Whatcha listening to?

For the discussion of Movies, Television, Comics, and other existential distractions.

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Mark Tiedemann
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Sun Mar 10, 2013 7:21 am

I forgot about Camel. I loved these guys. One of them died in the last year or two, I believe. They kind of reminded me of Caravan.

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John E Williams
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby John E Williams » Sun Mar 10, 2013 9:07 am

Frank Church invited me to this discussion, so anything I post that no one likes is entirely his fault. Also, these are merely my random observations after having perused the recent posts in this thread, and are not to be taken as direct challenges to anyone here personally. Obviously, you are free to retort.

- I resist strongly the premise that there is a defined, identifiable standard by which we deem a pop song great or worthy, and certainly such a standard can't be identified by the mechanics of recording or by how many musicians are in the room. Those are factors, not standards.
- The role of good music criticism is not to tell you what to think or feel. Critics like Greil Marcus, Mikal Gilmore, Gina Arnold, Dave Marsh, Christgau, Peter Guralnick, Paul Nelson, Donna Gaines, John Rockwell, Jon Savage, and the late, ultra-great Lester Bangs are also great writers, and great writers as we know engage our critical senses, regardless of the subject. The job of a good critic is to illuminate and engage, to discuss and argue, not to 'tell' you to do any damn thing. I liken reading a good critical piece to having a great discussion with someone who knows their shit, preferably more than I do. I am not sitting there toting up how much I "agree" with them (well, not entirely), or what I should like or what I should feel. If the writer starts telling me those things, it's time to get up from the table. But then I just move onto a better discussion.
- Classical music isn't "better" than pop music because it's more complex. Pop songs are not inferior to classical pieces because they fail to serve as classical pieces. That's like saying a '57 Chevy is fine for what it is, but it's no 747. (It can't even fly!) Similarly, Peanuts is not inferior because it fails to be a series of great paintings; it succeeds because it was a masterpiece of a comic strip. Schulz was not a failure because he was not da Vinci; Schulz was merely the greatest master of his chosen art form. Is cartooning inferior to painting? Well, I dunno. I'm sure an SST Concorde could easily blow a 1967 Ford Mustang (cherry red) off the road, what would that prove?
- Crap. I take it back. Turns out I am challenging Mark Tiedemann specifically. Well, it's his fault for posting such interesting discussion fodder. I assure him in advance that I lose patience with discussions about what-is-best-and-this-is-better as much as he does, so I will strive not to drag any of this out. However and but:

Cash had an essential grace and power that came through in spite of the limitations of the forms he used, so it's kind of a narrow point I'm making---the music, as it would exist on the page, in a score, to me is bleh, but he was another matter entirely. For my money, one doesn't listen to Johnny Cash because of the songs, you listen to him for him.


Boy oh boy, where to start with this. Well, yes, the entire musical tradition from which Johnny Cash sprang would be pretty much a write-off if it existed primarily as a score on paper. One reason for that is that the entire musical tradition from which Johnny Cash sprang was entirely an oral tradition, passed down through generation after generation as music sung on porches, on haystacks, at barn dances, funerals, weddings, and at church services. Nobody wrote down shit. Most of Johnny's ancestors were most probably illiterate and wouldn't know a treble clef if it smacked 'em in the face. Which is entirely the point -- Johnny Cash didn't merely possess "an essential grace and power" (and boy, did he), he possessed an innate knowledge of "the forms he used", and not just as some tools to show how great he was. Those forms were his life's blood. (And also his curse, in a way.) They were the instruments by which people without voices suddenly could speak. They weren't pop songs, they were an entire culture. And whatever you mean by "limitations", well, I would point out that haiku is considered a great art form, and assert that brevity and simplicity are by no means limitations for any art form. Finally, Johnny Cash chose his songs carefully. He knew how to identify what made a good song. You listen to Johnny Cash because he performed good songs, and made great ones out of most of them. (I could live without his cover of "It Ain't Me, Babe". An exception that proves the rule.)

