. But, fast forward a few years and it's a different story.

In the case of Jesse Camp, here was a guy that seemed to win the sympathy vote. He was a tall and skinny aspiring rocker with a loopy personality. The TRL audience seemed to love him and wished him luck when he got a record deal with Reprise Records. The resulting album, Jesse Camp & the 8th Street Kidz, was a poor-seller and Camp disappeared off the pop culture map shortly thereafter. But before the latter happened, there was a lot of promotion that went into that record. Now, it seems like a hazy memory for many. I remember otherwise.

In my case, I went through a couple of months of hearing the album's single every single day I worked at Best Buy. If I worked an eight-hour shift, chances were good I heard the song twice a day. Since I always thought people got airplay because they made good music, I was a little baffled by this song's inclusion on the playlist. Camp's voice was terrible and the song's glossy production didn't hide it. I wondered why such a bad song would get airplay. The same applied to Limp Bizkit, Creed and Kid Rock.

It would take a few years of interviewing people for POST that I connected the dots. Whenever a band leaves a label claiming "they didn't promote our record," it's more or less the truth. It doesn't matter how great an album is; it mainly matters if can it be promoted enough in hopes that it sells a lot of copies. Sure, that's business, but I thought great music sold itself and sold well. Promotional dollars give it better exposure, but what really made an impact was if it was really good or not, right? Well, seeing records like Devil Without a Cause, Human Clay and Significant Other fly off of Best Buy's shelves made me think otherwise.

I don't want to sound like snobby music critic here, but this notion of selling music didn't really kick in until I saw this firsthand. I knew Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love was not being promoted to me and my tastes. But when it came to mainstream rock music at the time, I felt like I was being passed aside. Promotion was directed towards people that didn't think Creed was a Ten-era knock-off or didn't think Limp Bizkit was lame and childish. These weren't the people who bought Social Distortion's White Light, White Heat, White Trash or the Foo Fighters' The Colour and the Shape a few years before. It was around this time that I realized I should dig even further for music that actually spoke to me. And chances were very good I wasn't going to see this on MTV, VH1, the local rock radio station or even Best Buy Radio.

The point in all of this? There's a severe disconnect when it comes to the present and the past. Right now, I could easily think Amy Winehouse is a highly-lauded and popular singer based on what I've seen written about her. But what if her follow-up records don't really catch on? Will her legacy be reduced to cynical, dismissive comments on a message board frequented by 50-60 different users? That's why I wonder about how far can promotional/advertising dollars go. When they cease pushing a record, does it always get thrown to the overly-critical wolves for final judgment?

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