By Wade Krieg (who still doesn’t know)
First of all, a big Iowa howdy-do to you all and many thanks to my old pal Mick for allowing me to guest-blog his column. Last year I had the privilege to vent my spleen and fill a little bit of his column space with my article, “A Not-So-Brief Defense of Guitar Solos,” a typically reactionary rant from an old musician who has been there and done that, more than once, and who, in spite of being old and wise enough to know better, continues to go there and do that. I unapologetically maintain some strongly-held beliefs about this fine thing we call being a performing musician, which is not to say I am incapable of appreciating other points of view or that I am averse to evolution in general. But, as Bob Dylan once observed, when something’s not right, it’s wrong, and being an artist or, more particularly, a musician, is NOT in itself a free pass for avoiding the consequences of our actions when it comes to creating, preserving and distributing original artistic product. Here’s a short list of three things I’ve learned in the last 37 years I’ve spent doing those other three things (i.e. creating, preserving and distributing original artistic product) with a modest degree of success.
Understand these before you ever get serious about making original music, let alone recording it and trying to get other people to listen to it, or even possibly (shudder) BUYING it:
NO ONE ELSE REALLY CARES AS MUCH ABOUT THIS STUFF AS YOU DO. MAKING AN OBJECTIVELY COOL, GOOD –SOUNDING RECORDING/CD/MP3/WHATEVER WILL MOST LIKELY HAVE VIRTUALLY NO IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE OR THAT OF THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU BEYOND THE TEMPORARY GRATIFICATION YOU WILL EXPERIENCE CREATING IT AND THE TEMPERED ENJOYMENT YOUR CLOSEST OTHERS WILL EXPERIENCE UPON HEARING IT. IF YOU ARE VERY CREATIVE AND VERY FORTUNATE, SOME PEOPLE MAY FIND YOUR CREATIONS INTERESTING ENOUGH TO LISTEN TO MORE THAN ONCE. DON’T BE SURPRISED , OR OVERLY HURT, IF THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN.
Keep Doing It Anyway, Because You Love It and It IS Cool. However, be Aware That…
Musicians, second perhaps only to actors, are by and large the most pretentious, self-indulgent, needy and infantile egomaniacs on the face of the earth. I include myself, make no mistake-guitar players are the worst and it takes one to know one. However, the gift of being able to create music out of thin air is so singular and precious that one can ALMOST UNDERSTAND IT if that feeling of blessed specialness in being able to communicate fluently in the universally appealing language of music leads musicians to imagine their powers are A SIGN OF THEIR SUPERIORITY and/or that their excessive ego gratification needs are, by virtue of that imagined superiority, somehow JUSTIFIABLE.
Our culture has identified and exalted these beliefs and the behaviors that are generated by them, and for the last hundred years or so has made a business/industry out of it. The despicably vile end-result of all of this nonsense is American Idol. Are you REALLY THAT DESPERATE to be noticed, admired and adored? If so, seek professional help—immediately.
Besides, only selected members of my generation (and the one before mine, even more so) are the ones that will ever get to know what it means to be REAL pop or rock stars. As with so many other things, I’m afraid my generation, and my older brother’s, got the best of everything that may ever exist in popular music and even the morally corrupt and often genuinely evil music business—sorry kids—just look at the world (and the immense amounts of garbage in our popular culture) you are inheriting from us and tell me it isn’t true. However…
The upside to this dire scenario, thanks to technology, is that it is now easier and cheaper than ever before to make, record and distribute your own music. If music itself is what you are about, and not the superficial ego-driven BS of being a pop/rock music STAR, NOW is a WONDERFUL time to be a musician. Think of it—lots of terrible, earth-shaking upheavals and changes to write profound songs about, lots of cool toys to make and record the music with, and an entire universe of potential listeners within easy reach via the internet. Who the hell needs a record company?
Oh? You want to SELL large numbers of records and get rich and famous and have beautiful women/men surrounding you for the rest of your life telling you how GREAT you are and performing indescribable sexual acts with you? In that case, I guess you do need a record company—and a damn good one at that. Better build yourself a time-machine and head back to the 70’s…I’m utterly amazed the rock star dream has survived into the 21st century, but it has. Even some of the original stars themselves have survived. Just goes to prove human bodies are extraordinary machines, and the human spirit, thank God, is something quite incredible too.
And finally—KNOW WHEN TO STOP
I don’t mean making music or trying to express yourself creatively. I think when that’s over with, you’re dead—for real. I mean learn enough about yourself, what you produce and your motivations for doing what you do with your music to know when you are no longer being true to yourself and when you are no longer providing value or service to yourself and/or your local (and possibly your global) community—and then do something else more in tune with your current state of being that DOES provide value to yourself and/or others.
And just for the quick painful hell of it, though, I have to say that some folks should stop trying to make commercially available music that is just plain bad. I’m very fond of repeating the old Duke Ellington aphorism that there are two kinds of music—good and bad, not just because it’s cute and glib but because it’s true. The following story is a fitting way to wrap up this screed, as it succinctly encapsulates and underscores most of the points I’ve been making, one way or another.
I recently made the typical-for- me sentimental mistake of buying CSNY’s “Déjà vu Live”, an embarrassingly bad CD that should never have been released. CSNY (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, for those under 45) have for 40 years been a potentially interesting and artistically viable group, given that they are comprised of four of classic rock’s greatest songwriters with four distinctly unique and instantly recognizable voices and each of the four was a charter member in three of classic rock’s undisputedly greatest and most influential bands (The Byrds, The Hollies and Buffalo Springfield.) In Stephen Stills and Neil Young the band also boasts two of the most unique and influential rock guitar stylists to have ever played the music. They are a legendary outfit by any measure.
The Déjà vu Live CD is proof of two things—1) all of the legendary/influential status on earth doesn’t mean shit when you can no longer deliver that which you are legendary for, let alone create new music that meets the standards of your classics AND is relevant to today’s world (think what a tall order THAT is)—and 2) that greedy, exploitative record companies still exist and will try to sell anything round and shiny if they think there’s a market for it. CSNY should stop—but they don’t seem to know it. How sad…
Getting old is NOT for sissies, folks. Hmmm, sounds like good songwriting material to me…