That's all I have for now. Except to say, so much of this kind of discussion merely comes down to preference. I come from a background of basic pop, punk, garage rock, greaser, 60s soul-type music, but I have educated myself on classical and jazz and blues (and about as much bluegrass as I can stand, which ain't much). With a gun to my head you could not force me to listen to, less much enjoy, any single Journey album on the face of the Earth, and not all the arguments for standards and complexity and length of song or level of musicianship could convince me otherwise. This is okay; I don't really have any problem with anyone liking what I do not like. But I do try to draw a straight line between standards and preferences -- Miles Davis is by far one of the top five greatest musicians this world has ever seen, but I'd still prefer to listen to Born to Run, given the choice. (Well, that's not fair, because I like Miles a lot more than that. But you get what I mean.)

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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Sun Mar 10, 2013 12:11 pm

John E Williams wrote:That's all I have for now. Except to say, so much of this kind of discussion merely comes down to preference.


I think I said that. Repeatedly.

Part of my reaction stems from decades of having these sorts of conversations wherein what I like is more often than not castigated by those who think [fill in the blank] is the ne plus ultra of music and what I like is "pretentious." There's more than a little bit of politics involved, a little bit of impatience, and often a vast chasm in terms of what we grew up with.

When I speak of complexity, I'm also talking about the emotional response to the music. I find, generally, that the more complex the music (when done well) the more complex the emotional response, and that's one of the things I look for. It does occasionally require patience, certainly exposure, and maybe a wee bit of education (which mostly comes with the first two things). There's a reason forms tend to complexify over time. There's a reason we went from minuets to full blow Beethovian symphonies, and it has nothing to do with "showing off." There is also a reason we can identify revolutions in form from, say, Bach to Mozart to Stravinksy.

None of which is to say I don't like, in equal measure, less complex music. (Hell, I still listen to The Monkees with pleasure.)

All music is ultimately personal. Which is not to say certain objective things can't be said about it.

This whole thing started with me telling Frank I don't care for Prince and that I find his voice whiney. He took exception to that and embarked on an attempt to "educate" me, along the way making the assertion that Prince is one of the top five singers in the 'verse. And then posting an extended list of critical remarks by a critic who obviously not only disliked the music I tend to favor but thought he could objectify it by giving it a grade. Echoes. I heard replays of all those conversations in which the musical value of what I preferred was not only denigrated as music but also dismissed culturally and sociopolitically.

But I kept coming back to my statement---there are things one just doesn't like.

As to "limitations" of form...

Beethoven wrote what he wrote the way he wrote it because he had a lot to say. Imagine that desire to say all that confined to an oral tradition of rural folk music. The very language to express what he wanted would not be there---lack of an adequate grammar. Now, there are ways around it, but...you have to find ways around it, and at the end still be unable to express yourself fully. Now, I'm not saying Johnny Cash didn't say what he wanted (although I wonder about that, given his wide-ranging presence as a guest on so many other artists' works---hell, he recorded with NIN---that suggests, to me, he was still trying to find the proper grammar for what he wanted to say), but you do what you can with the tools you have.

Limitation of form can be exampled in more dramatic ways. Japanese music almost died out in the 20th Century when they took to Western symphonic traditions. All they had for centuries was a pentatonic scale. When they were introduced to chromaticism, there was an explosion of new music and they damn near abandoned their traditional forms. They had found a new grammar.

However...

But I do try to draw a straight line between standards and preferences -- Miles Davis is by far one of the top five greatest musicians this world has ever seen, but I'd still prefer to listen to Born to Run, given the choice.


Absolutely. But here's where I failed to explain myself. I will always choose Miles over anything Springsteen has ever done because while Miles' music accesses and opens up my emotional responses, ever time I hear Springsteen those responses close up, almost as if in self defense. Rather than give me a pleasurable emotional experience, with Springsteen I feel I have to just endure the onslaught and I feel nothing (except impatience). I'm oversimplifying to make the point.

