Throwback to the Future V: The Lost Throwback
In the fifth, final and almost unpublished installment of his Throwback to the Future series, Steven sounds off on the trajectory of art in America--and his relationship within both
*DISCLAIMER*: This piece was originally planned to be published through my former employer - where I had established a series entitled Throwback to the Future that discussed popular songs and the samples or inspirations taken from earlier hits - however after many factors and conversations and rejections the reality of the final installment making it on the site never came to be. For that reason, I decided to not let my expression die and release this as a sharable, personal doc. I appreciate you arriving here and absolutely do pass it on if you feel so inspired to. Lastly, you can now find all of my previously published pieces right here on my website: StevenStrong.love
Thank you. -SS
One of the most important lessons I learned in 2020 (there were many) was a fuller understanding of how impactful our early upbringings are in the outcome of our ideals, thoughts and sensitivities that we carry with us for the rest of our lives. I’ve gained a fairly good grasp of the role parents can play in their childrens' overall well-being through my life experience over the years. As someone who dealt with my fair share of child abuse and dark days early on, I’ve always felt compelled to find a way to be a light for other youth, especially once I had battled through my own demons effectively enough to just be a person. To just make it through the simple idea of existing.
After over 5 years in education, from 3 month olds to 18 year olds, from flag football coaching to special ed support, I decided to step away from the teaching world and attempt to figure out what the hell I should really be doing. When I decided to leave the safe employment of the high school I had attended as a teen, I was absolutely clueless on where to go next. It was the first time I had ever left a position without having anything lined up to jump towards. Looking back, it may just have been the greatest decision that I ever made,
which has only felt more evident with each passing day.
After an enjoyable and successful stint within education, I left feeling hurt, directionless and confused. I had always enjoyed writing but never found a decent fit for myself in any capacity (lol). I wrote songs often, but didn’t ever do much with them except send it to a few friends. I grew up convinced that I was going to be an NFL quarterback, ‘til my faulty heart valve said I wouldn’t ever play one snap of high school ball. I had skills, interests and dreams - yet no way to understand where to take myself.
I had overflowing passions in my constantly stimulated mind, combined with an inability to focus and a body that couldn’t ever sit still. It’s no wonder that I was able to relate to, connect with and positively impact the youth that I worked alongside.
Carrying labels of PTSD, ADHD and manic depression around for 20+ years, and losing my one guiding light in my father to a rare cancer after my 16th birthday, combined with losing my best friend to a freak car crash at 22, all resulted in a hopeless, misguided, incomplete version of myself by year 23.
Shortly after leaving my employment in education a producer from the Netherlands, Neighbr Beats, reached out to me, having heard my rough recordings on SoundCloud, and wanted to send me his beats. This was the start of a great partnership and the beginning of my own discovery of self-worth. I had never written a song with the intent to “put it out there”. Like - to market, showcase and distribute on Spotify, Apple Music, etc. The idea of having an artist profile, playing shows, putting out music videos was so blatantly apparent but never an actual possibility in my constrained, self-deprecating mind. It was just what I fantasized about when I pretended that I was in some alternate version of the universe where I am ‘just a bit more talented’ or ‘studied just a bit harder’ than this current version of myself. You know - that other dimension where I am cool enough, good enough and smart enough to actually be a productive, successful musician.
But hey, shit happens and we all gotta grow up and make a living eventually, right?
Between the time that Neighbr and I first connected up until just this past Earth Day I have now released 1 Remix, 5 singles and - most recently - my debut, self-produced four-song EP, The Audity, with no sign of slowing down. I don’t say this to gloat - because anyone can put some sounds together and push out recordings - but more to echo to my former self (and anyone like him) that the fantasy dimension that you dream your life could be is actually just waiting for you to act on it, right here and now, contrary to the comfortable safety that comes from remaining exactly where you sit today.
Along the way I’ve discovered that there are many interesting things about starting up my artistic career right now, right here. Every single note, word and message that I choose to deliver within every release that I create is birthed without the option of takebacks, clarifications or apologies. Now, possibly more than ever, you are crucified or worshipped (or both) based on every fluctuation of your vocal chords, shuffle of your shoes or pluck of any string. Yet, now more than ever, we glorify the disgusting, prey on the weak and degrade the soulfully empowered.
