da INTERVIEW agosto 2007
intervista di Ingrid Sischy
INGRID SISCHY: So. Elton, this time we'll be talking for our August
music issue. I wanted to speak with you about the role that music plays
in the culture. There was a moment when rock 'n' roll was new. There
was a moment when pop was new. Going back, there were moments when
classical music and jazz were new too. But since hip hop came along
more than two decades ago, that shock of the new in music hasn't really
been felt. What has to happen now for something truly new to come along
and shake things up again?
ELTON JOHN: Hip-hop is really the
only thing over the last couple of decades that could possibly be
called a new thing that had an impact on music. It was a huge movement.
But after a while, like everything, it leavened and became part of the
mainstream. So what's the next thing around the corner? God, I wish I
knew. One of the greatest things about music is that you can never know
what's going to happen. I remember being at school and somebody giving
me a Beatles single and saying, "Listen to this. Listen to this." It
was "Love Me Do." I listen to it, and it did sound incredible. But I
had no idea of the sort of impact it would have on my life. It was a
single that came out, and it was mildly successful - then everything
exploded. So you never know what talent is lurking out there that's
going to have a huge impact. It always happens - although a phenomenon
like the Beatles will probably never happen again.
INGRID SISCHY: Why do you think that is?
Because back then we had records and we had the radio, but when it came
to where you would get your music, that was basically it. The Beatles,
Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan - they all broke through that way. Today
people can get music from so many different sources.
INGRID SISCHY: So what
you're saying is that part of what made those acts so powerful is that
the distribution system was much more monolithic. There weren't a
ELTON JOHN: Yes, exactly. Look at television back
then. When the Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan Show, we all tuned in.
It was an event. There were three channels in total on American
television; to see a band like the Beatles on one of them was a very
big deal. Now, though, there are hundreds of channels, not to mention
all the video channels and on-demand services and satellite networks.
The choices are infinite. People can see clips of virtually anybody
anytime they want. Then you factor radio and the Internet into the
equation. We live in an extremely fractured world today, so it's much
more difficult to galvanize an audience now than when the Beatles first
INGRID SISCHY: One of the great things about experiencing
art is when you look at something, and it pisses you off to the point
where you go, "That's not art!" That's the moment when something really
happens. When you think of moments like that in music, like when people
first heard jazz or rock or pop or punk or hip-hop –
ELTON JOHN: The older generation was outraged.
INGRID SISCHY: And part of that fury was fueled by the idea of "That's not music!"
Because they'd never heard anything like it before. The one thing that
all of those movements that you mentioned have in common is that they
really challenged popular notions of what music could be. Improvising
in jazz - that was a radical act. So was scratching records on a
turntable. Part of the problem is that people just don't leave enough
to the imagination anymore, and imagination is what allows artists to
do original work. In order to read a book, you have to use your
imagination to piece together what s going on. Everyone has a different
idea of what's happening when they read Moby Dick. Everyone has their
own vision of it because that's what reading a book demands. But
processing all of the information we have access to today is different.
There is television and the Internet, but then there are also computers
and cell phones and e-mail and iPods and handheld video devices. There
are huge amounts of information that we are constantly being bombarded
with from every angle. I think that you need to be able to be alone in
order to be imaginative, and in order to do that today, you really have
to work to cut yourself off from everything. You cannot possibly create
something new by channeling all that is available to you, because
you're going to be subconsciously influenced by what you see in a
million different ways. Plus, I'm a firm believer that if you see
rubbish, you're going to make rubbish. Of course, there are people
doing great work out there; it's just harder now to avoid the mediocre
stuff. For example, in the early '70s, there were at least 10 albums
released every week that you could buy that were fantastic. Now you're
lucky to find 10 albums a year of that quality—and there are
exponentially more albums released each week now than there were back
INGRID SISCHY: I wanted to touch on something you said about people
needing to be alone in order to be imaginative. In a crazy way, music
is interesting because it's one of the few art forms in which the
greatness doesn't have to come out of being alone - it can be a group
of girls and guys working together as a band. It's a form where great
things can come out of the collective. So, in fact, music is a very
important medium for the times that we live in now, because it is a
group form. But also, great explosions in art and music cannot happen
in isolation. There needs to be the right social atmosphere for them to
occur. In the '60s, when the Beatles came along, the world was in
ELTON JOHN: It was a time when people were willing to stand
up and take a chance. They were ready to voice their opinions, baby.
