Friday, April 06, 2012

my changing relationship to music iv

he "has always been certain of everything.
Even when he's totally wrong"
--Neal Stephenson

I have been listening to music for as long as I can remember. I have been playing music since I was 11, guitar specifically since 14. I now how to manipulate my instrument to make a bevy of sounds, to hit a range of emotions, to make it scream, to make it weep. I write complete songs in the shower. My first and last thoughts of the day are usually about music.

Over the last few years, though, I have come to a harsh realization: almost everything I thought I knew about music is wrong.

Case in point 1: Several years ago, my sister asked me if I wanted to go to see REM and Wilco with her. I was (and still am) a Wilco fan, so I agreed, in spite of having no real desire to see REM ever.

A word of context: I grew up as a hard rock/heavy metal fan...and while I did expand out of that genre even in high school (liking southern rock, blues, big band), REM just always rubbed me the wrong way. When friends of mine would play REM, it was stuff like "Radio Free Europe"...full of jangly guitars not doing that much at all. To my mind, that was what alternative music was. Moreover, it seemed an example of the "I don't really know how to play, but I'm gonna be in a band anyway" school of musicianship. I was actually learning my I was not, to put it mildly, a fan.

Anyway, we got lost on the way to the concert (which happens more often than I care to realize). We actually showed up right as Wilco finished their set. The band I went there to see? I got to see them tear down. Wee. REM, however, was utterly fantastic. It was a pure rock show. I really wasn't expecting this band, which I still associated with jangliness, to rock like that.

Case in point 2: Whenever our satellite TV provider has one of their free preview weekends for the premium movie channels, I scour the listings and set the DVR to record anything which looks interesting. One time, I saw It Might Get Loud, a documentary about a meeting between Jack White (guitarist for The Raconteurs), Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame), and The Edge (U2 guitarist). Of course, I recorded it....and sometime during the "birth of my daughter" event, I sat down to watch it.

Now, remember how I used to feel about REM? I liked U2 even less. To me, they were a gimmick band. Vocalist uses every "I'm dramatic" gesture in the book to hide the vapidness of his lyrics. Guitarist uses digital delay to hide the fact he doesn't know what he's doing.

The longer I watched It Might Get Loud, though, the more I was really starting to like and (more importantly) get The Edge. He seemed cool. His work sounded innovative. I quickly asked a U2 fan friend of mine to put together a compilation for me, and she obliged by sending me fifty songs. I still haven't waded through them all, but I'm really liking what I've heard so far.

Case in point 3: By now, my prior overall disdain for most things which have the "alternative" label has to be obvious, and how wrong I came to realize I've been also has to be obvious. There are many other examples I could bring (like the day I found out all punk wasn't juvenile noise). The final mind-blower to date, however, happened several months ago.

I was jamming with my singer, and a friend of his came over. My singer introduced me as "the J. Mascis of the band." I took this to be a complement, although I didn't know what he really meant. I was dimly aware that he was in Dinosaur Jr. (from an old Guitar World article I'd read decades prior)...but that was the extent of my knowledge. Then my singer lent me a Dinosaur Jr. album. I listened to it a week later. I spent the next month or so picking my jaw off the floor. Why didn't anyone tell me alternative music had room for solos? I'd rarely heard much alternative rock with good guitar solos...most of what I knew was either minimalist in scope (such as Soundgarden's least on their hits) or noise-oriented (cue the chorused-out Nirvana "Come as You Are" lead break). Mascis, however, was all over the place. Distortion upon distortion. Lead upon lead. The songs were good, but the solos...rather than being slight addendums, they were central to the tune. It's exactly the way I'd always wanted to play. Why didn't anyone tell me that the alternative genre was not mutually exclusive to virtuosity?

What else must I un-learn? Please don't tell me that hair metal is secretly great.

No comments: