By Jordan Heath-Rawlings
If you’re tired of your band’s measly old multiplatinum success and are looking to take a new direction, just follow rock convention #216—Eastern equals innovative. There is one catch though: commercial success isn’t guaranteed. (Commercial success was covered in alternative rock convention #212—get Chemical Brothers to remix hit song).
Convention #216 began, like almost everything else in rock history, with The Beatles.
John, Paul, Ringo and George, newly entranced with the sounds of the sitar, decided to take a week’s holiday in India with the Maharishi, an Indian spiritual guide.
To make a long story short, Ringo and Paul take off at the end of the week by John and George stick around, soaking up the religion, culture and, most importantly, music. The end result: The boys get a lot more critical acclaim and we get songs such as Norwegian Wood and Within You Without You.
That said, if we fast-forward through the 1970s and—thank God—the 1980s to the 1990s, we land in a world of flannel shirts, depressing people and unkempt men with long, shaggy hair. No, it’s not Newfoundland, it’s grunge, and one of its more prominent members is growing restless.
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, bored with writing song after song and realizing Kurt Cobain wrote better ones, decides to collaborate with the late Pakistan legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn. The result is a song on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. Bedder goes on with his life, Kahn with the rest of his, and now things really get going.
The song’s commercial success doesn’t count because it was only included on a soundtrack. But because Eddie Vedder did it, Eastern influences are now fair game for every other alternative rocker.
You may have heard of his next band—Live. You may also have heard of its tremendously successful 1994 album, Throwing Copper. After Throwing Copper’s success, Live tried a new (read: eastern) direction for its follow-up album, 1997’s Secret Samadhi.
The result is a listenable album that nobody likes. The Eastern influences don’t stretch far beyond some of the lyrics and the occasional warble of INdian wind instruments in the background.
“It as only a matter of time before a big-league alternative band declared itself beyond hip,” says Rolling Stone magazine. While taking the Eastern route doesn’t exactly kill Live’s career, it doesn’t earn them many accolades or fans either.
The good news is Live’s newest album is in stores now, so the band has definitely survived. The bad news: did you know Live’s newest album is in stores now?
Next up, a hugely successful female artist. Although lacking the longevity of Madonna’s career by about 15 years, Canadian Alanis Morissette recorded the highest-selling album ever made by a woman (until that honour was recently bestowed upon Shania Twain). Her 1995 album, Jagged Little Pill, sold 26 million copies worldwide. Alanis obviously had the clout to take her next album in whatever direction she wished. The hype surrounding it was tremendous. Alanis took a trip to India, returned and proclaimed herself changed by the experience.
The impact of this change is evident in 1999’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. It is awful. Instead of the angry, bitter Alanis the world had come to love, they get a video of her naked on the street, caressing the passersby and crooning, “Thank you India.” Needles to say, this is not what most of the public had waited four years for. Alanis stuck to her guns and paid for it.
Convention #216 has begun to gather steam, with more and more bands in North America and Britain looking East for direction. In Britain, Cornershop and Kula Shaker both continue to incorporate Indian and Middle Eastern influences in their albums, to be met with the same positive response and decent album sales every time.
The future for convention #216 is now. Remember the five seconds when electronic music was both interesting and popular at the same time? For Eastern-influenced music, this is that five second. The sound is beginning to be incorporated into Western music at large. With the Beastie Boys expressing an interest in using Eastern instruments on their next album, best are now being placed on how long it will take Bush to release the Eastern remix of Machinehead. Once this happens, rock convention #216 will be succeeded by rock convention #217, which eloquently states, “When Bush jumps on bandwagon, bandwagon breaks down.”