They were experimenting with sounds and fusion in music, and they were
willing to embrace all sorts of ideas. But even more than that, it was
a time when people were using their minds collectively to create
things. When I wrote songs in the old days, I studied. I listened to so
many different things - I studied records, I studied sounds. The
Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and all of those bands that
came out of England in the '60's were so stoked on their knowledge of
American music, which was really the fundamental inspiration for their
music. The music that inspired them had basically been undiscovered
even in America, and there was an incredible amount of quality material
to draw upon.
INGRID SISCHY: Also, there was an audience out there that
hungered to hear something new. The same cultural atmosphere that was
producing those 10 fantastic records a week was doing the same thing in
all of the arts - in painting and film and dance and literature. It was
the same in the 1920s and 1930s, with the advent of jazz and everything
else that was going on in art and interior design and fashion. So those
kinds of sea changes happen in multiple ways on multiple fronts.
ELTON JOHN: You can't create those moments. They happen on their own - and you have to thank God when they do.
There will be someone amazing who comes along with something new to say.
INGRID SISCHY: And there will be a cultural moment where people hunger for artists to shock and surprise them.
Maybe it will come with a change of government in America. People have
been browbeaten to death and censored by the current administration -
this administration is probably one of the most suppressive in modern
American history. For example, Joan Baez was going to sing for the
troops, and she was apparently told by the Army that she wasn't wanted.
This is Joan Baez - one of the biggest patriots that America has ever
had. And she was told by the Army that she wasn't welcome to sing. Out
of this kind of suppression, some rebellion must come, surely. Music
needs revolutions. It needed punk. It needed hip-hop. It needs
different points of view to stir things up and get some vitality and
energy into it. Pop music is all about delivering messages. In the '60s
it was the political voices that came to the front, but there have been
hardly any for this war in Iraq. There have been some protest songs and
concerts and things, but none of it has really caught on. The Internet
has stopped people from going out and being with each other, creating
stuff. Instead, they sit at home and make their own records which is
sometimes okay, but it doesn't bode well for long-term artistic I
vision. It's just a means to an end. Here, we're talking about things
that are going to change the world and change the way people listen to
music, and that's not going to happen with people blogging on the
Internet. I mean, get out there. Communicate. Go be with people and
talk to people. Go read a book, even. Hip-hop, as we said earlier, was
born out of anger - and caused outrage. Hopefully the next movement in
music will tear down the Internet. Let's get out in the streets and
march and protest instead of sitting at home blogging.
INGRID SISCHY: So you don't have your own blog?
ELTON JOHN: I think people should be shot if they blog. [ride]
There's a new social movement: Stamp out blogging. You're a riot. But
seriously, art does need to embrace new technologies - otherwise the
only people using the new technologies are technocrats. For instance,
computers have ratcheted up animation in a great way. People like the
Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, who did Spirited Away , really
understand how much humanism and the human soul matters in working with
ELTON JOHN: I know, but there's too much technology
available. I do think it would be an incredible experiment to shut the
whole Internet down for five years and see what sort of art is produced
over that span - I'm sure, as far as music goes, it would be much more
interesting than it is today. We need something like jazz or hip-hop or
punk to come along and shake things up. Punk had everything to do with
people's lot in life. It wasn't just a movement in music - it was a
movement in fashion, in attitude. Of course, there were a lot of bad
things that came out of it, but there were a lot of great things as
well, like the Clash. It was a whole sweeping movement of
disenchantment. I think the disenchantment of this moment has got to
come out. I hope whatever it produces will be even fiercer than punk.
We need something to do that -and we need it quickly