Music is, like most anything humans do, an intensely tribal affair. We like to think that the music to which we listen defines us as people; it binds us to the others in our tribe, who also connect with the stories the songs tell in their lyrics, melodies or rhythms. “Our” music also serves to distinguish us from the other tribes, who sing different songs around their fire; or so we like to imagine.
However, music is only rarely a single unique thing; or if it is, that thing can be likened to water. It’s something that I think we all need, and it flows in whatever ways that it must flow. There are countless tributaries feeding that river; the river branches and ranges far afield, only to later re-merge stronger; streams loop back to a point upriver, before heading off in a new direction (OK, it’s not exactly like water). Two creeks may take entirely different paths, and end at the same pool.
In music discussions, it is sometimes criticized as lazy and reductive to say an artist sounds like (prior artist X + prior artist Y). But this shorthand does crudely reflect the way in which musical artists (any artists, really) occupy a nexus on multiple axes, with throughlines of influence and idea spiderwebbing out in various directions to and through ancestors, kin, and descendants both musical and spiritual.
So certain musicians and artists and styles that we commonly perceive as being entirely unique, are in reality often intertwined with others in ways both obvious and not. But our need to define ourselves or our tribe as unique can cause us to perceive as “unlike” that which should be seen as “like” (in both senses of those words).
Which brings me to my latest Rock’n’Roll Heresy. (These are observations that may be good to start arguments between music fans, who can be that most tribalist of the tribes.)
Television are considered by some to be exemplars of downtown New York 1970s “cool”. They shared stages with the NYC punk scene’s best and brightest bands (Blondie, Talking Heads, Ramones, etc.) though they have little in common with any of them musically, nor became as well-known.
In a scene that celebrated willful primitivism, Television was blessed with two exceedingly-talented guitarists in Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, who often eschewed standard blues-derived chords and progressions in favor of epic intertwining crystalline lattices. Their seemingly-psychic tandem style often has both guitars playing controlled interlocking figures, then leaving one guitar to anchor the structure while the second sparks and spirals off into filigreed infinity, only to rejoin the first later – which might then itself take off for galaxies unknown. In some ways, it’s closer to jazz than rock (though it does still, in fact, rock). And there’s no doubt that it’s “cool”.
Dire Straits is best known for their hit 1985 single “Money For Nothing”, taken from one of the most immense-selling-yet-uncool-to-admit-owning albums ever released, Brothers In Arms. But Brothers was their second-to-last studio album; they made 4 prior. Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler is an exceedingly-talented guitarist who (“Money” aside) often favors clear, elaborate traceries with jazz shadings. And today, Dire Straits is generally not considered “cool”.
I recently picked up Dire Straits and Making Movies for cheap, after enjoying a Dire Straits track on a friend’s Pandora station; also, some folks around here were recently talking about their earlier work (and, “Sultans of Swing” is just a damn fine radio song that I will always sing along to), and I was struck by the musical similarities to Television.
Television – Call Mr. Lee:
Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing:
I don’t find the vocals, structure, tones or playing to be all that different, though Knopfler is handling most of the fancier guitar duties himself, and is maybe just slightly more overtly blues-derived in structure.
The most obvious common ancestor of the two bands is, of course, Bob Dylan, particularly in the vocal phrasing (though Television most likely got this DNA in part through their NYC forbears in the Velvet Underground – early Lou Reed vocals sound very, very Dylan-influenced):
Television – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door:
Knopfler – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door:
Now, I’d wager that many people that like Television, won’t give Dire Straits the time of day; and many people who like Dire Straits, won’t care for Television. And each band has their hurdles for the casual consumer (Verlaine’s voice is maybe marginally more of an acquired taste than Knopfler’s; and Knopfler has THAT HEADBAND).
But I like to imagine these guitarists sitting down somewhere in a pub together for a pint with no prejudice. If you count yourself a fan of either artist, I’d encourage you to give the other a try. You might find something you like.
What musical heresies do you hold? What (songs, artists, genres) do other people see as completely different, that you can see really aren’t?
I realize this isn’t an answer to your question but the “problem” with Dire Straits is they got really popular for their weakest work. Money for Nothing is mediocre. And there is that headband but it was the 80’s. Brothers in Arms=meh. However Making Movies is incredible. In fact i’ll say Tunnel of Love, Romeo and Juliet and Skateaway are the best three songs in a row on any album ever. ( yeah i know that is not a widely used metric and sort of micro category). I also like Television but i don’t go back to them like i do with DS.
Heresies…hmmm i never saw New Wave as all that different from the Classic AOR rock at the time. There were some different instruments so certainly the sound was different, but at the heart of most New Wave was pop music. Same thing goes for Punk.
In fact i’ll say Tunnel of Love, Romeo and Juliet, and Skateaway are the best three songs in a row on any album ever.
Yeah. Unless it’s Box of Rain, Friend of the Devil, and Sugar Magnolia. Or maybe Here Comes the Sun, Because, and You Never Give Me Your Money. Which both gain a bit from diversity: Phil, Jerry, and Bobby; George, John, and Paul. Dire Straits, while awesome, is a bit monochromatic.
But still, yeah. The coda to Tunnel of Love is just purely beautiful. In fact, that’s the answer to Glyph’s question. Listen to that and to Faure’s Pavane. They’re not all that different.
The Dead never did much for me. Well they bored me a bit, which is something i guess. Monochromatic….yeah they are all white guys, what do you expect black people playing rock and/or roll?
