Afternoons can be riotous,domestic,grumpy,hilarious or frustrating.Sometimes all at once.I play ring master to my son,entertainer,domestic goddess and village idiot.I manipulate,enthrall,putting excitement into situations that are devoid,but most of all we hang out,making bread,listening to an over packed iPod or radio 4,plotting excursions and making dinner. Since he was first home from the hospital,the house has always had music playing,maybe a little Elvis over breakfast or kneading bread to Nirvana or Bob Dylan.As he grew his responses to music grew;nodding and then jumping around to 70’s disco,banging imitation drum sticks on the radiator to Bush and the Clash.When he was very little James Blunt’s dulcet tones worked beautifully in sending him to the land of nod (those days are now long gone – upside down smiley face).He has even been known to strike a freak out to the Archers theme tune,music does something to him;it makes him happy.
Music also does something to me,it makes me happy.
I like to think that my iPod is suitably stuffed with a pretty wide mix,the theory that any given mood can be musically tailored for.I’m trying desperately to avoid the word eclectic as I usually find the kind of people who proclaim their music collection as eclectic are trying to show you how musically well versed or interesting they are.Technically though my music IS eclectic and I think it’s interesting.There is no random Guatemalan bag pipe symphony lurking somewhere at the back,but if I find one that I like….there will be.
It also has to be said that having Paul Simon’s Graceland and Lady GaGa’s album does not make your collection eclectic.
I’m interested in the musical family trees that connect the bands and the musicians but not in a really anorak way,the minutia of tabloid-esque facts kinda leaves me cold.I quite like the titbits and anecdotes that relate specifically to the music but not the peripheral stuff.I just can’t bring myself to give a fuck about whose knobbing who,unless it somehow relates to the very music I enjoy.If Cobain had blown Grohl and because of their deep closeted man love they had written smells like teen spirit,that might be worth knowing,but I’m inclined to think,it just wouldn’t be any of my business.In the same respect that I struggle to fathom why anyone would want to anyone’s autograph,unless it’s at the bottom of a large cheque,for effect one of those large charity style cheques,purely to illustrate the enormity of the amount.Is the need to be connected to ‘celebrity or fame or art’ so powerful that the illegible squiggle of a performer will do?Not for me. I tend to feel it is intrusive, irrelevant or sometimes just boring to go beyond the art and artist into their lives.I understand and can relate to wanting to explain genius or to comprehend the thought process of those we admire,but any further personal scrutiny than that and I feel you may as well be on the back of a moped chasing Princess Diana into a Parisian tunnel.
My musical taste has been shaped and influenced by a myriad of influences.I remember aged 14 or 15 being pulled aside by one of my older sister’s boyfriends and being given a pile of 6 cd’s that he felt I should listen to.CD’s were a relatively new thing,so in itself it was kinda cool not to be given a carrier bag full of cassettes.The CD’s included Metallica’s …and justice for all,Led Zeppelin 1,2 and 3,Hendrix’s are you experienced? and Iron Maiden’s self titled debut.
These albums changed my life,no understatement,it is irrelevant that the music happened to be hard rock,that is certainly not the idiom of my taste,a facet maybe but not the complete picture.The instant connection to Iron Maiden’s phantom of the opera or Metallica’s one or anything Led Zeppelin had ever recorded,started something profound that is still alive and kicking today.
Music matters,of all the art forms it is the one that has consistently brought solace when miserable,poignancy when thoughtful,aggression when pissed off and soft and slushy when accompanied and soulful.The way my brain works is I need to understand the chronology of whatever I’m interested in,if I like an album or a band then I will need to hear/own the back catalogue.
The who,the what,the why and the how.
I began joining the dots,including my Mother’s love affair with Freddie Mecury.When I was 15 (and according to my peer group) the two albums you had to own were U2’s the Joshua tree and INXS’s Kick,Dance music was starting to take hold and people still stood in fields with glow sticks and smiley face t-sheets.For my following birthday my older sister bought me Guns and Roses’ appetite for destruction on tape- good times.
One thing that has become really apparent is I don’t belong whole heartedly in any one group of music fandom,even though this is true it doesn’t dilute my love or understanding or appreciation of certain music.I’m governed ultimately by what I like and nothing else,if I don’t like it than it doesn’t matter who produced it or recorded it.
I can however change my mind.