The same thing is likely going on with Frank when he hears ELP. All he hears is "too many notes" and none of the emotional connection I feel. All those "too many notes" touch responses in my head that put me in a kind of musical nirvana. But I am feeling more than one thing while listening, and the ability to cause that is partly, if not largely, a consequence of complexity in service to the experience.

U2 puts me in a similar kind of zone (as an example).

So I'm not disagreeing with just about anything you said, John. It is, ultimately, a matter of preference. But "preference" seems inadequate to the experience. Just sayin'.

Mark Tiedemann
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Sun Mar 10, 2013 12:31 pm

All this talking about great old prog rock caused me to finally order a CD of another of my faves, PFM. The World Became The World was their second release in the U.S. back in 1974 or 75.

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FrankChurch
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby FrankChurch » Sun Mar 10, 2013 12:56 pm

Williams blew me the fuck away, he should be a critic. I am in manlove again.

Johnny Cash did have an excellent ear for good songs, as did Elvis. Prince's ear is in his ass, even though I like him. Amazing that Cash could play in a fucking prison and still blow you away with song after song of artistically amazing bombs of sound.

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FrankChurch
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby FrankChurch » Sun Mar 10, 2013 12:58 pm

The amazing thing about Cash was that near the end he was highly liked by young people, something you rarely see. Even Chris Rock fucking loved him. Like Prince he had a very diverse fan base, unlike a band like ELP, who tended to get white males.

Mark Tiedemann
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Sun Mar 10, 2013 1:02 pm

FrankChurch wrote:The amazing thing about Cash was that near the end he was highly liked by young people, something you rarely see. Even Chris Rock fucking loved him. Like Prince he had a very diverse fan base, unlike a band like ELP, who tended to get white males.


You obviously never attended an ELP concert or you wouldn't make such a misinformed statement.

Personal anecdote is always suspect, but my sort-of nephew fronts a hip-hop band (Mathias and the Pirates) and two of his musicians (one black, one white) adore ELP.

Mark Tiedemann
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Sun Mar 10, 2013 1:29 pm

On that score---who listens to what---that was an incredibly fatuous thing to say. So far, you have brought several categories of beside-the-point nonsense into this discussion. But on that topic:

The first YES concert I went to was 1972. Both going into the concert and coming out, I was dismayed at the mix of concertgoers. Yes, the majority were white, but there was a significant presence of African-American and Asian, enough to really notice. But more than that, age range was striking. I saw kids three or four years younger than me (12 to 14) and couples in their 60s. I saw people in evening wear, jeans-n-t-shirts, business casual, dashikis, etc. I saw a very eclectic and wide range of very pleased people. It was striking to me because I'd been going to concerts for a couple of years by then and the only other place I'd seen this kind of mix was at jazz concerts. The year before, I saw Led Zeppelin and the audience was overhwelmingly white and mostly male. The same for Uriah Heep. The same for Chicago. The same for Teagarten and Van Winkle, The Eagles, Climax Blues Band...

That's what I mean about politics entering into this. You keep trying to make a social statement out of all this. I'm talking about music. Suggesting that something may be less valid because it only appeals to white males is just a teensy bit...well, you know. Doesn't say shit about the music as music.

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FrankChurch
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby FrankChurch » Sun Mar 10, 2013 1:55 pm

Mark, I live for long hair hard rock--Iron Maiden, RIOT, Metallica, they get mostly white males, real drunk assholes, I love the music. Jazz is a black musical form, most of their current audience is white--the major jazz lovers are in Japan. I was making a cultural point just about Cash, who's music is really white. There is zero groove, but he is well respected by everybody. Nobody who really cares about music respects YES, I'm sorry.

Mark Tiedemann
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Sun Mar 10, 2013 2:16 pm

FrankChurch wrote:Nobody who really cares about music respects YES, I'm sorry.


I do.

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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Sun Mar 10, 2013 2:45 pm

This is a clip from an extended essay I wrote about YES years ago. Something a bit explanatory.

