What is music really about?

I once went to a "70's party in a Rolling Stones T-Shirt.  Everyone else was in disco-wear.  They thought it strange but, for me, the 70's was about the Stones, Rush, and AC/DC.  I admit to listening to some BeeGees when Saturday Night Fever came out – their music, along with some funk – was really good stuff to listen to.  Tossed into that mix was very early rap and stuff like the Clash and the Pistols, which I really loved.  All the while, I was playing the viola in middle and high school.  I had (and have) a pretty strange taste in music.  Many times it wasn't even so much about the lyrics as it was about how a song sounded.  Especially when I was younger.

It's also fair to say that I came of age in a bit of an odd time.  In the late 70's the stratum of music was in the process of reshuffling – disco was pop but it was, at long last, falling to the harder-edged rock music that had been around in a substantial way since the late 60's.  Punk rock and Rap were also emerging as major disruptive forces in the music business.  The decade of the 80's could be fairly described as the decade of Metal.  That was my decade.  Not so much the hair metal but many of the OG metal bands were my go-to favorites.  Some of that my parents were never very happy about but neither did they complain.

Oddly, the first time I really sat down and doped out the lyrics for a song (this was before the frigging internet you punks!) was late in High School.  I even tried my hand at writing a few songs but I never "got" it.  This isn't to say that any of the stuff was beyond me – I got the words and at least enough of what they meant so that it mattered.  See, some people write "about" things.  Iron Maiden wrote a song called "Aces High."  One quick perusal of the lyrics indicates the song is about the Battle of Britain.  Not difficult to figure out that those guys weren't flying Spitfires.  It's a song *about* something.  Those songs are easy.  I guess what I struggled with was songs whose lyrics are based in the  existential.  You know, the singer-songwriter stuff.    Where did that stuff come from?

Further driving this fugue was the ascendance of what I'll call "The Performer."  People who really don't write any music, they just performed it.  Brittney Spears, for instance.  She said that she spent much of her time before her breakout album "waiting for the right song."  She didn't write the things (at least those early ones), she just sang them.  They might have meant something to her but juxtapose that song with "All Apologies" from Nirvana or even "Royals" from Lorde and you'll have some idea of what I'm talking about.

All I can say in my defense is that I was blinded by the obvious.  It's a thing I deal with.  Music comes from within.  It's molded and driven by experience.  People write about what pisses them off, makes them happy, makes them hurt or makes them wonder.  Sometimes it's as playful as "I wonder how I would write a song about that" and sometimes it comes from genuine pain.  It is, in short, Art.

The next reshuffling of the music universe came in the late 90's when Nirvana come to the fore.  On top of the world for just 32 months, Nirvana swept hair-metal away like a spring shower washes pollen into yellow pools of goo.  I'll be honest, I hated Nirvana when they first blew onto the scene.  Most of the songs on that first album I didn't like.  I wanted to choke someone with a plaid flannel shirt.  Grunge was no answer to anything.  Nirvana's second album was the album that helped me – at long last – figure out where music came from.  The music that really resonates with people.  That stuff that comes from within.  Some artists (to include authors, painters and the lot really) are more successful in rendering their experiences in the abstract than others (Stephen Kings book "Misery", for instance, is about his drug addition) but it all descends from life and it runs the gamut from more to less obvious.

The only reason that I can surmise in utero helped me finally figure it out is that the lyrics are nose-on-your-face obvious.  Given the attention that Cobain was getting in the media, connecting the dots between what was going on in his life and what ended up on that record was pretty simple.  

I'm not sure why I felt like writing this but it seemed important.  I'm sorry you elected to read it but I ain't giving out refunds.

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Just an interesting random thought

I started this Sunday like I normally do:  cooking a breakfast that is decidedly bad for you followed by reading a couple of papers and watching a bit of the Sunday morning talkers.  Some weeks I fit a 9:45 church service in but not this weekend.  I caught an interview with the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, on "Meet the Press."  While he comes across as a decent Joe, he doesn't strike me as a particularly deep thinker. 

After listening to that interview it became clear to me that the Speaker is a problem and really needs to go.

The interview covered things like Gerrymandering, money in politics and the influence of special interests.  When asked about "Gerrymandering" (not "redistricting") he said, "well, in Ohio the Democrats had the pencil in their hands for 50 years and now it's our (GOP) turn."  On special interests: "every person in America is a special interest."  I've never thought much of the speaker but I was surprised by the intellectual laziness of that answer.

You know what our current political leadership in Washington is? It's the perfect expression of the two-party system that produces perfect political animals, kinda like thoroughbred horses that can do little other than run like hell for 2 minutes but can't drag a wagon around the block.  There is a lot of evidence that when this level of evolutionary perfection has been reached, things begin to go wrong as something new disrupts the system.  The Bismark – the purest expression of the dreadnaught battleship that could withstand a direct hit by a 2,000 pound shell had her fate sealed by a pesky new technology: a torpedo plane.  

All of these things, these purest expressions of an evolutionary process are doomed to fail in some way at some point.  The only question is how they fail and what collateral damage occurs.  If the citizens can wrest control of redistricting and money in politics the current system will simply fail into the next system.  That would be the best possible scenario but for that to happen it will take much more involvement by ordinary people.  After all, it's pretty clear the political parties have tuned the system to their liking and now the system perpetuates itself by churning out more of the same.  At some point in the past, the parties were in control of the system but now, it's running them and, as any faithful minion will do, they will  go to any length to defend it.

In Virginia, the districts are pretty gerrymandered.  It would be best if the politicians would hand that process over to the citizens.  Would it be perfect?  No, but that no reason not to try it.

 

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