Best 3 songs in a row needs to be a future topic. I always thought it was pretty confident of U2 to start Joshua Tree with 3 of their best-known singles in a row.
I think the best tracking of all time is the 8-track version of Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis:Bold as Love.
Very difficult to find these days; even more difficult to play.
Heresies…hmmm i never saw New Wave as all that different from the Classic AOR rock at the time. There were some different instruments so certainly the sound was different, but at the heart of most New Wave was pop music. Same thing goes for Punk.
Yeah, this is what I mean. So much of it was sold to us as brand-new, but it wasn’t; in fact the original punks were very consciously trying to bring things back to an older style or feel. (Postpunk is a different story). Sounds like you were smarter than most.
I had a really great moment a few years back. My mom found a homemade VHS comp of all these early Ramones appearances, many very rare, at a garage sale. She knows I like the band, so she bought it and had my dad transfer it to DVD for an xmas gift.
So, he and I are watching (he’s 70ish). And despite the fact that the band plays even faster and louder live, he immediately picked up on the fact that it’s just Beach Boys and girl groups, sped up and stripped down.
I was so proud of him.
the jesus and mary chain is a late 50s early 60s girl group drowned in pills and englishness. what’s interesting is their template of a template got built upon by more recent bands – particularly a place to bury strangers – the loud is louder, the distortion more distortion-y, but it’s still a jangly take on the early 60s via the british 80s.
which is kinda weird if you think about it too much.
Yeah, the JAMC loved loved loved the girl groups (see the drums and such) and Beach Boys (listen to the melodies, and they actually covered “Surfin’ USA”), and so to go with my reductive A + B format, they are those things plus The VU (or, a vacuum cleaner, according to many).
best three songs in a row on any album ever
I have to go to work in the off-site lab today but I consider this gauntlet to have been thrown.
Already, my brain is flashing pictures of a Pink Floyd album at me, a Police (???) album, Elton John, and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Huh. Maybe that’ll be my tentative answer for now.
I’ll second pretty muck everything greginak says here. I always thought MFN was a “hit” because it had a video people liked, it used the I Want My MTV jingle, and it featured the then-megahot Sting. But it never felt like a e good Dire Straits song.
Making Movies is one of my favorite all-time albums. It’s stood the test of time nicely; if anything, I like it more now than I did when it first came out.
The only song on Brothers in Arms that feels like a classic DS song to me is So Far Away.
I kinda love the eponymous track.
I saw this in Gifts of Gab, and was hoping you meant “Marquee Moon”.
Doesn’t anybody else like that song/album besides me and greginak?
C’mon people, I bought TWO DIRE STRAITS records, y’all can click a YouTube link! 🙂
You’re right, that one too. I also like Walk of Life, but it’s nothing like a DS song.
So “Walk of Life” : Dire Straits :: “Come Dancing” : Kinks?
Ray singing nostalgically about something essentially English, with some clever rhymes and a bit of naughtiness mixed in. Sure, how could that be a classic Kinks song?
Sure, CD’s a great song, but it’s hardly representative musically of the Kinks’ oeuvre.
And I think it sounds more than a little bit like WoL (or the other way ’round), don’t you? Boppy rhythm…the first two notes in the keyboard riff in WoL sounds a bit like the melody on the words “come dancing” (and also, WoL’s keyboard riff and that “steel drum” riff in CD are not dissimilar).
Seriously, listen to them back to back.
Really, wasn’t CD sort of an attempt to get a “New Wave”-type radio pop hit? WoL sure sounds like such an attempt to me.
What I hear musically is old school Kinks + a big band sound, which is not that different from the bigger bands they had used during their musical comedy phase. But the lyrics and narrative structure are very old school Kinks.
I don’t pay much attention to lyrics, generally. And I am not dissing the Kinks, or the song, at all; I love ’em both.
Sound more than a little bit similar to me, in melody and structure. You really don’t hear that?
I do, both very keyboard-driven. I honestly don’t hear CD as “New Wave” though; it’s very old-fashioned.
I will stand up for one thing about MFN (besides the fact, you know, that it’s catchy, and funny!).
That guitar tone is BURLY.
Tod, I think it was you and maybe Burt discussing “Making Movies”, plus me hearing some track (don’t remember what it was) that was my prompt to dive in. I haven’t really fully absorbed it yet, my uninterrupted listening time is in short supply, but I like what I hear so far.
And if I may drill down farther than even greginak bothered, there’s that moment in the first song of the album, Tunnel of Love; it’s at the very, very end. We’ve just gone through a decent booty-shakin’ rock song, and then a quite, reflective slow down that starts off a slow, yearning guitar solo, which picks up temp and then becomes cheerfully optimistic, and then soars with passion, and then … AND THEN… it comfortably slips into a series of joyous, progressing triplets played on a piano.
That moment? That moment where it goes from soaring guitar solo to joyous triplets?
One of my favorite single moments in music, ever.
I’ve never heard Television before, but there’s some guy that the vocalist sounds a lot like. Can’t remember who. Would help if I could think of some of the lyrics.
But I disagree that their progressions aren’t blues-based. The first tune is almost exactly the same progression as “Sultans of Swing.”
First two lines of the verse in the tonic; SoS goes to IV, where TV goes to VII (I believe it is), which is functionally the same as V7. Or maybe it’s III.
But it’s all variations of I-IV-V for the most part.
This might strike you as odd, but I just watched the movie last night.
