Sunday, July 20, 2008

Something's Comin' Up

Back in college I worked on a thesis my senior year and wrapped up all of my advanced required coursework my final year before graduation. Most of my requirements were out of the way and I had to find some other course to take to keep my full-time status. Something that would take my mind off the blindingly dull step-by-step of cloning genes and sequencing DNA strands. (Seriously!! It's not exciting especially back in the 80s before automated techniques were invented.)

I didn't have time to listen to music much but I loved and missed it so maybe there was a way I could incorporate it into my coursework.

So I found two semesters of Music Theory for non-music majors. This was great! It's one thing to enjoy listening to music, now I can learn how it works! They wouldn't expect too much out of the kids in this class since music was not going to be our career.

If there are any serious musicians reading this, please resist the urge to chuck your computer out the window when you see what I'm about to describe. We're talking first day, kindergarten time music theory here. Basic pitch notation, writing out major and minor scales, key signatures ad nauseum. Eventually the instructor threw caution to the wind and went into chord structures and finally into harmonizing melodies. I have some great-looking notations in the old workbook I found recently. I must have gotten a decent grade, although I can't remember what it is, and none of what I wrote in the exercise book at the time makes any sense now.

Music Theory class taught me a life lesson that has helped me to this day.

I can't create music.

At all.

If I was predisposed to getting myself eviscerated by Simon Cowell and ending up on the American Idol Loser Reel, that path, thankfully, was averted before I was old enough to drink legally.

But the point of taking the class wasn't to turn me into a musician. (Fat freakin' chance anyway....) Like everything else I enjoy, I want to understand it. How does it work, what kind of subtleties am I missing? The point was to put some effort into enjoying music more. So at least that got accomplished.

Whether it's music in church or whatever is on my iPod, since that class I started hearing more in everything I listened to. (This is where the real musicians need to be patient because I'm trying to describe things that probably have names, but I don't know what they are!) I can listen past the melody line and hear chord progressions and different harmonizing lines leading in and out of each other. I loved "I Made it Through the Rain" on Manilow Live where Barry breaks down the different orchestral parts in the first verse. There was more to hear in the song than there was before. When Barry posted "Golddigger" on the vault (still my favorite of the 3 songs posted there since the site's re-launch) and he described in his notes about the complicated vocal arrangement at the end of the song, I could honestly say, "Hey, yeah, I hear that!"

The other turning point that came from that class was I loved to hear newer, more inventive creations from my favorite artists and bands. Now that I had some clue what to look for, I wanted to find it everywhere.

One of my favorite artists came out with a new solo record that was his first release after getting a new digital studio installed. I was screaming from the rooftops that this was the best work he ever released to the public. (I still think so.) You had modern pop, even some urban stuff, hard-core blues and blue-eyed soul, even some out-there electronica and "spoken word" hidden tracks. It wasn't *just* the style(s) of music that he created, although I loved all of it. It was that all of his fans knew that he was capable of these styles and off-the-wall creations and new musical insights but the key was getting him to stick it on a CD and release it. He could compose and record a standard rock or pop tune as easily as whistling in the shower, of course he did that well. But those of us in the audience who have no idea what it's like to hear music before anyone else does, and can't put it together in an original way to save our lives are looking for a clue into ... well, what it's like.

So I'm one of those people who does NOT think that "experimental" is a dirty word. Some artists (including the one described above) think calling new work "experimental" is somehow degrading. I don't, but what word do you use? You're trying out new things that you KNOW you are capable of doing well but for whatever reason, you just didn't. When I hear new music styles from any artist, I'm grasping at a clue as to what it's like to have that kind of creativity. I can hear how an arrangement makes sense but I can't jump across the gap from understanding a creative new direction to feeling the creative process itself. So new musical styles is the closest someone like me will ever get.

I have a feeling I'm not being obvious enough. Oh well, here goes.

Barry, for the love of God, just do the rock album already. You know as well as any one of your serious fans that your best releases were what YOU wanted to do and not what someone else was making you do. Paradise Cafe? Mayflower? Come on... Even a novice like me can hear the difference when your heart is completely in a project.

I seem to remember a certain autobiography from about 1987-ish where somebody talked about going to high schools and giving the kids advice on becoming musicians. I dug it out because someone wrote a few great lines in there. Tell me if these sound familiar.

"Believe in yourself. Trust yourself. You have all the answers in you - you really do. Take chances. If you're faced with the choice to play it safe or to gamble - gamble!"

Well? Is that true or not?

I think it is.....

1 comment:

  1. Amen YBA. I'm not a musician, but I can hear the difference between the work that you are passionate about and the work that you do to please someone. Barry is entirely capable of all that needs to happen to do this new original album. We ALL know that. And so does he if he's honest with himself.