I must begin by saying that at one point I was a rock star …well, not a big star. Okay, so it might be most accurate to say I’ve written a few ditties in my life and this experience colors my perspective of music. I feel the urge, the strong urge, to lament the bland music that is in the pop(ular) music world today, but for fear of adding to the idea that we three ingredients make a hard, old crusty bread, I’ll begin with a pinch of sweetness and levity.

Say What?

There is a real danger that I might be obliged to forfeit my rights as Musical Bourgeoisie to Mr. Wheat for the coming confession – I don’t know the lyrics to many of my favorite songs. I’m not even talking about those mile a minute Red Hot Chili Pepper songs. I’ve even been known to forget the words to songs that I have written, and yet still the music moves me. In fact, I think this underscores a great power in music, to reach out to the indescribable through the indiscernible. If Wheat thinks this sounds crazy then I can only respond with, “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do.”

Now this lacking for lyrics might have come from my upbringing (like Wheat) in a capella church music. Being the dyslexic, mixed-up Leaven that I am, I couldn’t read the words and the lyrics at the same time so I would (and still will) spout gibberish while trying to keep up with the music, the melody, and ohhh the harmonies, by listening to folks around me. While it might have sounded like speaking in tongues it wasn’t, but it was moved by the Spirit.

What you talkin' bout Willis?

Can I Get an Amen

While we’re on the subject, without getting to preachy or proselytizing, I want to say a quick word about music as worship. To give credit where it is due, this is an old conversation that Water and I had years ago and my thoughts are the culmination of that discussion. Why is music worship? Some hymns are prayers and some are straight from the good book, yet prayer and scripture reading are acts of worship unto themselves, so a melody isn’t required. We could get into the “how to” of music as worship, such as “Do it this way, no that way” or “Turn down the pipe organ and up the alto’s mic.” but that would really be diminishing this wondrous act from function to form. The real gift of music is the beauty and passion that it evokes and invokes.

Rock Your Face Off (but in a good way)

Everything so far might make it seem like I’m an “all music and no lyrics” kind of guy, but that is not entirely true. Several years ago I went to LaZona Rosa here in Austin to hear an old friend’s band play. His band was very, very heavy on the distortion and screaming. Even though I don’t listen to music of that genre that often I really enjoyed their music, because it was so good, but one thing I really got a kick out of that night at the venue was the opening band. They were rough around the edges and they were pretty much all edges, but I would still find myself shaking my head to the music with this pseudo smile/grimace like James Brown, but without all the sweat, because I was feeling it. It was good and terrible. Not really in a Sexual Chocolate way but kind of. They would fumble on the execution of some things and yes some of their lyrics were contrived, but I could tell the idea they were going for with the song and they were giving it absolutely everything they had.

That boy is Good!

Now hold on a second

This does not let half-assed (for lack of a better word) entertainers (read hacks here) off the hook. Water could not have picked a better example than James Blunt. I just shuddered. I thought about saying that there are Elvis people and then there are Beatles people, but that dichotomy is lacking for this conversation because both are great in different ways. While I lean towards music that is artful in its lyrics (I figure them out eventually) and crafty in its melodies, harmonies and chord structure, there is still also a lot to be said for the impassioned showman. Even though the formulaic nature of so much country music makes me crazy with its soulless, scheduled song sessions, some tremendous songs were actually written by other artists. All Along the Watch Tower anyone?

Hey, let's plan to be insired for a song writing session next Tuesday at 3pm.

So here’s my experiment for you – go to iTunes or the online music store of your choosing and see which the top tem albums are and which the top ten singles are. Now repeat this for the next couple of weeks. I assure you that the majority of the singles will be pop excrement and the majority of albums will be pretty good. It takes a little more thought to put together something as substantial as an album (although to be perfectly honest and relate to Mrs. Wheat, I do have my pop singles, guilty pleasures.) There is a documentary, Before the Music Dies, that is about the commercialization of music and at one point it references holding huge listening sessions to see who wouldn’t change the radio station after hearing 15 seconds of particular songs – 15 SECONDS! The iTunes experiment is just another example of this phenomenon of breaking things down into the most easily digestible pieces – you know, like baby food or maybe Soylent Green. I’m sure our anti-post-taste friend Wheat would say that this would be a bitter notion and lack substance. Like Water, I want my music to have some meat on it and preferably meat that has not been pureed nursing home style. Although for me, it can be artfully prepared or it can be crude and visceral with four simple chords, but it will still fill my primal hunger. “Wild thing you make my heart sing.”