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Blue Collar's Motivation
By Mick Polich - 02/27/2008 - 09:19 AM EST

Motivation – what moves us to create music and why?

We touched on this topic before, in the first few installments of the Blue Collar World. What drives the creative person to make music, draw a picture, or sculpt? (A shout-out to good buddy and former jazz duo partner back in the Corn n’ Cattle state o’ Iowa, Denny Miner, for the impetus and idea on this subject – thanks, Denny!!)

Speaking of Denny, he’ll kick off our column with his thoughts: on a personal note, Denny (who’s been a top-flight jazz guitarist/songwriter around Des Moines for a number of years) says his motivation in writing music is about revealing your hear and soul thru your music – otherwise, it becomes more about musical mechanics and less expressive. Same as far as soloing over his music or jazz changes –the ability to ‘think on the fly’, to create an instant composition – the essence of solos, instrumentally or vocally.

Denny says the accolades and applause are great, but he’s trying to always connect on a deeper level thru his music. Can’t think of a better intro than that, Mr. Miner….

I usually find that there are multiple reasons, especially when you’re a young person picking up an instrument for the first time, to play and create music. John Lennon, besides being encapsulated by the trance of American rock and roll, wanted to (re-phrasing here)  ‘come out of the sticks to take over the world’. The American early rock and roll movement – Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino – proved to be a heady concoction for young John to drink it – looking back on it, early rock and roll provided some of the impetus for the civil rights movement and integration. When you’re younger, there are usually secondary motives for picking up an instrument – always giving great psychological insight to the complex character of music makers and artists.

I believe when younger, chances are there are secondary motives for picking up a musical instrument to play (see John Lennon, oh hell, see the BEATLES!!). Scoring points with the opposite sex, yourself – esteem booster, an identity – it’s all suspect. I hung my own hat on the ‘musician’ label for years (until I got comfortable with, er, ‘human’, or some other general term…). Sometimes, great trauma can motive: Shelby Lynn, a now-getting-her-due alt-country/Americana/whatever singer/songwriter, along with her sister, Allison Moorer, witness the suicide/murder of their parents when they were teens. This beyond-tragic event prompted them to immerse themselves in their music and make careers towards songwriting, recording, touring, and even acting (Shelby played Johnny Cash’s mom in the 2005 bio-pic “Walk The Line”).

“ I just want to play music” isn’t the only reason to motivate a person to jump on a stage and show what’s what for people. Ego, fear, depression, angst - a basic pyramid of emotional layering causes this effect. I mean, it’s art (maybe), but it’s ENTERTAINMENT. Plus, if you’re head of say, Metallica Inc., or even The Fergie Umbrella Of Companies and Holdings, then if you’re the boss, you got to run the ship! The same motivation that makes a person pick up an instrument, or sing, can be the saem motivation that drives them to create a concept, idea - a SCHTICK.

O.k., effete snobs and jazzheads, stay with me on this  - I wanna talk a bit about the band KISS (groans, yawns, looking to see if your fingernails are trimmed, etc.). Well, when I was a wee lad, KISS was one of the biggest bands out there. Great musicians? Oh good golly, no – my high school friend David Randleman (Loadz bandmate and KISS – o – fanatic) and I would get into discussions and arguments: Peter Criss or John Bonham ( Bonham, STILL the better drummer, even though the poor s.o.b. is in Rock n’ Roll Hebbin…), Ace Frehley or Jimmy Page (again, Jimmy for me, but there’s a certain amount of Rawk Sloppiness that applies to both guitarists’ techniques….). But forget about technique and look at concept: as a rock and roll business model, KISS Inc. is HUGE.

KISS is the circus on steroids, the Cartoon Concept that became the Great American Rock Dream Realized : four Nu Yawkers set out (much like their counterparts the Beatles a decade earlier) to unabashedly hawk, sell, and rock their concept. It’s the snake oil salesman who made a gazillion bucks, the Elmer Gantry who scores the pulpit AND the girl……

Back in junior high, KISS just happen to be this unusual band that I saw with my buddy John Salak at his parents house in Carney late one Friday evening watching the “Midnight Special”, the pop music variety show at the time. Again, it was a “What the BEEP” moment – four big guys, dressed in Kabuki makeup, platform shoes, black leather, with a candelabra on one side of the stage, and Marshall stacks across the backline (Rock Excess is defined in how many Marshall stacks you can place on stage to equal a city block of condos). Cut to two, three years later: there are KISS lunch boxes, comic books, trading cards, dolls, a KISS Army for fans, sold-out shows world-wide – American Hucksterism at it’s finest.

