Video killed the folk music star

Ron Sexsmith was better looking when he was younger. But it didn’t seem to help his career. “I don’t know why I wasn’t…

Ron Sexsmith was better looking when he was younger.

But it didn’t seem to help his career.

“I don’t know why I wasn’t found earlier, I looked better when I was young, I probably would have sold more records,” said Sexsmith, with a laugh.

The 44-year-old singer/songwriter was a late bloomer.

He blames it on the “posturing and excess” of the 1980s.

“I didn’t fit in,” he said.

Then, everything changed.

“A lot of it had it do with Nirvana in the late ‘80s,” said Sexsmith. “Not that I have anything to do with Nirvana, but they were kind of like an atom bomb that blew up the ‘80s.

“And all of a sudden in the aftermath, people like myself could come along with a guitar, because it wasn’t really cool to be a singer-songwriter in the ‘80s.”

Plus, in the ‘70s there were too many overly sensitive singer-songwriters and that ruined it for the rest of us, said Sexsmith.

Now, MySpace is destroying the music scene, he said.

“There’s too much music now — everyone in their bedrooms is making a record and putting it on their MySpace.

“Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.”

Sexsmith is happy he caught the tail end of the grand old music industry.

“They were still throwing a lot of money around and flying me here and there,” he said.

“I’m really glad I got to experience that, but it’s very wasteful and decadent.

“And I think it hurt the industry, because you could be an artist that didn’t sell a lot of records, but if you were a credible artist all the labels wanted a few of them and you could coast along because a lot of other people were having a lot of success.

“But it changed.”

Now the industry will release the worst music on Earth if it thinks it can make money from it, said Sexsmith.

“That’s why there is so much truly awful music out there.

“I just find it amazing when anything good breaks through.”

Back in the day, even music that Sexsmith didn’t like was still appreciated.

“You could say, ‘I get that, I understand why people like it,’” he said.

“There was also some bubble gum stuff, but for the most part all the people were undeniably great.

“I don’t know what happened with the listener.”

Part of the problem is radio, said Sexsmith.

“It got really strictly regimented and corporate and formatted and that killed music.”

And videos added fuel to the fire.

“Suddenly how you looked, or how you came across on a video, made a big impression on people — and music is not for the eyes,” he said.

Sexsmith has “made some of the worst videos of all time.”

But he’s in good company.

“Bob Dylan and Elton John didn’t make any good videos either, and they probably wouldn’t have been successful had they come along today.”

And if Britney Spears had hit the airwaves when Sexsmith was a kid, she would have had a very different reception.

“People would have been like, ‘She can’t sing, what’s she doing on the radio?’” he said.

“Nowadays there’s still good music, but you’re not going to find it on the radio, or in magazines — it’s the kind of stuff you’re going to have to look for.”

Sexsmith was raised on vinyl.

It replaced his dad, who left when he was two.

“So it was really like my dad was these records,” he said.

“I put music before everything and it’s been my number-one priority, even above my family.

“It probably sounds messed up, but music was always there for me.

“When I was a little kid, that’s all I did, when my brothers were out playing road hockey, I was listening to my records.

“It kind of helped me and lifted me up.”

 Sexsmith started off singing.

He wanted to play the piano, but there wasn’t one around. Then, at 14, he started playing guitar in a band.

Listening to the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly acted as inspiration.

“I love and try to uphold traditional songwriting,” said Sexsmith.

“So much music over the years has really improved my life, hearing my favorite songwriters.”

And now, Sexsmith is giving back. “I get a lot of nice e-mails from people thanking me for this or that song: that’s rewarding on a small scale,” he said.

“My songs are important to me, so maybe they might mean something to other people.

“I’m not really good at a lot of things, so when I found I could write songs, it was really inspiring — it was life changing for me.

“All of a sudden I had something I could contribute to the world.”

Sexsmith is playing the Yukon Arts Centre tonight (Monday, October 6th), at 8 p.m.

And he’s excited about the grand piano.

“If there’s one at the venue, I’ll play it,” he said.

“In the last 10 years I’ve been trying to get better on the piano, because that was always my first love, singing and playing the piano.”

Tickets are $30.

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