SIGHTS & SOUNDS/Rob Patterson

RIAA Their Own Worst Enemy

The older I get, the more this music fanatic appreciates those singers and players who know taste and restraint, the rare true geniuses who only hit the notes that matter and can hear the music found in the silent spaces in between those notes. Then again, I'm still a rock'n'roll boy, and sometimes I just have to riff away, maybe even shred like Metallica at Mach Five.

This is one of those times. This is life during wartime.

If you're reading this, I can safely assume that you've also read enough of this esteemed journal to know this much is true these days, as I say in the blunt words of the rock kid still beating in my middle-aged heart: We're f****d, dude.

America seems to be fast approaching a time when we are at war with ourselves. Meanwhile, our country attacks imagined if not cooked up enemies -- steeps that foreign policy in false intelligence, and spice it with spoonfuls of propaganda -- while the real foes are ignored. Yep, let's alienate those citizens of the world who might have been supporters after the obscene tragedy of Sept. 11 while the real bad guys (read Saddam and Osama, who both share onetime CIA ties) are poolside at some secret hideaway, working on their tans.

As I've said before, the music industry is in jackbooted lockstep with the Bush gang, pursuing tactical warfare against a defenseless populace while the real criminals are the bully boys making war. They wave a synthetic flag of righteousness emblazoned with the slogan: "Downloading Kills Music." But is it really the enemy? And aren't the ones crowing loudest about the dangers the same gangstas who have been ripping off musical artists with slave labor contracts and callous disregard for the true career needs of musicians for decades?

They have seen the enemy and they imagine it to be us -- the people who love music. Time the major labels and their Defense Department, a.k.a. the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), took a cold hard look in the mirror at the real danger to music -- themselves.

A recent headline reads: "RIAA to sue hundreds of Internet users sharing songs online." I chuckle about it with the highly significant other. We jam away on the vision of the music cops breaking into her home full of motherly love and loud, loud music and dragging her and her two sons -- Tom, 16, on guitar and Julian, 13, on drums -- off to the pokey for digital thieves.

"I download stuff to sample it and see if I want to buy it," she says in defense of her offense. I metaphorically needle drop onto the promo CDs that arrive in the mail to see if they're worth actually listening to and then sell the losers to used record stores, ignoring the "for promotion only; not for sale" warning stamped onto the jewel cases like some hazardous materials sign. We all have our little compromises. And I like turning useless CDs (at least useless to me) into a little extra beer money (the only payola we poorly paid music critics get).

But just like Congressional calls to investigate the Bush bunch's inflated WMD claims might possibly save our asses from the dangerous regime in our midst, at least one public servant wants to disarm the music biz mobsters. Conservative Sen. Sam Brownbeck (R-Kansas) has floated a bill that would de-fang the RIAA's legal attacks on consumers (while South Carolina Dem Fritz Hollings tried last year to carry dirty water for the music industry. Yes, the world has gone topsy-turvy).

Don't get me wrong. I'm a writer. To me, copyright is sacred. I get paid for this. Not just beer money, but even a good night's Scotch money.

Let my people listen. Let the people then decide how to vote with their dollars on what to buy. Today's unclear channel radio waves won't carry much of the music. Yep, file sharing can be shoplifting. But it could have been and even sometimes now is the rebel radio fighting against locked-up corporate radio playlists, the conduit to promote new music to the people with a hunger for it.

And get those jackboots away from the door to that home where my sweet baby and her boys like to rock'n'roll.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

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