It is neither a conspiracy theory nor a baseless opinion to say that music has slowly, but surely, diminished in diversity, talent and effort - as so adequately expressed by Jon Henschen in his 2018 piece discussing this shift in music - noting that even specific, measurable details have weakened in quality:
"Pitch content has also decreased, with the number of chords and different melodies declining as musicians today are less adventurous in moving from one chord or note to another, opting for well-trod paths by their predecessors."
In the same article he references the exact evidence that showcases the decline of true artistry, and the subsequent rise of undeniable predictability and uniformity.
But wait! This is America, the Great...where the loudest, most obnoxious and controversy-driven individuals always win. It's a fool-proof formula for audiences because someone is always down to be loud and disrespectful while everybody else is content to just eat up whatever is in front of their faces, whether they actually like it or not. Not to mention it becomes much more likely to have one, singular person give up their basic decency, identity and creativity to become the next Cardi B (or is it Meg the Stallion now? Or Dua Lipa? Oh, are we back to Beyonce again?)
In America it is unpatriotic to want more out of your country and its people because we're already the greatest. If we're the very best, why would we need to get better? Improvement implies there's something to improve. Go move to your favorite third-world country if you want to complain - and other repetitive, idiotic clichés, right?
Yet, clearly, the more we drive that attitude home, the further away from home we carry ourselves. The further we get from tangible progress, positivity or togetherness. Because this America is the most divided it has been in ages. This America - Land of the Fragile, Home of the Arrogant - is a true laughing stock on the world stage.
Yet, in this USA-bubble, the belief remains that the rest of the world is full of the sissies piddling around while we power the entire universe. How can anyone honestly believe that? Look at ANY graphic you can find on anything from education to happiness to productivity and the facts - from a world perspective - are right there.
In my opinion, there's a reason all of your favorite classic bands weren't raised here. Led Zeppelin? Pink Floyd? The Beatles? Black Sabbath? Queen? Cream? Joe Cocker?
Anyone remember how Rock music was received initially? The devil's music! Satan-worshipping, evil-messaging, dirty, rotten Rock and/or Roll!
But...the kids love it!
The kids love it and money talks! So the radio listens. And the actual messages of Rock & Roll breathe life: Love, Freedom, Unity, Justice for All. Not in our founding fathers legal documentation declarations - but in rhythm, soul & music.
So, of course, we eventually get America's megastars, especially at the rise of the '80s (as Jack Black expresses in School of Rock: 'The Man ruined that, too, with a little thing called MTV!), yet their messages aren't actually about love or empowerment or unity. Just ego, fluff, talk, sex and imagery.
Then we get to do it all over again in the '90s with a little, loud, rebellious, witty, 'dangerous' genre called Hip-Hop. We know where that stands today. Yikes.
In my opinion, there's a reason that individually led acts - with names like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Beyonce, Drake, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Lil Pump, Nikki Minaj, Cardi B, etc - have become the biggest acts of today (and ever). When Drake is breaking all-time Beatles' records, it's abnormally clear that we've reached a deeply changed era - and not by accident.
If Robert Plant wanted to say 'fuck it' in 1972 and sell his band's body, mind and creative control (soul) to some loud Sony Records Exec, you have to think it wouldn't be so exciting for Jimmy Page. Or JPJ. Or even the late John Bonham. Someone wouldn't be a fan. And without everyone, a big control freak loses Led Zeppelin. Instead, Led Zeppelin goes on to be Led Zeppelin. And the world gains the Gods of Rock that'll never die.
Yet, if Meg the Stallion wanted to escape the streets of Houston in 2019 to provide the world with nothing of substance to say, nothing creative to devise, and no actual voice of her own in her art - all to become just the most recent human embodiment of slime, greed, puppetry and false-positivity - who is to stop her? Her mom? Your mom?
There will always be Megs to take the baton of bullshit - to strip their words, clothes, and notes played. To forever kill their soul while encouraging the masses to do the same - til everyone knows that their only worth is through their physicality, their visual appearance, and the flaunting of toxicity, especially to those that they deem less than themselves (you and everyone else).
