Monday, August 17, 2009

New thoughts on wooden/electric music...

How did Zep put it on Houses of the Holy: The song remains the same? Well, I've been having an all day - on and off - internet conversation with my main man in Tucson about this whole electric/wooden divide. And, dude, he's got some important things for us to consider that render some questions about whether or not the song DOES remain the same. But before I summarize his insights let me share a little of his background in the spirit of full disclosure and transparency:

+ lead guitarist and bass player with a variety of bands
+ singer/songwriter
+ we worked together in our Tucson church band, Stranger, where he was SMOKIN'
+ computer analyst/philosopher/dad/husband who has studied jazz and classical guitar - taught them too - in addition to playing more rockin' chops with bar bands

And he's one of my all time favorite human beings in the world: more than anyone else, leaving him was the hardest thing about moving to the Berkshires. I love him, respect him, learn from him and LOVE playing guitar with this dude: he is, as Springsteen used to say about Clarence, the BIG man and Master of the Universe!

Ok, now on to the insights and the first grows out of working/playing music with someone a generation younger than myself. The dude knows the technology of today and isn't bound by the old arguments of the past. You see, when I set up this dichotomy of electric and wooden songs, it didn't speak to him as new technology has rendered this distinction irrelevant. It DID communicate with some of us dinosaurs who heard CSNY at Woodstock make this split - but for my man this is way too dated!

Second, there is clearly a difference in the type of music I was describing but my distinctions were too mechanical: the distinctions can be heard and felt, to be sure, but maybe this much more nuanced labeling is more helpful:

+ some songs are personal and express in words and music something that can be shared but must essentially be observed and embraced only by listening; they require a quieter sound and setting.

+ some songs are intimate in sound and lyric but invite your participation - more than listening and learning - so that you find yourselves quietly singing along as well as feeling the emotions.

+ some songs are about community building - they are all about "we" rather than "them" - and are are intended to be shared and experienced because they help strengthen and encourage the community

+ and some songs are anthems that need be shared with all of creation from the rooftops: there is no distinction re: insiders and outsiders here for this is bold proclamation

In this typology, my breakdown goes like this:

+ Personal: Angel, Fire and Rain, Woodstock, Blackbird, Hallelujah

+ Intimate: Peace on Earth, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Things the Grandchildren Should Know

+ Community: What's Going On, Like a Rolling Stone, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, We Shall Overcome

+ Anthem: Twist and Shout, One of Us, Beautiful Day, Open All Night

There are two other important insights: some songs - or settings - call for an intimacy and that requires different instrumentation. Think, for example, of what MTV did with the whole "Unplugged" thing: they gave a variety of performers - often those used to doing stadium shows - the chance to get closer to their audience and express deeper connections. VH1 did the same thing with their "Storyteller" series. Here's Springsteen's anthem - The Rising - done in an intimate and very personal setting - it cries out for different sounds when put across like this, yes?

Additionally, the interaction between musicians can contribute to a sense of intimacy even in a large setting. Finally, as artist tries to communicate through both the instrumentation and setting, sometimes the sound and emphasis changes. When Eric Clapton got the chance to get up close and personal on Unplugged, he shared some powerful new songs including this incredible reworking of a rock standard that became gospel given the instruments, the interaction and the intimate setting: "Running on Faith."

So that's what's going on right now... more on Feast of Fools soon. What do you think?


Black Pete said...

{Bugs Bunny voice} Hmm, it's a possibility! :)

RJ said...

interesting... yes?

Black Pete said...




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