Friday, July 28, 2006


Must be something in the water.

Helmut and Kevin have chosen oblique angles to do it, but they both take up the question of sponteneity in music.

Sometimes, in general, you listen to music and feel embarrassed. It's a kind of embarrassment that the musician hasn't hit it, whatever it is, and that you're there to witness the failing at it. This experience is made much worse by earnestness and certainty. I've heard plenty of live music like this - where I felt like bolting out of discomfort with the aural carnage. But you also know that moment when you've really heard it because it hits you hard in the ears, mind, and body.
It's all just pop music, really, and though there are a few pop stars who still attempt more elaborate projects, with mixed results (the aforementioned Joe Jackson comes to mind), your best pop is made by talented people who are not dumbing down their work by making 3-minute pop records (Joe again, most of the time). They instead work within the limitations of the form and come up with something novel, or fun, or new or perhaps even great.
It may be an ephemeral thing, impossible to define, but I don't think it is an accident. It is honesty, openness -- but it is also bloody hard work, discipline. I imagine there's some Zen principle at work here, in that the more you worry at a musical form, the more difficult it becomes, and the key that unlocks the door is Mindful abandonment of Effort.

I've had moments in my musical life (amateur, entirely, pathetically amateur!) when I've had it: Pick up a guitar, and something utterly new and never-before-heard comes flowing out of my fingers. But it's worth noting that those moments always come when I've been playing obsessively for days and weeks on end. Hard work leads to it. It will never come when I've laid the guitar by for a month -- which, I ruefully admit, happens much often than it should. After these hiatuses, I will pick up a guitar and know that it is far, far, far away.

Hey: Helmut takes as his text a record by bluesman Robert Pete Williams. If you like roots music (and if you don't, I don't want to know you), there's an absolutely amazing treasure trove of hundreds of free downloads of everything from '20s piano blues to '30s Calypso waiting for you here. Go stuff it up your iPod. Don't say I don't turn you on to the Good Stuff. Thanks to Employee of the Month for the heads-up.


fgfdsg said...

Trust me mate, coming from a true amateur, your stuff sounds anything but.

Ronzoni Rigatoni said...

Yay yay yay. Thanx for the link, Nedsterino. I LOVE this shit. Cut my teeth on it. Was lissening to it when everybody else was buying Elvis back when Elvis meant something (pre-Army?). Ooooh! I gonna download download download tonight.

Kevin Wolf said...

I believe not one soul used the word sponteneity in the entire thread following my post. (Nor I in the post.)

Leave it to Neddie to cut to the quick.

If there's such a thing as a blog Editor At Large, you're it.

Will Divide said...

Having listened to a few Neil Young solos in my time, I can testify there is a very thin line between a great one and one that just takes up space until the song ends. The great thing about Shakey is that when he feels "It" so do you.

And Yr. Obt. Hmbl. Svt. spends a lot of time trying to lift licks from Jimmie Rodgers and The Mississippi Sheiks.

Devil's Rancher said...

I've always viewed IT as a window. Once in a while there's a freak for whom the thing is thrown wide open -- John Lennon, Kevin Gilbert, Mike Keneally, Andy Partridge-- but for us normal schmoes, most of the time, it's painted shut. Once in a while, there's a little crack and something flows in to us from out there whatever "there" may be. I don't pretend to know, though I've had brief glimpses, like the song I wrote entirely in my head, sitting in the library of my high school one afternoon, and presented to my then-band that evening, and which was finished, ready to perform an hour in. Or the time I was playing along with a 4-chord jazz progression,and suddenly I could see all the harmonic possibilities of all the chords all at once, like a flood of understanding, and then it went back away.

Or the time I was in the 7-11, getting ready to fill in the numbers on a pick-6 lottery ticket, when suddenly, I got a transmission from space "7, 13, 22..." and then the transmission stopped. Know what the first three numbers were in the drawing that night? Yup. I won three dollars. Thanks a fuck of a lot, G*d.