Music and mePosted: February 17, 2010
I am a huge music fan.
This does not mean that I like every kind of music and every song that’s out there, radio-friendly or not. It also does not mean that I go to concerts regularly, play several instruments, have a great knowledge of theory or history, or write about music very much.
However, I consider myself a huge music fan because music lives within me. Actively. I can’t think of a time when I don’t have a song in my head, whether it’s a song I own or one that I have heard recently. I also find myself creating music mentally on a fairly regular basis. Much of this never gets played on my guitar, written down, or otherwise recorded. Many of the musical ideas I come up with come and go quickly, and exist only in that moment. On occasion, they do become “works in progress,” but not usually.
I am coming to grips with some facts as I approach middle age, or whatever you call my age. One of them is that I it’s ok to have these moments of inspiration that don’t remain with me – the moment of joy, however fleeting, is still valid, and I don’t have to feel guilty about the loss when it’s gone. I’m also accepting that I really enjoy the process of making and experiencing music, regardless of the results. As much as I like listening to a great studio recording, I am also fascinated with listening to early demos, unreleased tracks, live acoustic solo versions, alternate takes with different lyrics or instruments or tempos… Having a look into the process of making music, seeing how it grows and changes, brings a sense of humanity and realness to so much music that often becomes sterilized or compressed by the time a final recording or performance makes it to your ears.
Listening to music affects my emotions, grabs my attention, takes my mind somewhere. It inspires me, makes me think, calms me down, gets me going. Listening to a work in progress takes that to a new level, whether it’s hearing a demo/outtake or sitting in a coffeehouse checking out a young songwriter plying his craft in front of a handful of people. The intimacy of the situation, the dynamics of the music being played, and the energy level of the performance make this type of listening experience unique – we see/feel/hear the performer being alive, which can be very inspirational.
I played in a band in college called The Previous. The band still exists, as my friend Kirk has determined that whatever collection of band members he puts together to play his music will always be called The Previous, which is perfectly fine with me. We share music with one another occasionally, and several years ago he sent me a cassette of songs that he wrote and recorded over a period of a couple of weeks into a standalone tape recorder. The title of the cassette was “Eddie Vedder home demos” on one side, and “Folk songs in G” on the other. I’m not sure how many songs were on the tape; probably close to twenty. He was by himself with his nylon-string guitar, recording with no embellishments, warts and all. As lo-fi as possible. It was my favorite “album” of the year (I think it was 2002 or so). It was so inspiring that I rigged up a cheap boom box and microphone, played the tape on my stereo, and recorded “overdubs” on some of his songs, adding vocal harmonies and guitar embellishments. Then I sent it back to him. It was cheap and totally not commercial-sounding, but it was something we both enjoyed; it nourished us musically and creatively.
A perfect example of a collection of raw/unfinished music that I love is that which is contained on the Beatles’ Anthology releases. Interestingly, the first collection, which sold as much as the second and third releases combined, is the least interesting to me, dominated as it is by live tracks marred by, among other things, Beatlemania-induced screaming. On the other hand, the second and third offerings contain a treasure trove of demos, alternate versions, formative takes, studio sounds and banter that eventually became, for me, parts of the final recordings. In some cases, I like the Anthology versions as much as, or better than, the “originals.”
The rise of free video on the internet has provided a great opportunity for fans to experience musical groups in their elements at a greater level than ever before. Did I watch the entire Metallica – Recording Death Magnetic Pts. 1-13 on Youtube? You bet I did! We now have unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes footage of our favorite artists honing their craft, talking about the process, goofing around, solving problems, and so on. In a way, at a time when music seems more disposable than ever, this type of access makes us feel a kinship with with the musicians, and a greater connection with their music, even though we most likely will never know them in real life.
I’m very selective about the music that I like, but I also have an open mind. I like some music from almost every genre – I’m not one of those people who says “I like all music except for (country, rap, etc)” – and I don’t like all music from any one genre. One of the great things about music is the discovery of something new, and although I don’t experience this as much as I did during my teens and twenties, it’s still a thrill to find music that grabs me, whether it’s the first song I hear from a new artist or an older work that I may have never heard before.
While not a complete summation of my thoughts or feelings about music, the ideas in this post form the backbone of my relationship with it. Hopefully, I will have the discipline to share more on the subject in the future.