It's funny, I'm sitting here realizing that in the past month I've had possibly two of the most disparate musical experiences a person could have and both have left me scratching my head a bit.
Let me explain...
A couple of weeks ago I got to play in Nashville for the very first time and while I loved the town itself and the experiences I had there, soaking in some of the great (real) country music that has come from that bastion of the genre, I was also struck by the number of people so, so desperate to write number 1 (new) country hits. I have experienced this in New York too, people there to "Make it," particularly trying so hard to do what others have done to "get there." I can't lie and say that I've never been, at least to some degree, one of those people but now, watching others embark on a paint by numbers approach to an art form that's very dear to me, really cuts me to the bone. Again, I'll be honest, I did find myself alternating between, "OMG, I could churn out this stuff, to, "this is totally not what I ever want to do."
I played a songwriter in the round thingy, with a guy who had just co-wrote a number 1 hit recently. I don't remember his name and I remember less about his music. I hate being judgmental about other people's work but that desperation, that scratching for that song that will pass what publishers refer to down there as, "The Bubba Test." ...it stirs something in me that is very uncomfortable.
Maybe it's because I have kids to clothe and feed; It's human, I guess to want to do whatever we can to make the best for our children and let's face it, music is a tough row to hoe. So, yes, it's tempting, I think I could do it, if I put a little work into it, I think the same way about songwriting competitions. I will glance at a prize and think of what I could do with it but I think it would break my heart to do it.
Perhaps I will go down in history (or obscurity) as the grumpy old man of songwriting, who, against his own best interests, sticks adamantly to his guns, sitting in the corner of a coffee shop, working on lyrics, working on intent, heartfelt stories, cinematic scenes, with no pick-up trucks in them (so far). Maybe I'm in denial that that's what the larger music audience really wants... that quick fix of sentimentality with not much more attached to it... Maybe it's not you... maybe it's me? But you see, I love what I do. I love the challenge of it and the sense of completion I get from it...I love to submerge myself into those depths. It's a beautiful thing to me and then I love to sing those songs for people. I have no wish to be in competition with any one else, the idea really galls me. I have to do my art and treat it with respect. It can't be about money, I mean I need to eat but it can't be strictly about money or it's... something else; A product, a vehicle for something else, not the thing itself.; Not the living thing I believe it to be.
I breathed life into this creation. I have a responsibility to it. I have to steer it in the right direction, just like with my flesh and bone (and muck sometimes) kids. It has to be about the art for me... but to make that art pay and still have it be a work of real art... there's the real craft, in my humble opinion.
Which is not to say that I didn't also hear some great music in Nashville. I saw some stunning musicianship and there was a kid down there, Jordon Umbach, who, though quite young, seemed very much on the right track, writing for the genre but seeming to do it right. I met another young talented pair who called themselves Wilder and also a Polish girl by the name of Bela Konstancja Kawalec, with beautiful, beautiful songs. So, overall, it was a great trip and I'd like to go back again... sometime.
Then... I got back to Pittsburgh and went to the other extreme of the spectrum by seeing Straight Out of Compton and that kind of confounded me too... I will say that I love that the story about, insanely successful and influential Rap group NWA, is getting told. I think that whole scene is an extremely important one, even though, I'll be honest, Rap is a genre that I don't fully connect with, particularly what gets called Gangster Rap... but the movie did open my mind to the method behind the majestic madness and I felt a new appreciation for the form and what it was (initially at least) attempting to achieve; "Reality Rap," as Dr. Dre professed it to be, broke a mold and told a story desperately needing to be told. Big points for Art...
Yet, throughout the movie I kept thinking to myself, how come all the women are such side kicks in this story, does the word Bitches, really tell this story and after doing a little reading about the background, I thought, how come none of the horrific altercations between Dr. Dre and the women in his life were ever even hinted at? Was he the only one?
If the story of "Reality Rap," is to be told... the story of speaking truth to power... then isn't it incumbent upon those telling the tale, to speak truth about the characters in it... the whole truth? It just felt very airbrushed... I enjoyed it a lot but it disappointed me on that, pretty important level. It could have been so, so much more, much deeper and that might of created an even bigger legacy...
Just to complete my list of musical juxtapositions here... while I finish writing this, I'm listening to Claude Debussy's Arabesqe No1.
'tis a life of variety, is it not?