Whaddya think motivated THOSE guys besides music and girls??

Whoever says MONEY and FAME, wins the duck!

My buddy John went on to become a fine, fine musician - still is - and once KISS hit, he was all over the “Alive” album, before moving thru Zep, into Aerosmith, then on to the pantheon of heavy metal greats – Rainbow, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Van Halen. But the KISS ‘concept’ hit a lot of people like a ton of bricks. I learned to appreciate their business model later when I was getting my degree in management (seriously – it’s a great business success story…alright, well, I really dug “Calling Dr. Love” – hey, a big-nosed, Lebanese/Croatian kid has to have SOMETHING to dream on!)

O.k., culture snobs and purists, you can snicker now – I’m gonna keep a writin’!

There’s a telling moment in the rockumentary “Some Kind Of Monster”, where filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky capture Metallica’s manager Cliff Bernstein explaining, pondering what’s the motivation, at the end of the day, for rich rock stars like his clients – what makes ‘em get outta bed to continue to make the musical donuts at this point in their careers? It’s one of many fascinating moments in that film – I’ve seen the thing about a thousand times and never get tired of it – a true-life story that can border on “Spinal Tap” at any moment, and fall off the precipice (again, Metallica snobs who think that the band lost it after bassist/visionary Cliff Burton died, and ‘wussied’ out, especially with this ‘wimpy’ movie regarding a rough patch in their lives – well, who gives a rats rear end at this point?? If you’re still trying to macho out about metal music, head to another blog and get into a pointless, on-line verbal vortex with other like-minded leatherheads around the globe – it’s the beauty of the ‘Net: rant and rave to people you never have to SEE!!! Scares me, dudes….).

Pursuit and perfection of craft is another reason – I think that motives any artist or musician anytime (especially when the other ‘pursuits’ wear thin). It’s a given, really, in any musical genre – if you’re out on the road 200 weeks per year, or playing clubs around your hometown up to 5 nights per week, you’re going to achieve some level of ‘chops’ in a hurry  - it might not be the level you want, but it’s the level you deserve. Twenty years ago, even though I was making a living playing clubs, weddings, and parties every weekend or the majority of the week, I wanted to have the Hair Metal Guitarist Chops – speed, perfection of notes executed, and the Pursuit Of The Guitar Amp Tone Holy Grail. Ultimately, my own ‘musicality’ didn’t mature until much later – I put the ol’ dreaded curse of hanging your self-esteem on just one thing: Being The Cool Guitarist. Hey pal, yer peers are watching, better ramp up the speed licks – kee-rhist, what a world ! Come to realize that first, I couldn’t play that fast, and NOW, what the blazes does it matter (unless you really feel the need to be Horowitz or Paganni on guitar)? It ain’t music, folks, if you need to fulfill that aspect – you’re taking care of a secondary motive!

Sometimes needing the money for bills is a motivational force enough – this is one reason the business of music can be so demanding: you’re motivated to play your music, but are the crowds, club owners, and managers motivated to GIVE the money to YA???

Hard enough to get by when you don’t know when your next paycheck is coming in….

To sing, to pick up an instrument, to want to move people (and yourself) emotionally to your music – which can be a subtle as a feather flowing in a light breeze or the crushing blow of an anvil. No matter what secondary, or multiple reasons we have to play music, write songs, perform, or be in the music business, we all need to remember the primary reasoning for music-making, and that’s to express yourself. If you’re on a street corner playing for loose change, or at home in your living room filling the air with notes and song – this is why it’s hard-wired into our DNA. One of the funniest questions that I’ve heard regarding my life as a musician and artist has been the ‘why’ of what I’m doing: “Are you trying to get on “American Idol”? NO, DO I LOOK LIKE I BELONG ON AMERICAN IDOL?? Granted, there is some amazing talent that passes thru the “Idol” portholes, but people, it ain’t the only way to hitch your wagon to get around the block. It’s a pathetic day when we hold this as the ONLY reason to form ANY sort of music career…..

People, whatever you want to do regarding music – make it happen, DO IT! If you want to play jazz standards at a coffeehouse, offer yourself on an‘open mic’ night or just say you’ll do it for free to try it out for the owner (and yourself). If your band does all-original material, then create your own venue (again, the beauty of the punk rock ethos –‘do-it-yourself’ – believe me, someone will show up to support you…). But no matter what age, experience, or level of talent, motivate yourself to make it happen – you don’t need “American Idol” as a yardstick for success, just your own back yard!




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