The View From Here

Elton John -- "shut down the Internet."

Michael Bonner

Apologies, first, that this isn't my usual film blog, but I was pretty shocked to read in a tabloid newspaper this morning that self-confessed "technophobe" Elton John would like to see the Internet shut down for five years -- "to see what sort of art is produced over that span."

Elton, you see, is worried that Cyberspace is killing music. "The internet has stopped people from going out and... creating stuff," he grumps, suggesting that people don't spend enough time embracing the kind of social interactivity that stimulates thought and ideas. "Instead, they sit at home and make their own records... [which] doesn't bode well for creative stuff."

Which is kinda rubbish, really.

Firstly, how do you actually shut down the Internet? Do you practically disable every computer in the world so it can no longer access the Internet, or do you dismantle the web completely? And how do you police this?

Regardless of its cultural value, the Internet has been pivotal in the disemination of free speech and ideas round the world. It's opened up whole new ways of conveying information that's helped improve the lives of millions and millions of people round the planet. You can communicate on a global scale. You can MSN with someone in real time on the other side of the planet. With the flick of a mouse, you've got access to an almost endless information resource.

And if Elton wants to shut that down for five years, then he's clearly mad.

The other -- perhaps more significant -- point Elton seems to be making is part of a wider problem that the music industry clearly has with the Internet.

"In the early Seventies," says Elton, "there were at least 10 albums released every week that were fantastic."

This nostalgia for times gone by roughly equates with a fear of the future. I suspect Elton and record companies don't perhaps understand, and therefore don't particularly trust, the Internet. As businesses, major labels perceive it as a threat to traditional revenue streams.

To me, the ideal of someone illegally downloading music, say, is no different from when I was younger and my friends and I used to record our albums onto cassettes for one another. I remember having a fantastic music collection -- all of it on tape, none of which I'd paid for. "Home taping is killing music," I believe the slogan ran. No, it wasn't: it meant that when I was 13 and didn't have the werewithal to buy albums myself I still had access to brilliant, life-changing music I could listen to over and over again, very loudly, because my friends were good enough to tape their elder brothers' David Bowie albums onto C90 cassettes for me.

And no one died.

Major labels are finding themselves ignored by new bands, and of course that worries them. Myspace has revolutionised the way young, unsigned bands get their music heard. When I started out at Melody Maker, in the late Eighties, I remember we used to get sent piles of tapes from unsigned bands. Imagine the cost of buying a pile of tapes -- say, 100 or so to send round to MM, NME and Sounds, as it was back then -- and add to that the cost of postage. That's quite a few bob. Now, all you need to do is email a link to your Myspace site, where the music's already uploaded, and you're laughing.

The idea of people sitting at home, staring like Matrix-drones at their computers, leading virtual lives creating virtual music, is pretty daft. Art evolves as we evolve and the tools we create our art with change. The creative urge adapts. And for Elton to suggest there's no good new music out there is just a witless statement. Read John's blog, and it seems like every day he's writing about something brilliant -- whether it be Konono No 1, the Boredoms or LCD Soundsystem.

More importantly, if Elton's wish to shut down the Internet miraculously came true, then all the debate and discourse the comments on Wild Mercury Sound generate would be lost. And that opportunity for people to be turned onto new music, and discuss it, would cease.

Which is a sad thing, right?


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