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Grammy Night: We Built This City On Rock ‘N Roll

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We Built This City

                              Tonight is the night of the annual telecast of the Grammy Awards. It’s not something I watch every year. During the time the ceremony preparations have continued I am reminded quite often of one of the reasons why I don’t watch the award ceremonies all that much these days. It all started with a childhood memory. When I was about six years old,a buddy of mine who lived next door at the camp house where we spent our summers was continually singing this song called “We Built This City” over and over again. When I finally heard the song on the radio,I loved it instantly. My dad told me later the band who recorded the song, Starship had once been the Jefferson Airplane whom he’d listened to growing up as well. Flash forward to me being 24 years old,flicking through the cable channels on television while my lover was at work. I was watching a VH1 marathon of various musical documentaries focused in particular on the 1980’s. Expecting a funk evening of nostalgia,I was shocked and appalled by one program after another that made non stop passive/aggressive insults at the music of that era. One constant them of it was what a bad song  “We Built This City” was,the general idea being that anyone who enjoyed it was in extremely bad taste.

                                  I never watch TV so I can feel as if it’s personally insulting me. And certainly have no time for shows that seem to have a bullying or hectoring nature that isn’t at all satirical. So I turned the shows off in disgust and spent the rest of the evening rather cross. Why did a group of fashion police,celebrities and their opinions insult me so much? Think it may have had something to do with the fact my own generation seemed to have turned it’s back on me a long time ago.  Over and over again for the next few years after that I couldn’t turn on any music based TV show,or read a magazine article that didn’t seem in some way to vote “We Built This City” as one of the top ten worst pop songs of it’s day. When I actually read the lyrics to the song,I instantly knew why I liked it so much. After the first chorus of the song Grace Slick sings “Someone always playing corporation games/Who cares they’re always changing corporation names/We just want to dance here someone stole the stage/They call us irresponsible write us off the page”.  I realized the song found Grace saying the exact same thing about how the 1980’s tended to treat her generation as the 1990’s and beyond tended to treat my own. It was a profound revelation for me.

                           At the risk of sounding a little pretentious,the Grammy Awards have come more and more to represent for me what Bill Cosby once referred to as inter-generational perversity. Every time a new artist is either introduced by or accepts an award by one of their elders,whether influenced by them or not,they seem to have to feel the need to justify themselves in the context of their chosen art form. Each year it seems more and more like a competitive display of ego-to see which performer can out do the other in a more lavish spectacle of a performance,which usually is mostly surface value and contains little of any genuine musical interest.  Ironically this pompous set up emerged (from my point of view) during the 1990’s-the decade that professed art should be a quote on quote “realistic” medium as opposed to a poetic one. Not only was a great deal of that contrived to insult the 1980’s,but didn’t say much for the generation of people like Grace Slick who tuned in,dropped out,challenged authority and was out to change the world. Do a lot of people know about the city built on rock ‘n roll? I am not sure if they know exactly what city their music is built on sometimes.

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1 Comment

  1. kerbey says:

    Love this song. At church band practice, it often comes up, sometimes because we actually did “build” the church and play rock, sometimes because it’s just so catchy, and often because we are old coots who recall our youth. But I can see your point about Grace Slick’s intention, and having to subject your artistry to the whims of corporations. Didn’t Bernie Taupin co-write this, Elton John’s partner? I can almost see the guy in a radio helicopter as he flies over the Golden Gate bridge.

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