In Starship Troopers 3: Marauders, there’s this singing Sky Marshal, Anoke, who sounds an awful lot like Saga, except Saga has one of the best vocalists around.
It was Peter Murphy of Bauhaus that I was thinking that the guy from Television sounded like.
Ah, on “Mr. Lee”. Yeah, I can def. see that.
He even sort of resembles Murphy physically, actually.
Hey Will – Heh. I was a bit worried about the “blues” part, so I did try to qualify that with words like “mostly” and “more”. But please understand, in this piece and any musical discussion in which I participate, that I am speaking as a longstanding obsessive rock fan with very little formal musical training or knowledge (vocal and percussion, way back in HS long long ago).
So whenever I may say something that sounds like I know what I am talking about, 99% of the time I guarantee I am talking out of my rear. This is my promise to you, and I should probably include it on every post and comment as a standard disclaimer. I always welcome correction from those who know better.
RE: the vox, maybe Gordon Gano or Peter Perrett?
My descriptions of Television, both attempted musical and poesy, come largely from the thoughts that raced through my fevered brain when I was lucky enough to see them play live in 2002; not coincidentally, this is also when I went from casual fan to “holy crap, they are amazing and every bit deserving of their legendary rep”. I just stood slack-jawed while the 2 guitars, and I don’t know any better way to say this, “talked” or “sang” to each other in ways that seemed both improvised and meticulously planned. IRL Verlaine and Lloyd apparently don’t get along well, but musically they seemed made for each other.
Here is a song that may or may not better illustrate what I mean. It’s the title track from their debut, and it’s long, which is why I didn’t include it in the post; but as a guitarist, I think you may enjoy it (and the album, or any decently-recorded live performances you can find):
Will – I was looking for live performances of the song – there are quite a few, but either the sound is good but the stage is too far away to actually see them well, or the video is closer but the sound is crappier. I was lucky when I saw them that they were on a small stage, and I was very close, so sound and vision was all there.
I’ll have to try to find it, but I read something somewhere about what happens in the brains of humans that are listening AND watching other humans play music, how it is literally an “entrancing” thing; this show was a spiritual experience for me. You’re a musician, so I am sure you’ve had that experience when the whole thing just sort of “lifts off”.
On that note, I just watched this guitar tutorial on “Marquee Moon”. When he gets to the “solo” bit, where the melody is sort of clambering up and down the scale, I find his fingers hypnotizing – someone could be stealing my wallet and I would not notice at all.
I listen to and like a lot of electronic music, and am not knocking in any way those who prefer it primarily or make it. But it can be harder to achieve that same sensation at live shows, primarily because the audience can’t exactly see what the musicians are doing – even if they put it up on a video screen, clicking mouses or turning knobs or sliding faders (and again, I want to make it clear I am not denigrating any of this as music-making technique) – the audience’s brains can’t quite connect those visuals to the vibrations they are hearing in the air. The more “analog-equivalent” or tactile the instrument (like, drum pads or turntables or MPCs can work) the less of a problem this is (and again, even with knobs or whatever, sometimes the musicians are able to compensate with expressive body language/motion, or projected video accompaniment).
Believe it or not, I make a lot of allowances for percussionists. 😉
I don’t know who the different people are in the band, but with “Marquee Moon” solely in mind . . .
There’s some hocketing going on there with the rhythm guitar & the bass. The drumline enters at an odd place, like it’s a few beats behind. The second guitar enters like it’s more in line with the drums, and it’s a more prominent figure. The whole phrasing of the verse gives an alien feeling to it.
The solo isn’t remarkable melodically, but again, there’s the odd phrasing thing. He does some stuff that starts off like it’s old hat, then throws in an extra note or two to set the rhythmic figure apart. I like it.
At 7:22, he starts into this scalar thing, and it’s fairly clear throughout that he doesn’t depart from standard scales too much (if at all).
But I think what makes it work, and the effect you refer to, is a product of them knowing where each other are at, and being able to anticipate the other guy. In short, chemistry.
You might like this, if you’ve never heard it.
The guitar & piano are playing in 7/4, and the drums & bass come in in 6/4 behind them, and they meet in the chorus. Very cool.
I hate the dated synth sound in the second part of the solo, but it’s a great song other than that.
I hear the similarity, particularly at the start!
And again, this is probably my musical ignorance showing, but there’s just a weird – syncopation, I guess? – that makes me think more of “jazz” than of “rock”.
It’s not really syncopation per se, which is moving the downbeat from 1 & 3 to 2 & 4; but it’s something similar, and also similar to a round.
The off-setting of the contemporaneous phrases is somewhere between syncopation and a round.
You’ll probably like this one, though it has a completely different feel.
Everything about it is pure crap, but it somehow fits all together.
The main theme sounds like a tune you could whistle at first, but it has some weird rhythmic devices in there that make you wonder if he meant that.
They tend to use the round-style phrase offsetting through this one.
Here’s my favorite example of hocketing. They could do a more lush version of it because they had more instruments.
That first one definitely had the tootling flute that I require when I listen to something called “Gentle Giant”. And boy, that is a terrible album cover.
That second one veers a little too close to the Dan for my tastes. I am not a big fan of the Dan.
I understand about the Dan.
I know people who are crazy about them, but I’ve never been able to get into it.
I actually find Don Ho more interesting.
Don Ho covering “Shock the Monkey”:
I still like Steely Dan, though I can understand why some folks might not. Every single note of Donald Fagen’s latest, Sunken Gardens, was phoned in. Made me hate the guy.
