Sep 24 2011

Politics, Religion and Music

Recently, Jani Lane from Warrant died alone in a motel room. Some people cared and most people probably didn’t. Some chose the moment to take shots at him about his unfortunate hit, Cherry Pie. It was unfortunate and more so the video. That video came out just before the fastest coup in the history of rock music. On Friday afternoon, Warrant, Poison, Cinderella and Whitesnake were on heavy rotation on MTV. Come Monday morning, they were all out of show business. Grunge had completely taken over MTV and the consciousness of the North American music listener. Grunge brought with it a brand new aesthetic. A very unglamorous fashion attitude , anti sexism, a more egalitarian posture between the artist and the audience, everything about it was pretty much the exact opposite of Hair Metal.

A lot of people see music the way they see religion or politics. There is good music and bad music and that the people who like or worse, perform bad music are wrong and have questionable motivation. That is occasionally true but often is not. Usually the motivation behind people who make ‘cool’ music and those who make ‘uncool’ music are relatively speaking, identical. They love music and want to play it for people. They have a burning desire to express themselves and they don’t want to do anything else.

One of my facebook friends posted a comment about how, with a few exceptions, she didn’t really care for music released earlier than 1980. This set off a string of interesting comments from some smart people. I was going to leave a comment but decided to write this blog instead.

One of the things I’ve tried to do since I left my teenage years is listen to music without prejudice. Even though I think I know what good music is in terms of composition and production, sometimes I like a song that isn’t perfectly crafted, clever or even good. Conversely, there is plenty of music that I know is well written, smart and ‘cool’ that doesn’t really move me. When I like a song, It’s usually about how it makes me feel more than what I might think about it. So saying I wouldn’t listen to a certain kind of music or music from a particular era doesn’t make any sense in that, I don’t see music as an intellectual pursuit or something that you would want to make arbitrary decisions about. When you hear something you like you just like it and I think a lot of people make up the reasons for why they like a piece of music after it has seduced them.

Jani Lane died desperately trying to continue doing what he loved to do. For a few years, the marketplace told him he was amazing and for a few decades after that, it told him he was a joke. That had to be a very tough thing to live with. Most people spend their post secondary years learning to do something and, once they acquire that skill, get to coast, (relatively speaking) for the rest of their lives. Like most musicians, Jani Lane struggled to make it with his band. He got his 15 minutes and then went back to struggling again for the rest of his life. Most people in society don’t have to deal with that. So be kind to his memory. And if you hear a song by Journey or Alabama or even Warrant on the radio and you find yourself humming along, don’t feel bad.



Sep 5 2011

Music is a part of me, really.

My family and I recently took a road trip down to the Southern States. This is something my wife and I used to do every year before we had kids. We love the lifestyle, the food and the people of the American South. Especially the food. Scoff if you must but, after a couple of weeks of fresh seafood, ribs, biscuits and gravy, collard greens and fried chicken I feel healthy and happy. Much healthier than I feel at home. But food is not the subject of this post.

One of our stops was Myrtle Beach, SC. We were wandering around a tourist spot called Broadway on The Beach looking for a place to eat that would be noisy enough to drown out the inevitable yelling of our kids. We passed by a T-Shirt shop and I heard something familiar playing on the store’s stereo. I couldn’t place the song. The guitar solo started and I realized I knew every single note of it, I was anticipating every run. As I struggled hard to remember the song, my wife looked at me and said, “use your Shazam,”. I pulled out my iPhone and held it in the direction of the music. It tagged just as I heard the vocal start up for the last refrain of the song. “I thought I had a girl, I know because I seen her. Her hair was golden brown, blowin’ free like a cornfield.” Blowin’ Free by Wishbone Ash from an album of theirs called Argus, released in 1972. I listened to this album hundreds of times when I was a teenager but haven’t heard it in decades.

As I reflect on this, I wondered why I didn’t recognize this song as a song, yet knew every note of it before it happened. Clearly, Blowin’ Free by Wishbone Ash is woven into the fabric of my memory or consciousness or cells-somewhere deep inside of me. There are likely hundreds of songs like this that, were I to encounter them, I’d be instantly recognize the notes and chord changes but not the title and band. There have been two songs that I’ve loved my whole life but didn’t know what they were called or who did them for years. One was Mr. Dyingly Sad, by The Critters. My friend, filmmaker Alan Zweig helped me with that one. The other was a song by Three Dog Night called Out In The Country, identified for me by Chris Edwards who owns Vintage Sounds on Queen St in Toronto.

What this means to me is that music is more ingrained in my memory than names, titles, bands, language. Music is in some very accessible storage space in my brain, whereas many other memories are on pages not found. I think I need to re-read ┬áDaniel Levitin’s book, This Is Your Brain On Music. Maybe the answer is in there.