Pink Floyd is a case in point,man they left me cold,excluding the chart friendly anthems..”hey teachers leave those kids alone” .There were just too many people around me who adored them and tended to listen to nothing else.(The downside of being an art student-excluding career prospects.)Being bombarded by this music weighed on my shoulders,I found them really morose and was unable to listen to them or take any joy from them.I tend to be really sceptical about what I perceive as disproportionate (to obvious merit)popularity,I wish I wasn’t but my first reaction is always cynical..particularly in music.Then I had an epiphany;one evening I watched a David Gilmore concert on tv and it was a performance without baggage,it was staggering,really amazing stuff,it made me wish I could play the guitar;I went out and bought a handful of their albums. Brilliant,brilliant stuff…Wish you were here-the difficult follow-up to dark side of the moon my favourite by a country mile.
Paradoxically although I do find both Gilmore and Waters really interesting beyond the music (I tend to favour Gilmore which probably excludes me from real fandom as he wasn’t a founding member but a replacement for the late Sid Barret) but my god both their solo efforts really suck.I mean REALLY SUCK-wow that’s 2 plus hours you don’t get back.Droning,whining,prod rock of pretentious ,sometimes impenetrable ego. Does that make me less of a Floyd fan,no it fucking doesn’t.
When I was younger there was certainly a sense that certain music carried more merit than others.This is of course utter bollocks.The subjective preference being confused with some bullshit grading process.Thinking about music with no merit I have to admit that I can’t stand the thought of manufactured pop;some fat music executive pouring over a P & L for his company constructing an act that ticks statistical boxes.Shitty vomited up vacuous melodies with attractive teenagers dancing in sync while their music buying demographic is turned upside down and money shook out of their pockets.I always thought music matters to me too much and the thought of being a corporate pawn abhorrent,a sticky middle finger to my own individuality,that my tastes and preferences can be predicted and instead of marching to the beat of my own drum I’m simply goose stepping to corporate giants like a musical puppet hitler youth.
All good feelings.
Except …..I like the monkeys…shit.Even as I’m writing this I’m humming last train to clarksville…fuck.So I’m a hypocrite or maybe I’m just as full of shit as the next person.If you don’t like something.don’t listen to it or endorse it or encourage or pay for it.The problem with absolutes are it allows no movement,we’re so afraid of the middle ground;that it somehow dilutes the importance of what we feel or like.I’m not a heavy metal fan per se but phantom of the opera by iron maiden is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written but I’m less inclined to listen to slayer or the hilariously homosexual insane clown posse.Does the fact that I wash regularly and that I don’t own a black ’88 donnington t-shirt mean I’m not really a fan?
I once had the pleasure of working with a guy who had turned to cooking in his late twenties,after studying law at Oxford and playing piano to a tenth grade standard,which in itself is pretty impressive without ignoring the fact that he went to Wellington private school and had money thrown at him from the age of barely tepid feotus.So although his achievements are impressive the path he took (excluding the eventuality of cooking) with the talent he possessed seems more predictable because of the opportunities afforded him.Musically he classified himself as an elitist right-wing public school boy (his words) although it constantly it surprised me that he wasn’t a larger Wagner fan.Whenever he expressed a liking for anything non classical including rap,dance and rock music,he would always quantify it by explaining how much he enjoyed it but that it wasn’t at the same level or league as his beloved classical music.By elevating his own preferences he deliberately belittled those that he perceived to be below it.The superiority of composers Bach,Mendelssohn or the talent of Stradivarius far out weighing their modern counterparts.Their contribution to music more important and their music far superior/better.
I had an issue with this.
Not the historical sense,composers like Haydn and Beethoven set cultural tones and within the parameters of acceptable relative music boundaries have produced timeless masterpieces,they changed perceptions and challenged long-held music beliefs.Causing political and culture change and some could argue spiritual change,anyone who listens to piano sonata No4 in e-flat major and isn’t moved probably died (emotionally) years ago. The problem I have is the crux of all music snobbery:the word better.