I’ve moved on, shall we say. Jazz remained a constant throughout and through them I came across Steely Dan. With them I began to drift away from the 4/4 time signature. Once adrift, my little boat drifted past the hyperbolic excesses of prog and the squalid idiocy of punk. Faster and faster, through the rapids, nothing much ever stuck to me.
Now doth prog make a wondrous reappearance, as dutiful a collection of acolytes as any cargo cult, aping the past as the first proggers had aped the classical composers they’d taken in music school. Moogs and Mellotrons and old ARP gear, oh my! It’s embarrassing, that’s what it is.
At some point, the songwriters will have their day and that craft will be lifted into the limelight again. It won’t be soon, I’m afraid. I’m moulting. I hate pretty much everything I’m listening to these days.
My tastes are pretty catholic, I’ll listen to anything and everything. Ever and anon, I find some interesting stuff among the hip-hoppers, they’re about the only ones with a pulse. Pity they’re such wretched musicians and petty thieves but since when was a lack of musicianship ever an impediment to fame and fortune in the Music Business? Hip-hop is starting to bore me and that’s a bad sign. It was always the idiot bastard child of funk but it was interesting. I nibble at the edges of country music but as with prog, it worships the past and will therefore wander about with its head up its ass until it suffocates.
The entire industry is lapsing into parlous lethargy. I turn back to jazz but I’ve heard it all before. American Idol nauseates me. I prowl further back into African stuff, Brazilian stuff, but all the gold dust seems to have been panned out of where I’m looking. I’m sick of old stuff.
EDITED TO ADD BOLDED TEXT:
Blaise, if you find something new you do like (or even something old), write it up, we’ll post it here on a Wednesday (I have the keys). Anything – theory, opinion, record review, whatever (so long as it’s positive – build something up, don’t tear something down), so long as it’s music, and so long as you include some link to YouTube or other audiovisual link so ppl can see/hear what you are talking about.
And again, this is an open invitation to any commenters.
Also, I’ll repeat what I said to Will – as someone who is primarily a fan, with minimal training in theory or performance, I promise I am going to make many, many statements about various musical characteristics that are undoubtedly factually incorrect. I always welcome gentle correction from actual musicians, and hope they will understand the spirit in which I make those statements (ignorance, sure, but also excitement and enthusiasm in trying to explain what it is that I think I am hearing).
I was really excited when I discovered Dream Theater.
Falling into Infinity and A Change of Seasons were great prog albums, but I was very disappointed in the direction of the band thereafter. Similarly disappointed with previous releases.
It’s just they hit a peak with those two. That seems to happen with a lot of prog bands.
The Bruford solo material is something that I would like to come to know more of.
Bill Bruford had so many different facets to him: King Crimson, Yes, his own Earthworks stuff was brilliant.
I’ve been listening to Flower Kings, who are attempting to resurrect the best bits of Genesis and Yes. Maybe I can write something about this affectionate re-treatment of a classic period of prog. Kinda wish I had more time to dedicate to music. I hear tremendous music in my dreams. Trouble with music, as with writing, hell, for that matter, with all art — by the time you’ve sawn away at it and sanded it down and fitted it all, you’re so tired of looking at it you’re glad to see the Work of Art get out the hell out the door.
I am not sure when I realized that the “Sultans of Swing” guys were the “Money for Nothing” guys. It was a mind-blowing realization.
I can definitely understand Glyph’s comment about the importance of watching someone perform. I have been watching YouTube videos of old fingerstyle guitarists, such as Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Elizabeth Cotton, and others (I am trying to learn to play the style myself), and it is amazing to watch them work.
Last year, I worked with this kid from the U.P. He was 21 yrs old.
We were hanging out one night, and “Sultans of Swing” was on the radio. He started talking about how much he loved that song, and wanted to find out who it was.
When I told him, he went to go borrow a piece of paper to write it down on, so I suppose he was serious about wanting to find out who did it.
It really is terrific. Never gets old.
At midnight on the Emperor’s pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.
Astraddle on the dolphin’s mire and blood,
Spirit after Spirit! The smithies break the flood.
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.
Music, of all the arts, is the most-prone to synthesis of prior art into the New Stuff. It’s a weird sort of art: there are, after all, only so many notes you can play. Beck just took a big step back, releasing his latest as sheet music, forcing everyone who wants to hear this stuff to either read it or listen to someone else’s version of it.
For those of us who read sheet music, it’s trivial to orchestrate it in our own minds. Keats:
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.
Back in the days of early Genesis, when Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins were attempting to create something unique and beautiful, the musicians were enthralled by the combination of mythological chutzpah and transcendent musicianship. Trouble was, nobody else was enthralled and few people were buying. Genesis wanted a hit so bad they could taste it. It wasn’t until Genesis broke up that either Collins or Gabriel got the hits they craved, and hits they got aplenty. Collins just broke down and started writing what he knew the crowd wanted, silly musical oatmeal. Gabriel would eventually do the same.
Bertrand Russell once said music is just counting without numbers. “May not music be described as the mathematics of sense, mathematics as music of the reason?”. Most people aren’t terribly complex, they want nice, simple mathematics-of-sense problems, good solid riffs which don’t stray far from the tonic. Musicians hate the stuff, naturally. It’s a combination of envy and pride, two of the Seven Deadlies. They’d rather write for other musicians, demonstrating how great they are, keeping the studio chumps at a sufficient remove: cf. Pink Floyd Welcome to the Machine or Frank Zappa Tinseltown Rebellion.
