Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Narrow mindedness...

"Never begrudge another musician a living"

Advice my father gave me when, as a teenager, I took exception to a lounge pianist transforming Stairway to heaven into gentle background music and probably complained a little too loud. It's very much something I've found I live by since I've become more serious as a musician myself. I try not to be too dismissive of things that simply aren't to my taste. I'd never really want to find myself in a drum and bass act, but if other folks enjoy it and can make a living who am I to judge?

Although most of the musicians I know have much broader listening tastes than what you might call a general punter, I do still sometimes hear crude generalisations and dismissals that make my stomach turn. When someone tells me they 'hate jazz' or they 'can't stand country music', I often want to take them to one side and ask how the hell they know without having listened to all of it. For a start most genres are extremely broad churches. 'Jazz' for instance encompasses everything from Herbie Hancock's funk era, to Kenny G. You are of course free to dislike one or both artists, but Mr Hancock's edgy experimentalism, and Mr Gorelick's smooth, processed MOR saxophone are more different than they are similar. Likewise with C&W, you've got everything from scratchy prewar recordings of the Carter Family, to Shania Twain or Taylor Swift. The differences between live takes of a family band reviving traditional songs and modern processed studio-pop where the 'artist' seems to be something of an afterthought are far more profound than the similarities, even if they ostensibly belong to the same genre.

Which brings me to the one thing I really can't stand in music, which is blandness. From the ultra-traditional to the far-out and experimental, even if something isn't to my taste, I can usually admire the musicianship, and recognise the passion being put in. Much mainstream pop of the X-factor variety leaves me cold, because it is so artificial and unexciting. It very often sounds like no-one involved really gave a toss about any kid of self-expression and were just thinking of the paycheck. Not that people can't do a good job in those kind of circumstances, but it seems like they don't make for great records, however well they sell until their limited shelf life runs out. Slick production can never make up for the fact there's no real feeling behind the notes in the first place, and that's perhaps why, while these records may sell, they do't seem to last.

But then I've sat on the opposite side of the fence and often argued in the past that .44 pistol should push the good-time-party-band aspect more, at the expense of naval-gazing songwriting, or endless slow blues that are immensely satisfying to play, but in my own experience as a gig goer, somewhat uninspiring to watch, particularly if you're hitting the pub for a good time on a Friday night. Unfortunately if you follow the line of thinking that you should please the crowd rather than yourself to it's logical conclusion then you'll wake up one day in an Abba tribute band*, rehashing the very bland pop music that I was ranting against in the last paragraph. Just because it's popular, doesn't make it good. Which I suppose means I fall somewhere in the middle, I feel i should please the crowd, but I don't think that has to preclude educating them a little as to what a broad church good music really is.

*Somewhat bizarrely my Dad was recently asked to join an Abba tribute band. I´ve never worked out whether he was going to be Benny or Bjorn

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