Without the pre fix of subjectively,what is the criteria that is being used to judge and grade? Anyone taking music academically can quite easily list technical necessities that are required to be a graded musician but surely that would exclude certain types of music or musicians from be classified.I don’t think good music has to be accessible to the masses,like the definition of what is art? maybe music falls into a similar category of subjective understanding.The minute I am told what is good or what I should appreciate or what has merit and why,my reaction tends to be one of cynicism and rejection.I don’t need professional interpretation of a conjectural classification process to tell me why The Smiths were brilliant (as an example),they weren’t. Johnny Marr I like,his post smiths endeavours like the cribs or modest mouse? brilliant.But the smiths to my ears are tarnished by the overbearing Mancunian whining of Morrissey.People have described them as a natural follower after the Jam split.Seriously…not for me.Songs that stamp social conscience with two left Doc Martens.Ignoring Marr’s guitar;whiney,veggie propagation ,daffodil waving,holey sweater wearing utter shite.The Smiths were the kind of band that could only ever preach to the choir,converting outsiders would require dispelling the myth that actually Morrissey isn’t a tit.
Now that is my opinion,I don’t disagree that they had cultural relevance,enough people bought into their Manchurian angst and on hold Samaritan sensibilities for it to be relevent to a lot of people.Numerous muscians I do like have heralded the genius relationship of Morrisey and Marr,so in the negative my opinion doesn’t count.I don’t own any;I’m not a fan.(further proof of Morrissey’s head up arse mentality could be found recently when he commented on the Norwegian massacres,saying that they were nothing compared to the deeds of the big fast food chains.) Musically,extreme popularity seems to initially work against any form of merit.The process in which it was produced also seems to carry defining reasons for or against merit.Composers like Tchaikovsky were initially shunned at the time of their works being produced whilst others like Haydn were heralded as visionaries.Time has proven that posthumously or certainly later on in their lives both composers/artists are now re veered and poured over by scholars for significance and meaning.It would seem that a shite by an excepted artist no longer carries the smell of that of a non excepted artist.
Artists of prominence like Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst are criticised for essentially having factories that churn out pieces of work with their name on.But we celebrated Lichtenstein and Warhol for doing the same thing decades earlier.
I was once in Edinburgh’s gallery of modern art and one of the exhibits was a pile of bricks,some splintered and broken others untouched and whole.The whole display had a sense of ‘being dropped’ from a height and it’s card explained that the bricks signified society crumbling.All powerful stuff I guess;until a curator walking past the exhibit tuts loudly and returns to the pile of bricks to move one of them a quarter of an inch to the left.
That was my cue to leave.I couldn’t get beyond the pretentiousness and failed to grasp why that viewing the repositioned rumble would suddenly bring clarity to an exhibit that spectacularly failed to offer me anything other than a sense of British workmanship.
Historically the music establishment have struggled with excepting deviations from their own excepted norms,the audience no matter how large or small always determine merit.Jazz,rap.funk,disco,pop,rock,metal and folk have all had their detractors as did Frederic Chopin.Presenting certain forms as more complex or purer can act to exclude listeners from appreciating it.If you listen to Beethoven 5th and all you come away is that the tune was nice and you enjoyed listening to it,that’s enough.The hidden meaning or musical technical ability displayed within that piece of music doesn’t have to distract from enjoying it.If you want to know more about it,study it,it’s interesting but what it isn’t it a way to impose and categorise quality.Subjectively you determine what you like.
My shit list for music crosses many genres but never completely,it’s usually only the specific artist I object to. However modern R&B leaves me colder than an Inuit pensioner.Excluding music videos which are used to sell image and not content and are pretty irrelevant to a radio listening audience,the music seems to have merged,like Pepsi and coke becoming pepsike.I struggle to define separate artists from different songs,I feel not so much that the music is talking to me but just by listening to it I’m complicit in a massive billion dollar industry that music (in its losest terms) is a tiny part of.Why were ‘they’ (who-ever they are) allowed to redefine and then standardise a genre that had originally brought Gospel music into pop sensibilities,that allowed Sam Cooke,Otis Reading,Aretha Franklin and laterally Diana Ross to shatter racial musical boundaries and why does it now sound so blaaaaaah,let’s be honest Rhiana and her wife-beating boyfriend sound awful.The selling of unrealistic female imagery and sensitive yet gangster warbling blokes to horny teenage boys and insecure needy teenage girls seems to go hand in hand with the fake plastic emotive crap.Rhiana (the brilliant teenage role model)getting her tits out in an Irish field didn’t even register as news in our house but if it was the end of the world for you than fair enough.These are huge selling artists and even though I personally think the music carries no merit,millions of people do.