Did you know that in Tinsel Town the people down there
Think that substance is a bore?
And if your New Wave group looks good
They’ll hurry on back for more
Of leather groups and plastic groups
And groups that look real queer.
The Tinsel Town aficionados
Come to see and not to hear.
But then again this system works
As perfect as a dream
It works for all of those record company pricks
Who come to skim the cream
From the cesspools of excitement
Where Jim Morrison once stood
It’s the Tinsel Town Rebellion
From downtown Hollywood
Is everybody happy?
Oh never mind!
Like Russell knew anything about counting. He needed infinite sets just to get to 1..
i think the only real heresy i can think of that i hold is that there is no such thing as “difficult” music. there are mindsets that need to be explored, biases that need to be overcome, and issues of volume and tone, but the bulk of the tribal hurdles you mention are basically fashion and ephemera. that doesn’t mean they’re not important to the people who believe in them, but they’re not real walls (beyond the social issues involved).
Yeah, this is sort of what I was trying to get at. I came here not to bury Dire Straits, but to praise them; to say, hey, I was once the kind of person for whom Television was obviously “important” and Dire Straits were just some sort of “dad rock”; but there’s no real substantive reason that this should be so, aside from fashion and signaling.
So wherever possible, I want to try to draw connections, rather than try to divvy up into neat little boxes marked “yours” and “mine”. I always love that moment when something that originally seemed totally sui generis to me falls into place as clearly part of some continuum. It’s like treasure-hunting, or finishing the crossword.
a sudoku for the ears! csi for cds!
but yeah, it’s a lot of fun to go back and dig up what was what. at this point i think the game becomes both easier and harder due to youtube aka the internet’s jukebox.
oddly enough, i kinda think of television and a lot of the post-punk continuum as dad rock – though in this case the dads are maybe 7 – 10 years older than i am. but prejudices are weird. like i always thought of talking heads as music for rich interior decorators or someone else in the loft-living style when i was a kid. i don’t really know why, but i still believe that.
Dammit. The crossword puzzle would have been a way better metaphor. Oh well.
And dude, seriously – watch “Stop Making Sense”. Or, just put “Crosseyed and Painless” or “Once In A Lifetime” on 24/7 loop until your third eye opens.
BTW, got the new Burial finally last night, but haven’t listened yet.
OK, the Burial is predictably awesome. 🙂
Those chime/tone thingies (technical term) midway thru “Rough Sleeper” kind of remind me of Pantha du Prince, or Oni Ayhun (dude from The Knife who uses those kind of “steel drum”-type sounds).
of course burial is awesome. i will say i was somewhat put off by the gamelan-esque bells the first time i heard it because they’re so loud in comparison to the rest of the track but in hindsight it works. it’s an odd break, like the bus he’s stuck on just went past a bunch of take out joints blasting more cheerful times.
it’s an odd break, like the bus he’s stuck on just went past a bunch of take out joints blasting more cheerful times.
Reminds me of this.
Years ago, my friend’s dad noted that Ten Foot Pole was just Buddy Holly. This was the exact sort of opinion we held… although his father’s response was more along the lines of ah, this is just Buddy Holly, you should listen to Buddy Holly instead of this crap.
I think most people are musical heretics in that most people can and will listen to music of wildly different genres without regard to ideology or purity. In short, people like what they like and what gives them pleasure.
It is being well-versed in any sort of art educational that often makes these heresies impossible.
Though there might be more music snobs than educated snobs for other form of art.
I have an MFA in theatre directing. My undergrad degree is also in drama (and was non-conservatory so very lit and theory based). This meant I spent a good 7 years of my life (plus practice) reading dramatic theory, about different modes of performance, acting, analyzing why something worked or did not. In short, I can no longer watch movies or theatre like an ordinary person. I am always analyzing what works and what doesn’t.
My education also means I have opinions on the pros and cons of famous forms of theatre and various acting techniques.
Most people are simply not like this. They don’t think of the contradiction of enjoying a song by Kei$ha or The Magnetic Fields or Bob Dylan or the Sex Pistols even though in theory a true punk should be ideologically opposed to pop music. Then you have pop music fanatics like Jody Rosen at Slate who wonder why Television is more “authentic” than Beyonce.
A few years ago I was talking with a guy I went to law school with and he said that he loved music. I asked him what kind and his reply was “whatever gets people dancing”. The overly-educated artsnob in me sighed at the generality of the statement but I secretly suspect his answer is true for most of humanity. People just want to dance and have a good time. They want music that allows them to do so.
This comment reminds me of something I wanted to talk about: accusations of “snobbery”.
I have been accused, more than once, of being a music snob. And there’s no doubt that I am picky, I guess.
Inherent in the accusation “snob”, I always heard the implication “why can’t you just enjoy whatever comes your way? Your discrimination means you are missing out on all this fun/great stuff!”
To which I would think: I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of live shows. I have traveled long distances by car and plane to see artists; planned vacation destinations around concerts. I got married at this. I have sold more CDs and records and tapes than my accuser probably ever bought or heard, and I almost undoubtedly STILL have more in my posession.
I listen to more music, read about more music, seek out more (and more types) of music, and as a result of my relentless, obsessive pursuits of music, I have de facto enjoyed more music. It can’t possibly be otherwise, statistically-speaking.
So why am *I* the one who’s missing out, and being overly discriminatory?
