Thursday, August 28, 2008

Musicians as Heros (and the dismissal of writers as artist)

All of my true idols are musicians.

This has been a fact I've never been able to escape -- going back as far as my infantile stage where my Father would blare his trumpet through the house shortly before he betrayed my Mother and she left him with me in her arms; or those times in the car with my Mother -- well after abandoning my Father -- as she would blare Marvin Gaye, Sade, and Heart.

This carried over to my discovery of Prince. It didn't take long to fall in the trance of "Little Red Corvette." Nor was it a difficult sale with the likes of "Let's Pretend We're Married", "Something in the Water..." and "Free." This carried on to Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, Under the Cherry Moon and the brilliant Sign O' The Times (perhaps the best Prince album until the release of Batman in 1989 and then The Rainbow Children in 2000).

I was grabbed by Tears For Fears, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Terrence Trent D'Arby (Prince had he been a UK native), The Time, Metallica, Pink Floyd, and Richard Marx. I introduced my Mother to NWA's "Fuck Tha Police" and Public Enemy's "Don't Believe the Hype" (my Mother, a woman of social relevance).

I woke up everyday with these folks on my mind (them amongst others) and would ponder the "how to" in the wish of walking in their shoes.

(How could I inherit the energy of Thelonius Monk? )

(What would it take to become a member of New Edition?)

(How long would it take before EPMD took me in as their third member?)

I became intoxicated by the lives they lived. I took the addictions and infidelities as minor problems in comparison to the problems of being ordinary. For who, in their right mind, would want to be like Ken who ran the neighborhood store? Or Prim the barber? Not to mention, who wanted to be like all those in shirt and ties who count the days till Friday and bubble with anticipation for their up coming trips along the coast?

How boring. And unimaginative.

It was the life of the musician that I wanted. As much of a reader and lover of films as I've been, it always turns back to the music.

(How can I create what The Roots create in music and apply it to my writing?)

(In what way can I find the words of Mary J. Blige and convey them as beautifully as she?)

For the writer works in isolation so long we forget the beauty of collaboration. Hence why I worry about the novelist. The novelist is in a room for months/years pounding out the book, before it's passed on to an editor and eventually to the public, where it becomes a best seller; and yet, she hardly gets to enjoy the reaction of the reader, considering the reader reads in as much isolation as the writer writes.

Yet a musician can crank out a song and play it an hour later to a room full of listeners, and can tell, in seconds, how the song plays. If it has achieved the reaction she hoped for...

(oh, what it would be to be a fly on the wall in a recording session with Tori Amos).

It's a gorgeous notion that is full of romance and misguided outbursts. For the writer must wait. The writer must hope (in these times where illiteracy is a fashion) that a reader will respond. That a producer will forgo his usual anti-phonic nature and actually read what's given to her. The writer is pushed to the back burner. Even the long email has it's cut off point. For most receivers will have nothing to do with them. They check the length, close it out and claim they'll come back to it "later." While the musician can post a song and garnish 500 hits in an hour (be it the music great or terrible).

(What was it like when the Skinny Puppys recorded "Cult?" How about Anthony Hamilton with "Since I Seen't You"?)

Oh what it must have been like to be in the studio during the recording of What's Goin' On with Marvin Gaye and The Funk Brothers. What a session that must have been (captured beautifully in a 2000 article of MoJo magazine). A time of unpredictable creation. A time where Gaye was so dead against making love songs for What's Goin' On that when ever the urge to sing "Oh baby" would overtake him, he'd stop the session, retire to the back room where he'd masturbate the "baby" right out of him, and return to the lab before several puzzled faces. How the studio reeked of marijuana and alcohol. How Gaye shed his "pretty boy" look and replaced it with a beard and knit-cap. How Berry Gordy was dead set against the release of What's Goin' On; and in fact shelved the album until Gaye threatened to never recorded for him again. Gordy released the hour later record stores were calling to request more copies...they had already sold out.

(What about Lisa Lisa with "Let The Beat Hit 'Em"?)

To watch an interview with Kwame', twenty years after the release of The Boy Genius, Featuring a New Beginning (an album he recorded, on his own as a demo tape, when he was seventeen years old), and hear how he has not fallen off the music scene; but rather he has taken his producing skills and used them quietly in the background. Or the esoteric Cody ChestnuTT with his double album The Headphone Masterpiece. The prolific and wonderful Phil Collins. The priceless sounds of Faith Evans and Jill Scott. How they cause me envy. How I long to have been that name in the liner notes under "lyrics by." "Produced by". "Executive Produced by"...

The unstoppable Tom Waits, who has managed to make an entire career within underground culture, while not only sneaking his way into the ears of unannounced listeners, but managed to keep his integrity in tact during the process. The Roots (though they've had their little jingles with Volkswagen -- a shocking outcome) who are incapable of releasing an album not worth listening to from beginning to end with each play through. Sheryl Crow's The Globe Sessions (despite the fact that when she was asked to list her top hundred favorite albums of all times, there was not ONE black artist listed) stands out as a beautiful fusion of country and rock music. Though she refused to acknowledge the influence of black music, Crow's The Globe Sessions stands out in the blues department. Along side Chris Thomas King's ignored (and ridiculed) Dirty South Hip-Hop Blues, Crow managed to grasp a boundary often denied in music -- the simplicity of storytelling verses plot pointing. For Kings beautiful Dirty South...Blues encompasses a complete version of what Crow was going for with The Globe Sessions but couldn't reach; and yet King's album was ignored while Crow's was recognized.