When I first got together with my soon to be wife,she had some friends over to my flat and the music tastes were almost exclusively vacuous,soul-less soul and R & B.I had a conversation with a young women who was strenuously trying to insist that this type of music had merit.Citing the thoughts behind it,the artists involved,the messages they were sending/selling.The more I countered with an argument based entirely on the principle that these artists were standing on the shoulders of giants and were just diluting through blandness a brand and a genre that was massively important both historically and politically. She seemed agitated by the end of it,it was definitely not an argument that either of us could win,but it was certainly interesting to see how much she had invested in this music.In order to put me back in my box all she had to say was that she liked it and that was it.Merit is irrelevant as long as you can accept that not everyone will like it and I think with mediums like art and music;it belittles the audience to have to explain beyond the obvious optical or oratory experience why something carries merit.
I know people whose appreciation is directly linked to the avant-garde and the prog in prog rock and I have no issue with that as long as hidden meanings aren’t used to counter obvious appreciations. Mull of Kintyre is one of my all time favourite songs,all though I am not strictly speaking a McCartney fan; iTunes deals and packages that essentially steal from fans,Jeez how much money does one man need.But Mull of Kintyre came out when I was 3 and it reminds me of my mum,of being in Scotland and the feeling of being home and remembering my Gran.It makes me feel proud and loved and Scottish…..to some people I know it sounds terrible.Och well courses and horses.
My prodigiously talented guitar playing younger brother professed at christmas when we were discussing bands that he didn’t listen to ‘Main stream’ music. For an instant I pictured him stalking a busker on the kings road that was coughing blood into his harmonica while giving a rendition of baker street.The presumption that the obscure and hard to get hold of is worth more than the easily available.My brother is only 19 so although he carries handsome youthful looks,he is also prone to defining himself within very strict boundaries.I think he meant that he listens to people that he likes who just happened to have not sold a lot of records or artists that don’t have wider appeal.Actually what he was doing was because of his quite enormous (irritatingly so) musical talent he was elevating his appreciation beyond your average schmoos.Inferring that popularity doesn’t equate to merit and because he is a musician and has more (or so he thinks) diverse musical tastes that he is better placed to appreciate talent or merit.Bollocks of course.We all come out with that kind of guff when we are younger,I would hate to have my adolescent statements read back to me now…I think I was the same.
One of my wife’s friends is married to a session musician who accompanied cold-play on a recent world tour and had previously worked with the verve and the lighthouse family.Over a Berkshire pub lunch he spiritedly and eloquently argued that contrary to some fringes of the music fraternity popularity precisely equaled merit.Argueing that the acceptance by more people meant that the music itself had the power to influence wider,especially if the music itself was influenced by a lesser none source,then the popularity acted as a conduit to an audience that the original source would never have been able to reach.He made compelling conversation and I agree with some of it but there is always anomolies.There has been enough terrible music achieve chart success that it would seriously question the collective musical appreciation of the general populus.
I’ve tried to keep my collection broad purely because I don’t want to miss out on anything good because I’ve written off a genre because of musical prejudices.So although questionably eclectic,my music collection is based on a greedy need to have it all.There is a lot of crap out there,but I would hate to miss the nugget of genius that could enhance my life because I’ve mentally labelled all pop as cretinous.I try to ignore experts,critics,teenagers and the snobbish. Myself and the little future conductor of the london philharmonic listen to grunge when we make bread,punk when we’re rushing around the house wiping,squeeging and flushing,classical when we read the tiger who came to tea and other literary masterpieces.We’ve been known to go a bit country over lunch and when we’re out in the garden good old radio 4 witters away in the back ground.My son won’t hear con-fluted opinions on music at home,he’ll hear diversity and joy,he’ll hear musical excitement and melancholy and disco.His mother’s 70’s obsession will show rhythm and his fathers love of NWA will show angry profanity.He’ll hear Bob Dylan and John Cooper Clark,Leonard Coen,Langhorne slim and counting crows,he’ll hear the albums that changed the world and more importantly he’ll have access to a family that like listening to music and 2 uncles who play the guitar (admittedly one ever so slightly better than the other one ) and their influences.He’ll learn what he likes,what he appreciates and he’ll start play-listing his memories.At the moment he dances to the Archers opening titles with the same enjoyment as he does to the Clash’s London calling.
long may it continue