In one of the articles in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman writes about a Guns ‘n’ Roses cover band that he took a trip with. He makes the following observation:

In fact, the guys in Paradise City {said cover band -ed} seem to care about all music with more enthusiasm than any group of musicians I’ve ever encountered. There is no elitism. As we roll toward Wester Virginia, the truck’s stereo never plays an artist they dislike. They have positive things to say about Aerosmith, Nickelback, Celine Dion (!), Black Sabbath, White Lion, Pink Floyd, and Alabama. When Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me” comes on the radio, Dischner {a member of the band -ed} mentions that the song always makes him wish it were raining; ten minutes later, he tells me that Rush is “just about the greatest three-piece band ever,” and then gives similar compliments to the Rush tribute band 2112.

This is, in my mind, how it should be. As much as I take with people that say that they like every kind of music except country music to task for trying to be simultaneously open-minded and discriminating, I somewhat prefer this general attitude in comparison to people that tend to believe that popularity is a symptom of artistic failure and those that play a sort of I-am-more-discriminating-than-you game. And I am particularly driven crazy when it’s done by people that ostensibly like music, have careers related to music, or fancy themselves musicians.

It reminds me a little bit of the old movie reviews in Colosse’s alt-weekly. Whomever it was that wrote the reviews for movies for Colosse Weekly apparently did not like movies. Out of the thirty movies listed at any given time, somewhere between three and five would have a “see-this” star beside it. And it wasn’t the case that these were the movies you especially needed to see, but rather that these were the only movies worth seeing. Movies without stars beside them were typically run-down in the capsule.

In music and movies, nobody wants to be the guy (or girl) that likes something that their peers do not. If you praise a movie or music and other people tell you it sucks, it’s a far worse thing than running a movie down and then having others tell you that they like it. In the latter case, you simply position yourself as the discriminating sort who demands better. In the former case, you run the risk of being a gomer. The only exception is something that seems to go out of its way not to be easy to enjoy. Think an especially complex movie or maybe music that is not particularly harmonious. That sort of thing. But anything less than that and it’s safer not to like it. The crass snobbery of having discriminating tests is one of the two reasons I believe that critics tend to favor originality over quality-of-execution.

To me, this all should be the other way around. Music people should enjoy music. Different kinds of music. Including, horror of all horrors, popular music. That’s not to say that they should be listening to Top 40 radio all the time or even ever listening to it intentionally. But they shouldn’t pretend that a singer (or singers) singing in harmony surrounded by a band of professional musicians playing in sync (or put in sync by a producer, more-like) is objectively like nails across a chalk board. Even if that person is a corporately-built phony like Shania Twain. Even if that person is Celine Dion. That’s not to say that you should necessarily like it (I can’t say I care much for Twain or Dion), but assertions that these people have “no talent” or that people that do enjoy it are just sheeple or something say the most about the person doing the talking.

One does not have to be a posing snob not to care much for Genesis, but one does have to be a posing snob to suggest that Genesis lacks talent or that people only like Genesis because the record labels told them to. Record labels only wish that they had that kind of power.

One of the inspirations behind this post is my oldest friend Clint, a music composition major and someone that genuinely lives, breathes, and sleeps music. He is an extraordinarily talented person. But unlike a lot of other “music people”, he actually enjoys music and doesn’t really pretend to do otherwise. He goes on binges where he swallows up artists’ catalogs. Often it’s stuff I’ve never heard of, but sometimes it’ll be Brian Wilson or, for a couple years, Genesis. He’s not much of a country person, but he didn’t let that stop him from enjoying musicians with country roots if the sound struck him. And it didn’t stop him from writing some country-beat stuff himself.

If there’s a takeaway from this post, it’s this: far too many people determine the quality of their tastes by what they exclude from their threshold of worthiness. That’s just stupid.

Part of where I am coming from on this, I think, is that I often feel a sense of loss when I don’t like something that others get enjoyment from. For instance, I am not a big fan of the R&B infusion into pop music. I really wish I were. It would make listening to the radio a less grating experience. It would make it easier for me to find music that I enjoy. It would give me another thing to enjoy. Try as I might, though, I can’t really gather too much appreciation for it. That’s my loss.

Category: Theater

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4 Responses to Music People Should Like Music

  1. Peter says:

    I know that this response is off-topic, nonetheless I can’t help but pointing out that Half Sigma appears to have gone completely bonkers.

  2. web says:

    There’s good music and bad music, on technical merits. There’s good music and bad music, on personal taste.

    There IS, like it or not, something to be said about how the music business operates – for example, would Britney Spears have ever been a “success” in another era, where the vocal fake-tuners are used to hold her horrible voice on-key weren’t available? Probably not.

    but one does have to be a posing snob to suggest that [Musical Act] lacks talent or that people only like [Musical Act] because the record labels told them to. Record labels only wish that they had that kind of power

    Unfortunately, the power of a major advertising campaign is well-known. Your product can be pure crap, but there is a market out there that will see it and buy it merely because advertising tells them to. Hannah Montana, Power Rangers Live, heck, if you get far enough out into the boonies with the bible thumpers you can even see this crap live. Further, there’s the ridiculous “hollywood accounting” scams that have gone on for years, which are why every single concert of certain bands is “sold out” and then 2/3 of the seats are empty when you go (original company “sells out” seats to the ticket resellers), and how almost every single album today “goes gold” or “goes platinum” (they count the original shipped numbers, even if 90% later just get returned and melted back down to reclaim the aluminum).

  3. trumwill says:

    Fair point about Britney Spears and other acts that use computers. Even so, the combination of Britney Spears and the computers that make her voice sound better creates what, for many people, is an appealing sound. To the extent that we’re talking about pure vocal quality (wherein one must concede that someone like Celine Dion is more talented than someone like Jeff Tweedy), pointing out that she has no vocal talent is fair game. Of course, she is still not entirely without talent. Even Milli Vanilli was not completely without talent (dancing, performance, etc). They just had singing voices that needed to be altered or… errr… replaced.

    The power of marketing and advertising is not as strong as you believe it is. Power Rangers is not pure crap. It has simple, easy-for-kids-to-understand plots, talented martial artists (on the Super Sentai side), and appealing visuals. Bibleman was successful because it operated under religious constraints that no one else would operate under. I can’t speak for the “live shows” because I’ve never seen one, but they’re merely capitalizing on an already popular product. Young children have screwy criteria when it comes to entertainment, but the entertainment conglomerates hit-and-miss the target. They can’t take Power Rangers and automatically spin it off into a successful and widely praised product if the new product lacks whatever it is that makes Power Rangers appealing. Even with something as rudimentary as Power Rangers they can fail.

  4. Kirk says:

    Am I the only one here who enjoys Glee? There’s lots of good music in it. Also, I’m usually surprised by the choices (Heart, Queen, John Denver).

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