Can Listing “What You Like” Help You Understand “Why You Like It?” (Does It Matter?)

29 November 2016, Tuesday

EXERCISE: CAN LISTING “WHAT YOU LIKE” HELP YOU UNDERSTAND “WHY YOU LIKE IT?” (DOES IMATTER?)

List:

  • Musicians you like, who almost no one could objectively deny are great players (technical), artists, and composers
  • Musicians you like, who are great technically but are arguably not great composers
  • Musicians you like, who most people don’t like and you completely understand why (too jarring, too edgy, too weird, too difficult, and some are willfully antagonistic)
  • Musicians you like, who aren’t necessarily great technicians but make some of the most visceral and vibrant music
  • Musicians and composers who are great in all fields, but you don’t want to listen to them for extended periods of time (i.e. for more than three pieces in a row); musicians who become tiresome quickly

What do these lists say about you? My lists remind me of what guitarist/writer/educator Joe Gore has included in his webpage bio: www.joegore.com/about

I got my first day job: an editor for Guitar Playermagazine…A few hundred articles later…my attitude about guitar changed. I’d witnessed musicians without a shred of conventional skill creating sounds that left me breathless. I’d heard players with more ability than most of us could acquire in ten lifetimes disgorge dismal puke.

My knee-jerk reaction to this statement is that Gore is spot on (although his assessment of players with “ability” is more brutal than I would normally put into print). Upon further reflection, my personal lists indicate that there are plenty of players with andwithout ability that leave me breathless. Absent from my lists are plenty of musicians “without a shred of conventional skill” whose music is also dismal.

So what does that tell me?

It seems obvious: There is no one way to make music. Musicians without a shred of conventional skill and players with more ability than most of us could acquire in ten lifetimes (and everyone in between) can all succeed and fail, inspire and disappoint, win and lose. And most likely all musicians can be flipsides of these coins at any given time.

Conclusion? I will no longer engage in this debate of skilled verses unskilled musicians, it is untenable.

My Lists:

Musicians I like, who almost no one could objectively deny are great players (technical), artists, and composers:

Musicians I like, who are great technically but are arguably not great composers.

  • Nels Cline
  • Django Reinhardt
  • Jaco Pastorius

Musicians and composers who are great in all fields, yet I still don’t want to listen to them for extended periods of time (i.e. for more than three or four pieces in a row). 

  • Django Reinhardt
  • Raymond Scott
  • Charles Mingus
  • Glenn Gould
  • Ravi Shankar
  • J.S. Bach (yes I said it)
  • Ludwig Van Beethoven
  • Most classical composers

Musicians I like, who most people don’t like and I completely understand why (too jarring, too edgy, too weird, too difficult, and some are willfully antagonistic).

Hmmm…this could be a long list of punk bands, so be it…

  • Dead Kennedys

Hmmm…I think this list might be the most important one to me. These musicians are distinguished in a multitude of creative and refreshing ways, even if many are the least technically skilled, and suffer the smallest audience reach.

  • The Hampton Grease Band
  • Marc Ribot
  • Circle Jerks (Group Sex)
  • Magma
  • Devo
  • Ani DiFranco
  • Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
  • Descendents
  • Eugene Chadbourne
  • John Fahey
  • Ice-T
  • Battalion of Saints (Second Coming)
  • Nomeansno (Actually I can’t understand how anyone couldn’t like Nomeansno. I think they are the most underrated band in history. They should have been as famous and lauded as Nirvana in the 1990s.)

Musicians who aren’t necessarily great technicians (not counting vocal ability) but nevertheless make some of the most visceral and vibrant music. (This could be a long list of rock bands.)

  • The Beatles
  • Led Zeppelin
  • The Police
  • Third Eye Blind
  • Bob Marley
  • Modest Mouse
  • The Smiths
  • Pink Floyd
  • R.E.M.
  • AC/DC (Maybe AC/DC should be on another list, though one would be hard pressed to explain why they are not great; one could say, “I don’t like them,” but could not deny their impact as integral torchbearers of rock, and excellent – genre-specific – songwriters and “riff” composers.)

The End