Some Random Music Related Thoughts
Jerry Lucky Commentary September 2016
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2016 All Rights Reserved
Well it’s time to talk about a couple of random music related thoughts that have been rattling around my cranium. I throw these out for those of you who wish to cogitate and ruminate about stuff. Over the last few months we’ve experienced the deaths of Chris Squire, David Bowie, Keith Emerson, Prince and others less well known. Obviously I’m saddened by their passing but what intrigues me is how people respond to events like this. I’ve always been somewhat intrigued by this notion that when someone is no longer with us, dies suddenly or slowly we tend to go to such extremes to sing their praises. That certainly was the case with Prince and David Bowie.
There is this long-held notion that we are not to “speak ill of the dead.” Turns out it’s an expression that comes from the combination of two Latin phrases: De mortuis nihil nisi bonum ("Of the dead, nothing unless good") and De mortuis nil nisi bene [dicendum] ("Of the dead, nothing [spoken] unless well (truthfully)". Why someone chose to combine those two ideas into a singular concept that means we are not to speak ill of the dead is to me puzzling and bordering on superstition.
We’ve always been somewhat scared of death and I’ve often wondered if this was somehow related to our fear of the dead, that if by saying something bad we might suffer some retribution; or be cursed from the other side. There is of course the other side of the coin and that is that we show respect for those who have died by not saying anything bad about them, since they can no longer hurt us or even defend themselves. That being the case it is perhaps better to forget their bad actions and remember only their good side. And that makes sense…to a point.
What doesn’t make sense to me however is when in the process of doing this we suddenly fabricate the idea that the individual was somehow, the most perfect, creative human being that has ever lived. We see this a lot. While alive, the person is rarely talked about, for any reason let alone creative ones, and then when they are gone suddenly everyone in the media, everyone on social media is jumping to be first to say how skillful they were at this or how creative they were at that or simply what a great human being they were. The week before their death – crickets… then, one minute after their death they were God’s gift to humanity and people just can’t stop talking about them. Really? Some might say they’re just being polite but if you truly felt that way why weren’t you talking about them that way while they were still alive to hear what you had to say? Anyway, I can’t help but feel this whole thing smacks of a kind of shallow-ness and superficiality so prevalent today and perhaps more than anything a lot of that superstition I mentioned earlier. As they say in Marvel comics – “nuf said.”
The other thing I wanted to talk about is this idea of artists repeating themselves. You’ve heard this right? An artist says something like – “I was going to do this or that, but changed my mind because I didn’t want to repeat myself.” The members of the band Genesis talked about this in one of their interviews around the time of Duke. If you look at the songs on the Duke album you see that a good many of them are connected in some fashion and were to have originally formed a side of the LP, but the band thought – “Well we’ve done the side long thing of Foxtrot” so as not to repeat themselves they split up the songs on Duke and spread them around. And even more recently I read a quote from the band Citizen Cain which said – “The ten year gap between our last two albums was indicative of the struggle involved in continuing to write the same type of material for all those years and we both felt that to go on as a band we would be in danger of repeating ourselves.”
Now I’m sure these two examples are merely the tip of the iceberg but I have to ask – What’s the deal with repeating yourself? Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not suggesting that a band can’t do whatever it wants to, but is the idea of “repeating yourself” really that wrong? I mean seriously Mozart wrote something over 41 symphonies over a period of 24 years. A good many of these lasted forty minutes or longer. They all have distinctive distinguishing characteristics that even I can usually identify a Mozart symphony. And yet in all my reading of Mozart I don’t recall him ever worrying about “repeating himself.”
Each symphony was created using notes in different order, instrument sounds of varying tonal quality, played at different volumes, different tempos and arranged in many different ways. Today with what modern musicians have at their disposal technology wise I find it hard to think you could ever have a problem repeating yourself? So let me ask this question again…what is the deal with artists thinking they’re repeating themselves? How? How would they be repeating themselves? I look at artists like The Flower Kings, or YES, or Spock’s Beard, or Glass Hammer or [you can fill in the blank] and they’ve all produced many great records that bear their recognizable signature sound and yet to my mind they’ve not repeated themselves. They are simply writing songs that sound like the band they are. As a fan that’s what I’ve come to expect and it’s even what I enjoy.
So I would say if that’s what repeating yourself is, I’m all for it. Go ahead and repeat yourself. There’s nothing more unsettling than putting on an album from an artist that you know and hearing something totally foreign come forth from the speakers. Bands have tried that and n most cases it doesn’t turn out very well. As mere listeners to the musical arts we like things that are familiar to us. We can certainly listen to many different musical styles that are familiar but for my money I’m most appreciative of bands who are confident in what they sound like and work to present us with more of their signature sounds.
At least that’s what I think.