That Ain’t Music

Music (n.) 1. The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. 2. Vocal or instrumental sounds possessing a degree of melody, harmony, or rhythm.

Well, fuck me! I guess those dogs barking Christmas carols make the grade. I would have argued til last call that those annoying sampled canines, along with everything ever recorded by The Chemical Brothers, failed to qualify.
Music, as far as I’m concerned, involves musicians…by which I mean people who play a musical instrument, as opposed to people who sample, mix and program a variety of sounds into the next techno bass-thumping crap that’s inflicted on your ears in almost any club you happen into.
I know bands are expensive and DJ’s are cheap. I understand that the kids want something with a good beat that they can dance to, bars want profit, and that the DJ at Bobo’s is never gonna play James Brown (despite the fact that I burned a disc for him and beg for it on the rare occasions I’m in there). I understand all of these things, and yet I refuse to accept that it must be this way. The music need not be THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP all fucking night.

Where did the soul go? Frankly, I don’t care what the damn dictionary says, I side with Ray Charles. When asked about hiphop, Ray replied, “That…that ain’t music, man.”
Who’s gonna argue with Ray?

There are still places where you can hear living, breathing musicians playing great music that you CAN dance to…IF you know how to dance rather than hopping from foot to foot in time with a track that has four beats in every bar, all of ’em down.
I don’t get up to Taipei all that often, but I have witnessed some great tunes at Chocolate & Love (now known as Bliss, I believe). Barry is Taiwan’s own Mick Jagger crossed with Billie Holiday. Not sure how that’ll go over with Barry, but there it is.

Down here in Taichung, you can catch some jazz at Oldies, rock and blues at 89K, and a wide variety of gigs at the newly renovated Grooveyard. Grooveyard. An intimate oasis in the thumping, flashing techno jungle. I’ve seen various configurations of the house band, ‘Round Midnight. It’s always a good show, unless you’re one of those 4/4 time, 120 bpm kids who can’t figure out the downbeat in a simple fucking waltz. But Grooveyard isn’t just a tribute to the artists and songs that made jazz the greatest of American art forms. Patrick and Roger bring in hip hop, rock, folk, funk and rap artists as well. LIVE hip hop and rap artists…blurring my aforementioned line in the musical sand.
Last thing I caught there was an outfit called Le Chat Noir (for all you non-French speaking readers, that means THE Chat Noir). Holy smokin’ Jesus…they were amazing. And, lo, the people did get their groove on, and it was good.
Why anyone would choose yet another remix of the latest Shakira bubblegum crap over a combo of talented musicians sweating it out is utterly beyond me. Particular kudos to the guitarist who ripped up a very stylish version of Little Wing for a third encore. Awesome.

I guess it comes back to that old “popular versus good” argument. There’s always some twit who wants to say that “Good” is a subjective judgement which is different for everyone; that there’s no objective way to determine what is good music. If it’s popular, they say, then it’s good. I guess that makes Michael Jackson a great composer and Kenny G the world’s greatest sax player. Goddamn…that lightning was close!
The only people who make the foregoing argument are either philosophy grads (who will argue about any goddamn thing just to justify the money they wasted on college), or utter musical ignoramuses…probably both.  There ARE standards by which we can determine quality…just don’t ask me what they are when it gets down to the finer grades.
I don’t have any problem with the statement, “John McLaughlin is a better guitar player than George Thorogood,” and I’ll bet George doesn’t either.  It gets tougher when you start saying things like, “McLaughlin is a better guitar player than Al Di Meola.”
I, personally, think he is…but those that disagree have a point.  Anyone who argues for Thorogood should be ignored, if not beaten about the ears. The guy’s not even an albino for chris’sakes!
Don’t misunderstand…I love singing along to One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer as much as the next drunk, but in terms of technical merit…musicianship…it’s not even a question.  Taiwanese guitar players, when faced with this burning issue, would reply, “Fei hua!”

Which brings me back to the point. The onslaught of MTV has mirrored an ongoing decline in the quality of music. The quality and variety of music available for mass consumption has gone from wide and varied to narrow and suckified.  It’s no wonder that a decent live band can’t find a venue these days…same way decent meals have fallen to KFC and McD’s.
It’s not the musican’s fault, it’s the consumer’s. You’ve grown so used to gobbling up whatever is put in front of you – from Madonna on down – that you’re no longer able to say anything about music except, “Did you SEE the new video?”

I know things aren’t about to change, so I have developed a Club Going Music Strategy. When I get dragged, stumbling blind drunk, into one of those thumping dance clubs, I stick the ‘phones in and crank up my iPod.  While the rest of the kids are dancing to whatever computer generated crap the DJ loves best, I’m workin’ it to James Brown et al. Unless I’m at Grooveyard, where the term MUSIC still means something, and people come to LISTEN, and DANCE, and appreciate musicians playing music for the love of music.
It really is better that way.

Now all you techno-loving, soulless, single-footed, can’t-dance bastards fuck off. I’m busy groovin’.


2 Responses

  1. […] Smokin’ Jesus! They’re un-fuckin’-believable!” And they are. I’ve written before about how recorded thumping techno crap is destroying music and music venues, and how we are all […]

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