"Now enter the third YES album. You have four long tracks that are broken down into “movements” of sorts. Not just key or time changes, but actual complimentary but different thematic movements. The sensibility comes distantly from a little English folksong, but mostly it comes from a sensibility derived from Stravinsky and Ravel. You can hear Ravel and Debussy in some of whole tone improvisation and in the major key modulations. But neither of those composers did “songs” as such. They did landscape with their music, and landscape is possibly the best way to describe the effect of YES’s longer pieces. They are doorways into alternate realities where the day-to-day elements of life are different. Electric meadows, with antigravity trains overarching them under a daytime-visible moon fifty thousand miles closer so that you can see the campfires of the settlers living in the great Mares.



But not so different that you can’t connect the traditions up with recognizable predecessors. Listen to Perpetual Change and you can hear stride piano themes paired to swing era three and four-part harmony, with a taste of Sixties era television theme music in the connective tissue. It’s a weird mix that, to a certain ear, is immediately recognizable.



YES has never been a universal taste. The music speaks to a certain mindset. I’ll pass on describing that mind, but I have one. YES was an immediate soundtrack to the Roger Zelazny, Gordon Dickson, Alfred Bester novels and stories I was reading at the time. It clicked into place for me, the way Maxfield Parish clicked as well as Escher and Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. all clicked. And the substantive element, the aspect that continued to make it work, was that slightly askew of present reality approach to the soundscaping."


Now. You can take that for what it's worth, but there it is for my money. For me, music is a wholly abstract phenomenon. I don't care terribly much about lyric content, I don't particularly want it to tell me a story, and I am utterly done with songs-as-political-enlightenment---been through that already, don't care anymore. (Which is not to say I don't appreciate and respect all those things when done well, but they are not what I look for in music.)

No one who cares about music cares about YES? You have no idea of what you speak, Frank, but once again we have a prime example of why you piss so many off. I don't like Prince, I never said he was irrelevant, and I wouldn't presume to speak for his fans. You don't seem to have the same regard for what you don't like.

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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Sun Mar 10, 2013 2:49 pm

Oh, and for anyone interested, here's the link to the entire essay: http://marktiedemann.com/wordpress/?p=6

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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby diane bartels » Sun Mar 10, 2013 5:43 pm

I totally respect YES and enjoy their music. Mark, I don't think I know as much about them or the formalities of music as you do, and you write with such style and apparent effortlessness.

Frank, generalities are almost never true. Including this one.

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Steve Evil
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby Steve Evil » Sun Mar 10, 2013 8:02 pm

FrankChurch wrote:Steve Evil said something pretty lowbrow; I'm hoping he just had a brain fart--yes, I hope that is what he had: Steve Evil, Sir, my friend, lustmuffin, you do know Hitler got big crowds as well?



What was the man's name who theorized that every online discussion would invoke Hitler eventually?

You can not have failed to notice Frank how the punks and the critics evoke populism until it no longers serves them? How they despise "elitism" until they themselves are shown to be the "elites", and those they despise indisputably shown to have more mass appeal?

ELP sold far more records than the Sex Pistols. They performed to far more people. That does not make them better. But it does mean they have a better claim to representing the massses. If we're going to dismiss that, I'm perfectly fine with it, but it does mean we'll have to make an elitist argument.

Which, again, I am perfectly fine with.

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Steve Evil
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Re: Whatcha listening to?

Postby Steve Evil » Sun Mar 10, 2013 8:26 pm

John E Williams wrote:- The role of good music criticism is not to tell you what to think or feel.


And yet, this is precisely what they do. Self proclaimed arbiters of taste in an eternal search for a faster bandwagon than the Jones'.

And while Classical may not be inately superior to pop by virtue of its complexity (and who here said complexity was the measure of quality?), I would maintain that an "Ode to Joy", a Swan Lake or a Messiah gets a damn site closer to the human soul than "Louie Louie".

(Which has its place. . .)


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