In Meg's (Cardi's, Ariana's, Trump's, Biden's) America, we are fucking struggling. And if the countless worldwide studies, reports, and polls don't phase you - go to the grocery store any time, any day. It's sick. It's draining. And you've already felt that.
But, of course, there will always be the all-knowing, red-white-blue toting, manly-men who will incessantly say that I need to grow up, quit bitching and ease my mindsets. That I don't understand how fortunate I am to be in this wonderful country. That healthcare as a basic need, adequate paid time off and the promotion/encouragement of vacation/mental health days are for Euro sissies and remain ridiculous concepts.
I do understand these men to be the same men who argued to their mothers that they didn't need to blow their noses when they were little boys because it was just going to fill with snot all over again. The same men who, in the present day, slow down and nearly crash their F-150s because they're staring at my fully clothed girlfriend walking our dog around the neighborhood. The same men whose lives are built upon such a depressing, desperate viewpoint of their own 'macho-ness' that they actually have no clue who they even are.
The most fragile, scared, sad, pitiful, little men that exist. The quintessential, meat-chugging, beer-burping, ass-scratching American Man. Hardly someone I'd ever concern myself with the opinions of, let alone take life advice from.
Their words couldn't be more tone-deaf, disgusting or irrelevant when we have literal 'trends' on Tik-Tok (not just in China) that motivate young girls to cry on camera because they feel shitty about how they look. Imagine a world where dangerous self-degradation is a viral TREND - now stop imagining and recognize that this is our world.
I may not have many who feel as strongly as I do (no pun intended...yet), but I do encourage each of us to find that little child within and recognize that this country, and planet, is not just for the adults to claim and control. Not because the little boys and girls need a turn on the controller, too, but because they are already holding the controller whether you want to acknowledge it or not.
They are soaking up, developing from and growing into a society that constantly reminds them that they aren't enough, that their individuality should be shut down and that they cannot be heard or respected or attain success if every Instagram post isn't a bikini beach pic or blatant nudity.
And, in some ways, they're right. They won't get the mass/instantaneous fame that Ari or Meg or Lizzo has gained without acting just like them. Without becoming a carbon copy of them is more like it. They may not get the countless Grammy awards and media spotlights and radio plays. Television interviews, hoards of random fans and non-stop, inescapable attention.
Yet, there's a clear alternative that they're never shown or told about or encouraged to pursue: Enhancing their inner spirituality. Discovering themselves best within. Understanding the sole power that they have - that we all have - over our choices, actions and outcomes.
In fact, I believe one can most live on in the highest regard by following a career path more similar to Led Zeppelin (who signed a deal ensuring they had full creative control over albums, artwork, composition and even created their own distribution company while learning new world instruments and genres to infuse within their established abilities), or even Queen - as by now we all know how hard Freddie Mercury defended the literal 'Most Streamed Song of the 20th Century' in "Bohemian Rhapsody'' that he was treated as a fool before release for even creating at all.
Of course, you can aim for the heights of Nikki Minaj, Cardi B, Dababy, Tekashi SixNine and the rest of the flashes in the pan that we've already started to forget. But there's a reason why acts like Hendrix, who was widely known for just a couple of years before his death, have only grown larger and stronger in the years since.
In total honesty, I believe in our species. I believe in our time. I believe that there is a lot happening in ways we cannot see with our eyes and I think that there are happier days ahead for our young and old alike. I think most people, especially the current generation that's rising to adulthood, have grown tired of the monotony and predictability that is drenched not only in music, but all over all media today.
I think the long awaited winds of change are picking up speed and ushering in a new age of prosperity, kindness, compassion, strength and love at a level never-before-seen worldwide.
In the famous words of John Lennon, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." I think this time, this day, this age - we won't get shot before we accomplish our dreams. This time we succeed.
Let's change the world. For the kid versions of ourselves that still pine to feel better. For the current youth aiming to shine their light onward. For the genuine betterment of our day to day lives. It's time.
And speaking of change - after consideration of many factors, I have made the decision to step down from my position at MMH in an effort to give my personal art pursuits/projects the time, attention and dedication that they deserve. My final piece, a goodbye and thank you, was supposed to come out in a few days. I suppose it was never needed.
Life is such a blessing and there's so much more to discover, learn and better ourselves (and our world) through.
Love and light to all.
As always, stay Strong!