Monday, March 28, 2011

style versus innovation

These chords are old, but we shake hands
'cause I believe that they're the good guys

I'm blessed by the ability to play music. Last weekend was a good one for me: an acoustic show, an electric show, converting new fans, getting to see some of my favorite bands, hanging out with my bandmates, feeling fully like a music guy again.

In spite of this, I do believe that in a very real sense, music ended quite some time ago.

When someone decided that kids in between the age of thirteen and eighteen needed to have their own separate culture, music started to change at an astounding rate. Shocking became the key trope in distinguishing "teenage cultural artifact A" from one belonging to your father. Depending on the genre and medium, this could mean any number of things. Obscenity. Blood. Brighter colors. Faster pace. Increasing illegality. Controlled substances. The street. Graphic whatever.

In music, this turned in many cases to an obsession with hardness. In rock, it was first in incorporating the forbidden timbre and groove of black music. Then lyrics became increasingly more... gritty... realistic... guttural... streetwise... obscene... whatever. In the meantime, some pioneer decided that using crappy, inefficient, prone-to-explode equipment could be, in and of itself, both beautiful and transgressive. Tempos increased. Distortion piled on top of distortion. The tone underwent went a slow crescendo into noise.

Unfortunately it was often missed, in this struggle to become more and more shocking, a realization, a certain subtle factoid, and it was this: at an eventual point in time, musicians would reach the point where they physically could not play any faster. Sooner or later, you would run out of startling lyrical possibilities. Eventually, you would meet the maximum level of distortion. Where would you go after you finally hit the wall? When there was no other side as a possible destination? Where can you go when you've gone too far?

I've never really known. My personal musical style could hardly be called progressive, futuristic, envelope-pushing. I am, at heart, just a blues-rock guitarists. My scale is the minor pentatonic. Yes, I use effects, but they are too far out of fashion to even be considered in the neighborhood of retro. I am far from the first person, for instance, to use an envelope filter or analog octave divider.

One friend, upon hearing me play, complemented me before saying she hadn't heard anyone play like me in a long time. My look must've been questioning, because she said, "y'know, like arena rock-ish." It took me a while to realize how accurate she was, and, more to the point, be okay with my arena rock influences. Hell, at one point in my life, I wanted to be a musical pioneer. Then I wanted to be unique. Now, though, I'll settle for just being the kind of guitar player I always wanted to be.

Sometimes, you gotta let the guitar talk. Sometimes you gotta just hit it. That's what I do.

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