A few thoughts…

Posted: August 20, 2011 in General Stuff, Music

Generally, I’m not a big fan of books that might best be described as music criticism – but having said that, I did enjoy Retromania. The book’s well-written and pretty well argued and it gave me plenty of food for thought – and I’ve found myself dipping back into it more than once since I finished it. The whole notion of looking backwards in what’s usually meant to be a forward-looking medium is an odd notion but one that’s entirely logical when you realize just how much music has been made since the mid-50’s and how easy it is to gain access to it now. The sections in the book that probe into the UK’s strange retro subcultures were interesting as well. I used to know somebody who was on the fringes of the whole Mod/Northern soul thing and she dragged me along to a couple of Northern soul nights back in the 90’s so I did know a fair bit about that scene anyway, but the whole way that scene fetishized obscurity just makes it seem odder really.

My main problem with Retromania is that I have the suspicion that Simon Reynolds doesn’t really get how musicians work. To be honest, I’m not sure that a lot of musicians understand it either – and I guess I’d have to include myself in that. Ideas arrive from all sorts of odd places, song titles drop into your mind while you’re cleaning your teeth and none of it seems to make much sense. All I can do is listen to as much music as I can and sift all of that through my mind when I’m trying to make stuff of my own. Post-modern Irony and the raised eyebrow do have their place in music, but when the music just becomes a set of stylized gestures then it becomes meaningless – just an in-joke. He also has the idea that great art seems to erupt out of nowhere – no doubt this is some kind of Romantic hangover –  but as far as I can see, most things tend to come from tying disparate threads together until they become something bigger than the sum of their parts. If there’s more out there to listen through and draw from then that can only be good. Self-conscious pick-and-mix stylings may not be exactly ‘authentic’ – although what that means in a musical context has been so debased now it’s almost meaningless – but people attempting certain styles, failing completely, and by doing so inventing something totally new, has been going on for a long time now. It was mentioned in Retromania that the early Trad Jazz groups in the UK had no idea how the music was supposed to sound live so they copied from the records, faulty intonation and tinny sound and all – and by doing so created something different.

And, in the spirit of borrowing freely, here’s something I took from the blog of Austin Kleon, who’s currently working on a book called Steal Like An Artist…

You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”

An artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: hoarders collect indiscriminately, the artist collects selectively. They only collect things that they really love.

There’s an economic theory out there that if you take the incomes of your five closest friends and average them, the resulting number will be pretty close to your own income.

I think the same thing is true of our idea incomes. You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.

No doubt I’ll have some more thoughts on this stuff later – there’ll be some more quotes that I’ll add at some point, but for now this’ll have to do as a start…

I haven’t had as much chance as I’d like to post on here recently, but I’ll be making more of an effort – assuming that WordPress actually lets me on here as I’ve been having terrible trouble even logging in recently. Hopefully, there’ll be some more music news soon – even a gig possibly…

Here’s a new track:

The Gimp Is Dead

If a lot of artists stick to the tried-and-tested – and get well rewarded for it – maybe sometimes that just says more about the expectations of the audience and the pressure exerted by record companies, than about them. People tend to stick with what they know, especially in times of stress. Look at all the sappy, mashed-potato comfort-food type music that suddenly got big in the last 10 years (right after 9/11) not to mention there’s a large number of people who want their youths recycled and sold back to them. How many times have you had a conversation with somebody over the age of 30 who informs you that all modern music is crap – even though you know they’ve heard none of the good stuff and are just talking about what they hear on the radio? Fact is, the Top 40 was always crap. The good stuff happens elsewhere, no matter what you remember from your youth. Most of the bands I liked when I was 20 make me cringe now – the thought of going to see them again and hearing them play their ‘hit’ albums in full makes me feel a bit queasy. And don’t get me started on tribute acts…

Actually, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that i did see the Australian Pink Floyd once and they were pretty good – certainly no worse that the version of Floyd that Dave Gilmour was fronting that I saw at Docklands in 1989. But, by and large, the whole exercise leaves me cold. I never understood cover version  bands really – and when it’s taken to extremes it makes even less sense.

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