Music News

Top 10 Phoenix Music Stories of 2010

You know that Person of the Year thing where Time magazine profiles a person who "for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year"?

If I were doing something similar for the Phoenix music scene, Zack de la Rocha would get the nod for 2010. Really, no one else comes in a close second. Other than resorting to the kind of high-concept cop­out that weak-willed Time editors occasionally fall back on when they don't have the balls to give it to a bad guy like Osama bin Laden (examples: The Endangered Earth; The Generation Twenty-Five and Under; You), I wouldn't have much choice. De la Rocha, the public face of, and chief instigator behind, the boycott of our state's small and fragile music industry, figures prominently in almost all the biggest headlines related to Arizona music over the past year.

How the 40-year-old singer of a semi-defunct rap-rock band — a guy who lives in California and hasn't made a meaningful artistic contribution to popular music in at least a decade — came to be the single biggest force affecting music in Arizona is a long and sordid tale. I don't fully understand it myself — you'd be better off reading The Bird's column for an analysis of stuff like this, as Stephen Lemons has forgotten more than I'll ever know about the dark side of Arizona politics and the activists who battle against it. I'm just the music guy, and I'm a music guy who is still in shock about how an out-of state artist I haven't taken seriously since I was in high school came to have such a profound effect on music in Arizona.

But, hey, Time doesn't pick people because they're heroes. In fact, Hitler and Stalin won back-to-back in 1938 and 1939, and LeBron James was a finalist this year. Not that I would ever compare de la Rocha to evil incarnate in the forms of Hitler, Stalin, or LeBron James.

Regardless of your politics — whether you think the bald-faced evil of SB 1070 justifies Zack's all-out assault on the state or you worry he's hurting his own cause by inflicting so much collateral damage on people who share many of his principles — it's a sad story. The Sound Strike means that generally open-minded and diversity-loving music fans in Arizona are paying a hefty price for the misdeeds of a state Legislature that fails to understand the fundamental principles this nation was founded on. Should we be paying a price for the poor decisions made by the leaders our neighbors elected? I dunno — that question is above my pay grade.

Either way, this isn't nearly over yet. Although the courts castrated the law, the Sound Strikers are not backing off. De la Rocha wants the law to actually be rescinded, not just invalidated — a highly principled stand that seems to ignore the fact that every significant minority rights movement of the past 50 years, from the civil rights struggles of the '60s through the gay marriage battle going on now — got a big leg up from the courts. In fact, voters in his own state never rescinded their "eerily similar" anti-immigrant law, Prop 187. But, hey, maybe there's a "greater good" we'll be serving by not seeing Sound Striker Kanye West when he tours in support of the critical-consensus best record of 2010, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Contrary to popular belief, SB 1070-related news wasn't the only thing going on in Arizona music this year. Here are my 10 favorite music stories from the past year — the happy, the sad and the hilarious.

1. The SB 1070 fallout hits Arizona's music scene hard: You probably know and love at least one band that's boycotting Arizona in the wake of SB 1070, since the list includes acts like Mos Def, My Chemical Romance, Bright Eyes, Jenny Lewis, and Nine Inch Nails. Though it started to pick up steam in the indiesphere — Canadian band Stars actually sort of kicked things off with a boycott tweet before there even was a Sound Strike — the strike is going to hit every music lover in Arizona, whether they know it or not. Sure, some bands will issue a statement about their decision to skip Arizona, but just as many are likely to pass us by without saying why. Mark my words: Even country fans won't get out of this unscathed.

When they did come to town, a lot of artists had something to say about the law on stage. My favorite comment was from Lady Gaga, who brushed off calls to boycott by pointing out that her entire tour is a joyful protest in favor of open-mindedness and acceptance. I was already a fan of the pop star, but her onstage words really galvanized my respect for her work.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar