Hi, this is Don Myers. I’m a guitar guy from Iowa, whom Mick has been kind enough to mention in this column from time to time. For ‘way too many years to mention, I’ve been actively gigging and recording, and am still lucky enough to be busy at both. I happen to be visiting Mick in Texas about this time, and Mick’s invited me to share some thoughts with you, kind of along the lines of what he had my friend Wade Krieg do recently (Wade had some thoughts about the state of musicianship, especially guitar soloing, that were quite cogent. He was, however, too modest to mention that he’s recorded several fine albums of his original work! To whatever degree they may be available via the internet, they are well worth a listen, if only to see what he’s talking about, re: guitar solos.).
Wade had some interesting thoughts, as well, about the general ‘dumbing down’ of popular music, as effected by The Music Industry. It could be opined (and I will!) that said Industry no longer wants to discover a musical artist of the caliber of a Dylan or a Beatle, since such an artist would end up commanding a certain amount of power, which the Industry Executives would no longer have. The Industry is quite content to cultivate artists of a caliber typified by Hootie and the Blowfish—the first album sells well, the second one does OK, the third sinks without a ripple, and the Industry goes on to find The Next Big Thing.
On my way driving down here, I was listening to a Wichita NPR station do an extended piece on the late British author/visionary George Orwell (if you’ve never read ‘1984’ or ‘Animal Farm’, your education is incomplete. Slap yourself on the wrist and take care of this gap in your personal knowledge at once! I’ll wait….).
What’s this got to do with music? I’m getting to it….
The NPR piece discussed not only the aforementioned two books, but, also, an essay written by Mr. Orwell expressing his views about writing. Sloppy, inexact, or illiterate writing, to him, left the door open for all manner of political ideologues and fascists. In ‘1984’, one of the key objectives of the totalitarian government depicted in the book was the gradual elimination of about ¾ of all written and spoken vocabulary—the ‘dumbing down’ of personal expression—and its replacement with government-approved ‘newspeak’. If a word doesn’t exist, neither will the idea behind the word. Control the language, and you control the thought.
Is there a parallel between personal written expression, and musical expression? I’m betting so!
If this is so, then, perhaps, by bucking the current trends and gaining more command over our chosen musical instruments, and the very vocabulary of music, not only the manual and technical skills, but the melodies, the modes, the scales, the ‘words’ with which we, as musicians, express ourselves—maybe, by doing that, we buck the trend, we resist the pressures of the marketplace. We resist The Industry. We refuse to be ‘dumbed down’.
Just maybe, this is the most important, the most subversive—the most punk—thing we can possibly do!