Aren’t I an “enthusiast”?
Isn’t my accuser the one who’s missing out, and being overly discriminatory?
I have no problem with snobbery.
i do have an issue with snobbery, despite being the sort of guy who arranged his cds in alphabetical order (chronological within each artist, natch) but agonized over whether side projects should necessarily be beholden to the “parent” artist or if they’ve crossed the line into their own form of existence i.e. i would file gescom separately from autechre but would likely put all of the mika vainio side projects like ydin and the like with pansonic even though he’s obviously now an established composer separate from his more famous and now defunct duo.
as mr. truman put it below, it’s not the discernment or multifaceted understanding that is a problem. anyone who would take issue with that is an anti-snob, which is a neurotically preemptive way of yelling yelling “don’t mock me because i don’t know what you know and think that you think that this makes you better than me!” that kind of stupid burns, and they should take it down a few notches or take a learning annex course in not being so emotionally invested in what strangers think.
and i do indeed feel you on the whole “i turned my brain into a microscope for this stuff and now it’s hard to have fun”.
but uh, anyway, basically all of your or my cultural knowledge plus $2.50 gets you a ride on an mta bus. it’s hard to find too much social or moral weight in that, at least for me. and i enjoy some morally dubious stuff.
“A few years ago I was talking with a guy I went to law school with and he said that he loved music. I asked him what kind and his reply was “whatever gets people dancing”. The overly-educated artsnob in me sighed at the generality of the statement but I secretly suspect his answer is true for most of humanity. People just want to dance and have a good time. They want music that allows them to do so.”
you say that like it’s a bad thing!
if anything he’s experiencing a purity, a naive but true godhead, that i’ll never again capture. when this kind of legitimately beautiful sentiment is expressed as a longing for a time within a regional scene or social micro-scene – especially anything to do with the self-congratulating haigiography machine that is “punk” – people nod (if not applaud) and writers come up with all sorts of stuff about makeshift communities by choice (if they’re educated) or temporary autonomous zones (if they’re stoned).
he’s guilty of saying “i like music that reminds me of having fun around other people having a good time”. so what if he doesn’t know anything about white labels or force inc or plastikman or ragga or an amen break or micro-house or hangable auto bulb?
“They don’t think of the contradiction of enjoying a song by Kei$ha or The Magnetic Fields or Bob Dylan or the Sex Pistols even though in theory a true punk should be ideologically opposed to pop music.”
this is an off-track aside, but this is totally cray cray. it does raise the point about what genre and scene were supposed to mean, back when information was limited and no one had invented texting. but early punk was deeply enmeshed in the whole back to basics garage rock thing, which itself was just “classic american rock and roll” played poorly. occasionally to good effect and everything, but still.
Snobby was probably the wrong word and I used it defensively.
I’ve been a victim of the anti-snob stuff you mentioned above, so sometimes I put on an air of snob and proud to be equally defensive. There is nothing wrong with having the standards mentioned by Glyph below.
‘and i do indeed feel you on the whole “i turned my brain into a microscope for this stuff and now it’s hard to have fun”.’
It is not that I have a hard time having fun. Good theatre and film is still enjoyable for me and there is a good amount of it. This summer a local theatre company did a production-adaptation of the Odyssey on Angel Island. It was an all-day affair. The company was very good at picking places on the Island to perform. The setting was wonderful. However, the tone of the piece was highly jarring to me. One scene was done as intentionally high camp (Hermes was a bro-dude character decked in gold), Athena was a princess who screamed “Daaaddddyyyyy” a lot.) But the immediate seen would go back to tragedy or being serious or trying to produce a sensation of fright like for the Cyclopes’ cave.) These extreme switches made it hard for me to decide what the company was trying to go for and made me put my theatre-training cap on. The non-me audience however really enjoyed the piece. So if the company was going for “nice date idea” or “day out with the family”, they succeeded. If they wanted to create compelling theatre, they did not do as well.
“you say that like it’s a bad thing!”
It is a little bit. I get what you are saying but that kind of non-discernment or non-critical thinking can be good and necessary in moderation but is not good in large doses or through out life. I love art and take it seriously. Hence my appreciation of “snobs” to a certain extent. I like the amount of time that they devote to their various art-passions and their arguments. It provides variety to life and most artists are generally discerning in that way. If we all though in general bro-dude terms of “whatever gets people dancing”, there would be no great art.
“this is an off-track aside, but this is totally cray cray.”
Are you saying that I am totally cray-cray for thinking that this is how people listen to music or the attitude I expressed really does exist in most people and is totally cray cray?
I am also rather proud of my arts based education over the jeers and cries of the practicalists who think I wasted away my 20s reading Adorno and getting an MFA.
arranged his cds in alphabetical order (chronological within each artist, natch) but agonized over whether side projects should necessarily be beholden to the “parent” artist
I feel yr pain, brother.
“i turned my brain into a microscope for this stuff and now it’s hard to have fun”.
AAANND there’s the dark side of the whole “crossword” approach. I definitely have had the experience of realizing I am thinking so hard about the predecessors, and influences, and where something fits, and who does that voice remind me of, and looking for what I like and dislike about it, that I AM NOT LISTENING TO THE FISHING SONG.
Music’s supposed to give pleasure (or at least, to overwhelm or sidestep your reason is maybe a better way to put it) and transport you. Stop thinking so much Glyph!
as i put it once in a long ago exegesis on autechre – it’s a battle between “HOW DARE YOU PUT ON AIRS and LOOK HOW SMART I AM YOU REDNECK.”
both are illusions, mind you, but real enough.
