Wednesday, 26 September 2001

Norman Spinrad: Little Heroes (1967)

Edition: Grafton, 1989
Review number: 946

In popular music, there has always been an uneasy alliance between the commercial and the artistic and, since rock'n'roll began, the rebellious attitude integral to its success. Little Heroes depicts a future where Muzik Inc. controls just about all pop music - it is a company based at least in part on MTV - and aims to take away entirely the difficult to control human artist from the discs they sell. Spinrad's vision looks as though it could still easily come to pass, with today's charts full of an endless succession of seemingly identical boy bands.

But Muzik Inc.'s sales are slipping, and the record company executives realise that something is missing. They call in Gloriana O'Toole, known as the Grand Old Lady of Rock'n'Roll; she is a last survivor of the sixties, who knew and partied with all the big stars. Though she despises Muzik Inc., they blackmail her into making a disc, but she despairs at the talent she is given to work with. Bobby Rubin and Sally Geraro may make some of Muzik Inc.'s most successful recordings, but they are computer nerds rather than rockers.

Little Heroes succeeds because it is extremely well written. The main characters are believable individuals, the situations they end up in have an interesting if pessimistic background that makes sense, and Spinrad uses the feelings that many fans have about the agenda of the music industry to give the novel a message.

The problem that the industry has when trying to sell music is that people tend to look for some indefinable quality, which for want of a better word might be termed "soul". Image can be created, but a performer may only have soul intermittently. It is possible to argue that Spinrad's vision will never come about, that there will always be a market for artists which are not just about image, or the current trend (the success of Bjork and Radiohead could be cited as cases in point). Personally, I would say that the mainstream of popular music is pretty much dead in the way that Spinrad describes, but that there will always be people who want to make music for its own sake and not for the money, and that this is where soul is likely to come in.

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