Eagle Eye Cherry's mediocre debut album Desireless, has managed to stand far beyond the fabrications of Ben Harper and Lenny Kravitz; for Desireless (a remake of the song by his father, Don Cherry), despite it's VH-1 friendly attempts, managed to work well based on "Save Tonight." However it's the title song, "Desireless" that deserves the props. Being the last track on the CD one manages to loose their disappointment from what they heard through the previous ten tracks, all for the orgasmic satisfaction of "Desireless" alone. Harper and Kravitz hardly accomplished this -- even with their two best albums (Fight For Your Mind, Harper and Are You Gonna Go My Way, Kravitz) neither of them have been able to live up to the myth they created around themselves. In the overrated documentary Standing In The Shadows of Motown (which did not honor The Funk Brothers the way they deserved) Harper attempts a throaty rendition of Motown music that hardly lives up to his wonderful remake of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" on Live From Mars. While Kravitz has spent more time being an imitation of himself (and the musicians he admires) to ever truly find his "voice" in the world of music, which causes him to be a joke...

("But damn that boy can dress, ca'in't he???!!")

Eagle Eye's sister, Neneh Cherry blessed the world with "Buffalo Stance", which gave me a nostalgia at the time of it's release. I wondered had I heard this song years previous and did I miss the years that passed (only to find out I had, when I realized the sample was from Malcom McLaren's "Buffalo Gals" in 1982...I was six years old). For Neneh was ahead of her time. Yet her presence was hardly appreciated (much like Simple' E & Sistah Soulja ). For at the time of "Buffalo Stance" (1989) we were a long way away from the black girl exploitation and Jezebel worships presented by OakTown's 357, Lil Kim, and Foxxy Brown. At this time we were on the heels of Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and MC Lyte -- three female Emcees who understood the essence of internal sexuality -- not to mention Janet Jackson's pseudo-important Rhythm Nation, 1814, who's "message" was diminished (much like the title of Ice Cube's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted) when the big secret was let out that 1814 came from the "R" as the 18th and "N" the 14th letters of the alphabet; even still, Jackson's album still held together (though she has never matched the perfection she achieved in 1997's The Velvet Rope).

The breakthroughs and breakdowns are all that make the idolization of musicians well worth the fantasy. The myth behind musicians shuns the life of the writer all to hell. We writers are onlookers; whores; limp-dicks at a gang-bang. In comparison, we hardly have the pleasure of disaster the way the musician does. Musicians are examples of "doing" while writers are examples of "talking." We were once honored and envied...and with the exception of poetry (an art form on the tipping point of chaos, yet saved by Saul Williams and Sarah Jones) we are missed in our endeavors; for the poet can easily translate to "song writer." The poet still represents romance. Unlike the novelist or the playwright who are regarded as drunken narcissists who can hardly see past their computer screens. We're boring. We're drug addicts. We're obsessive. are musicians. Which is why we find ourselves "relating" to them. We want to write about them and convey their sound the best we can on paper and convince the reader that what we've written about them -- using terms like "melodic" and "organic" -- is as close to the music as they'll get short of buying the album.

But this is nonsense.

There is no such thing as a music writer. Sure, there are those who have put it out wonderfully (Armond White & Mosi Reeves are the ONLY ones worth their salt when it comes to music writing) and yet the others fall short in not so much the descriptions...but the understanding of music all together. There is no "knowing" with music. There is only being. Hardly does music require one to break down it's meaning; but it does require one to appreciate it as a gift to the world. Music supports mood. Music encourages nostalgia. Music destroys sloth. Music breathes life into dead air. Gives hope to the soul'less and inspires the pessimist. Music represents the voice of God and allows us to embrace our contradictions, our suicidal tendencies and our driftings towards the unknown. We call on music in times of grace and times of slumber. We choose music over the Bible. Over physical love. Over race relations. We need music. Without it, we're dead.


Anthony S. said...

The author has always, or almost always has, been dead. Only in the most isolated of circumstances, the reader/writer as producer can control the tone of the mass: as the author/producer, we have the voice of reason and folly, or to put it more generically, the voice of the madman who people listen to posthumously (more than likely).

Unfortunately, as a writer, one stands in opposition to the rest of the world, and thus creates the garbled noise of the madman, yet the madman speaks for the public. As Michele Foucault notes in "The Discourse on Language, "Whatever a madman said, it was taken for mere noise; he was credited with words only in a symbolic sense, in the theatre, in which he stepped forward, unarmed and reconciled, playing his role: that of masked truth".

Very Rousseau-like, possibly, but with tendentious attitude towards music, the artist is complete in the sense of belonging and community. As a writer, one could stress that during the isolation period, we lose our title of artist, and yet we connect to our writer through the linguistic connection of the reader, which makes the reader/writer connection. Perhaps writers in general may not be considered artists, perhaps because there is a tendency to lean towards man in essence standing alone in opposition to mass appeal. A tendency to write for the people, then, to further linguistic terrain, would be to stand alone and speak for the masses. Ironic, huh?

Anna said...

Here in Europe it´s rather common with poets reading their work for an audience. Some of these poets attracts as much, or sometimes more, people than many muscisians.

One example is the popular Swedish poet Bruno K Ă–ijer:

There are even competions in this art.
Also short stories and sometimes parts of novels are read out alloud to the audience.
In this way literature and the author reaches out to people and contributes to direct contact.

About Me

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writer, actor, & producer in training. in 2005, along side my partner in film and best friend since childhood, we produced and executed 3 films. to this day i am still working in "the business" to the best of my abilities and moving forward to the "next level." currently i am producing a film project, co-writing another, awaiting word on a stage play for New York, and pursuing my next one-person show. i'm also in school pursuing my Ph.D in Social Science.