“It is a little bit. I get what you are saying but that kind of non-discernment or non-critical thinking can be good and necessary in moderation but is not good in large doses or through out life.”
as much as i like to make jokes about lawyers – and i do – clearly freeing his ass has not injured his mind that much. he’s staked out a social position that’s broad and engaging. a democracy of booty bass.
it is a guileless expression of human joy that anyone who – drink or not in hand – has had occasion to wave hands in air; moving with friends and strangers alike; grinding on lovers; caught in the middle of a moment that is timeless and never to be recaptured; a passing breeze that scars the soul immeasurably.
and perhaps it’s unintentional, and i’m adding spin where there were none. perhaps i fight the gravitational pull of my incredibly refined and exquisite musical sensibility by romanticizing the popular and perhaps even the banal. but all of the most beautiful musical moments of my life, even the aggressively ugly ones, have shared that quality of being communal, but singular, and beyond real encapsulation.
i must disagree that there would be no good art because deep is the enemy of fun – everyone pursues the godhead in their own fashion. and all artistic engagements are looking to enchant, bind, and ultimately supplant normal consciousness from the viewer/listener/reader, to engage on a level that is beyond normal comprehension, be it “high” or “low” in nature.
“Are you saying that I am totally cray-cray for thinking that this is how people listen to music or the attitude I expressed really does exist in most people and is totally cray cray?”
the idea that there’s a) “true punk” and b) that it’s divorced from the pop context that birthed it. in a taste tribes sense* it’s reasonable, but so is being mad at becky for telling vicky about suzy in 10th grade homeroom.
on the other hand i am generally not a fan of the genre as a whole, even most of the early stuff, and good lord i loathe the ramones so damn much.
“Music’s supposed to give pleasure (or at least, to overwhelm or sidestep your reason is maybe a better way to put it) and transport you. Stop thinking so much Glyph!”
true, but thinking too hard about something can be a true pleasure and a narcotic fun in its own right.
caught in the middle of a moment that is timeless and never to be recaptured; a passing breeze that scars the soul immeasurably.
I wrote something very like your first sentence in an upcoming post; and goddamn I wish I’d written the second, because that is beautiful. Anytime you want to submit a guest Wed. music post you let me know (and this goes for anyone else reading too).
good lord i loathe the ramones so damn much.
You’re just lucky I made the above offer before I read that offensive filth, you jackass! 😉
” Anytime you want to submit a guest Wed. music post you let me know (and this goes for anyone else reading too).”
i’ll see if i can conjure up something worth reading in two or three weeks. it’ll have, like, caps and everything. maybe something about extremity and ideology in music.
you should drop me a line re: miami.
and i mean no disrespect to ramones fans. some of my best friends are ramones fans. i work with a ramones fan and she’s a very nice person. very articulate.
RE: the post. Sweet!
Sent you a mail.
I love music. I am always seeking out new music. My tastes go all over the place, ranging from roots music to progressive (which is just one axis of many), and everywhere in between. I have never managed to really get into rap and R&B, though maybe if I found the right starting point I could. I do not care much for a lot of pop music either, but I can still respect a certain amount of talent in writing catchy songs that stick with people.
On the other hand, I do have different compartments for the different music I listen to, and I listen for different purposes. I can enjoy Ryan Adams and Porcupine Tree and Swans equally, but I am listening for completely different reasons. They are all different levels of talent, but their talents are different in type as well as degree.
Back in high school, I was much more tribal about music (if it was not metal, it was crap). Now, I really cannot understand that sort of mentality. Looking back, I realized I missed out on some good music for that reason.
I think the bad type of music snobbery is refusing to give anything a chance, or dismissing someone’s taste as bad just because it is different. It is the difference between “I do not care for that” and “anyone who listens to that is a tasteless idiot” (which is only true for Kenny G fans).
Yeah, I think music is much like that; like people that say that don’t like a certain style of beer, and have yet to try a decent example of it.
There are good examples of rap/hip-hop; but I don’t keep up with the artists enough to know who’s who. It got generally terrible reviews, but I thought Carmen: A Hip Hopera was fantastic.
R&B covers a lot of territory.
I like the old Chuck Berry & Little Richard. Everything was recorded so hot back then. It’s got straight attitude.
This is outright R&B, although it’s not generally associated with that style of music.
I like a lot of the old Stevie Wonder. To me, that Rhodes sound just screams “R&B!”
“Shining Star” by EW&F is a standout, and this one is very similar though I remember as being more “underground” back in the day.
There’s some female singer that used to play gospel that I really liked, but don’t care so much for the “contemporary” stuff that she’s doing now. (Told you I have a hard time keeping everybody’s names straight . . . )
I played in a black gospel band for two yrs, and there were certain things that I took from what you might consider unlikely places.
One of the things I would do a lot is slide up on the first beat of a chord change. I took that directly from “Funk 49” by the James Gang. That was is a hammer-on actually, from the 7th to the major, and I used that one plenty as well.
Other things I did a lot that you would be familiar with if I knew how to describe them adequately.
But, yeah, I’m an old metalhead myself.
When I was in high school, I had “On Through the Night, ” and my friend Scott had “High ‘n Dry,” and we were the only two kids in the school that ever heard of Def Leppard.
I was the first person in my whole town to own Saxon’s “Power & the Glory,” and the poster.
Took me a long time to forgive Bruce for effing up Maiden.
I may be a little bit younger than you. Here is what I was listening to in high school:
My Dying Bride http://youtu.be/yQULoTInj9M
I’m definitely older than you then.
I’m about as old as the guys from Metallica. I lost interest in them when they released Master of Puppets.
Before them, Accept was the heaviest band around. Before them, Saxon. (Before then was really a subjective matter . . .) There just wasn’t a lot of heavy metal around at the time.
I remember this chick at my high school asking me what kind of music I was into, and I said, “Heavy metal,” and she said, “What’s that?”
I like the Neurosis best out of all those tracks.
I have Black Winter Day, but I find most of it unlistenable, just because the guy never quits with those prominent melodic riffs. “Drowned Maid” is my favorite off of that one.
The My Dying Bride reminds me of this one, which is probably the best thing that band ever did.
While I can see that those bands might have had some appeal to me in my younger days, the arrangements are just too drawn-out to maintain my interest these days.
Declining attention span, I suppose.
To me, the crux of snobbery and its negative connotations is not so much the discerning tastes but rather the belief that you are superior to those with different or less selective tastes. Truthfully, though, I think snob has been used so much in a self-referential way that it’s list a lot of its punch as an accusation unless specifically geared towards base wealth.
I try to never act (or feel) superior; my motivation when the subject comes up is basically: “Here’s this awesome thing I found! It’s awesome! Won’t you please give it a try too, so you can have more ‘awesome’ in your life, and we can talk about how awesome it is, and be awesome together, and it will be awesome?”
I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. You don’t seem like a pretentious fellow. I was just saying “Here’s why people dislike snobs, and it’s not (necessarily) (just) because they have discerning tastes.”
Gotcha, and I wasn’t taking offense, just clarifying (and my enthusiasm can definitely inadvertently shade into manic proselytizing, as poor Mr. Schilling found out once when I tried to explain that Robert Pollard’s the second coming of Lennon and Townshend combined). Yer all right in my book, Mr. Truman.
the second coming of Lennon and Townshend combined
How does he fit those little tiny glasses on that nose?
He already dropped them into his beer.
True but when there is still a way that react to film and theatre that many people do not. Other people formally educated to a certain degree in the fields know what I mean. You could probably do the same for a computer program and detect why something is horrible and buggy when it seems fine to me.
Snobby can also be used to shut down certain forms of critique especially cultural critique.
For example, commenting on the cognitive dissonance of SS Coachella (with tickets costs up to 10,000 dollars) can be called snobby.
I’m kind of the same way about comedy (though wholly self-educated.) I have had way too many conversation that go:
Me: That comedy sucked.
Friend: Really? I thought it was funny.
Me: (Dismissively) Well sure, it was funny.
OK, I guess I have done that. “Yeah, they’re all right/catchy enough.” And of course when someone else is really enthusiastic about X, they feel like they are getting slapped down by this blase´ response.
Everyone should be enthusiastic about X, as John Doe/Exene are still awesome.
I kind of wondered if someone would make this joke. I am glad someone did (because yes, they are).
My cousin’s gallery has hosted exhibitions of Exene’s art:
So as much as I would love to impress some lovely woman with my deep knowledge of art and art theory, it is probably going to make me seem like a bore.
well if you’re impressing rather than weaving a rainbow, then yeah that sucks. people hate/”hate” snobs/”snobs” because no one likes being lectured.
but everyone likes rainbows.
This is totally unrelated to the OP, but it’s a great piece of writing that made me laugh really hard, so I am posting it here.
Jason Heller, the AV Club’s metal guy, on the genius of DLR-era VH:
Roth is like the guy you would never trust to leave alone in your home or to give him the keys to your car.
Plant scores well in both regards.
If you haven’t watched the opening to the video for Yankee Rose in a while, you may want to watch it again.
Truly, the past is another country.
the best thing about david lee roth is this guy:
Beg to differ.
The best thing is, of course, this.
Thank you for posting YR. It’s been way too long since I have seen it, and yet I STILL quote it (“Our LEEPS are so CLOSE”, accompanied by waggling eyebrows, will get the correct “EEEEWWWWW!!! Not if you was the LAST (fill in the blank) on EARTH….HONEY!!!” response from people who know.)
“Beg to differ.
The best thing is, of course, this.”
oh man i am totally sampling the hell out of that. even if i only make cell phone ringtones out of it.
When that first came out a few years back I listened to it nonstop for days, and snuck it onto many a friend’s mix.
What is interesting is that weird voice thing he can do, that is not a studio effect – when he’s doing some of the screamier parts, he produces this secondary vibrating overtone (undertone?)
Probably not good for your throat, but when you are running with the devil, these things are secondary considerations at best.
To this day, I can remember the moment, the precise moment, when I accidentally discovered Women and Children First cassette in one of my mother’s drawers. I was 11. Until then I’d known my mother as the person who listened to the soft rock and top 40 stations in our two-tone (with the faux wood paneling) Buick station wagon. Seeing that tape in there rocked my world to its very foundation. I still haven’t fully recovered, 26 years later.
What’s your mom doing Saturday? Sounds like that chick knows how to par-tay!
Is anyone else as excited as I am that Tomahawk are releasing a new album? Mike Patton is definitely one of my favorite rock vocalists.
I’m not a huge Mike Patton guy (a buddy of mine is), but I will go to the freakin’ wall for Angel Dust. Great record.
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