I always marvel that Nick Cave is not better known in North America. Nick Cave! Sure when I go to see him live with the Bad Seeds or Grinderman, the theater is always packed and feverish, but in my daily life about town (San Francisco no less), very few have even heard of him. And yes, I mentioned Lindsey Buckingham! He of Fleetwood Mac fame. Even he is fond of commenting on the dual life he leads. It is even the title of his latest DVD, 'Songs From The Small Machine'. Fleetwood Mac fans swarm the largest arenas in droves, but Buckingham alone can play to an intimate crowd of a few hundred in town after town. Why the disparity? This even happens from small machine to tiny machine in that Mick Harvey has released some brilliant albums (Sketches from the Book of the Dead is but the latest), and worked on other brilliant albums (PJ Harvey's 'Let England Shake"), but he is almost a complete unknown here if you are not a music dork such as myself though he played with Nick Cave for 35 years or so years.
Of course, there is seemingly a unifying theme to much of this music, disparate as it all is. None of it panders to the masses, and none of it lowers itself to what a listener might like. While they are all fantastic to my ears, they are not always (that dreaded word)pleasing. Or easy.
Scott Walker's newest disc, 'Bisch Bosch' will likely find itself on several year-end lists and rightfully so, but it is no easy listen. It is startlingly funny in places, and the listener never knows where the song will head next as sound textures shift under Walker's voice like massive techtonic plates drifting hither and yon. The average listener who craves a beat, always a beat, will give up. It is, happily, not very predictable tho' it is also not very happy.
I suppose this is Lindsey Buckingham's problem too. He is a part of the group that spawned 'Rumours' in 1977. It sold millions and millions right away, and he immediately rebelled. 'Tusk' was the result. I still don't understand why the song is called Tusk. It is sprawling, and it has beautiful tunes and heartfelt sentiment alongside a snotty, punk rock edge that was everywhere in 1979 and found its way to Lindsey's heart as well. All one has to do is juxtapose Stevie Nicks' 'Beautiful Child' with Buckingham's 'Not That Funny' to feel the push and pull.
Really, Lindsey Buckingham has that in him as well which is why it works. In a live show, he routinely goes from whisper to scream and back again within the span of a song as if he was wringing out every ounce of life from its fabric. For a society that seemingly wants a consistent beat, this is just too much. How dare you stretch a song into almost unrecognizability over and over!
Without beating a dead horse needlessly because no one needs that, predictability will be our downfall. So many people wish to stand on tradition as the foundation of all that is good saying here is all we need. Absurd. Sure, we need to learn from tradition. There are stories to keep and practices to discard, but ultimately, the best part of being able to climb high upon a peak standing on what came before is the opportunity to see to the horizons. It is the ability to look beyond our tiny corner of the globe. What is leaving from here and what is approaching that's new.
One of my favorite bands now is Einstürzende Neubauten. I used to work with someone who had heard of them, but he said he could not listen because he would never be able to pronounce their name. I tried to explain that it is not that difficult to say, but no. He closed the door, without trying, to an entire part of the world because he cannot pronounce Einstürzende.
Well this really happens alot even when there is no language barrier. Kristin Hersh has been writing music and growing as a writer since the mid 80's. Her lyrics are in English, but they often do not make an obvious sense right away. There is truly a sense of poetry to the words. They are truthful and universal. The listener may not exactly know what Hersh is on about in a song, but that only allows us, the listeners, to fill in those gaps with our own experiential understanding which can then reflect back upon the songwriter in unexpected ways. Her band 50 Foot Wave released an ep earlier this year entitled, 'Love from the Men's Room'.
I know this disc basically rocks, and I know there is sort of an underlying darkness to it that I think I feel as a reflection of my own difficulties in 2012, but I am still not really sure I understand the lyrics per se. Well, and I don't really care. It moves me in a way that goes beyond mere understanding and into something more visceral.
This is and can be the power of music. It can go beyond the obvious. It can speak beyond words, and it can certainly delve beyond the basic beat and baser needs. That is exactly what I need: something beyond. Something deep. Something real. Something difficult.
I lost my beautiful Grandmother this last July. She loved music, and I played her lots of the music she loved in her final hours as a balm. I feel I have her personality and disposition. Like her, I love symphonic music and opera and ballet and string quartets and piano sonatas. She often said music should reflect the beauty and joy of the world, but I always wondered how music should be constricted to only the beauty and joy.
Often, I am at a loss for the immense ugliness of the actions of others, and music can often convey for me what words cannot. You can call it difficult listening if you wish, but that does not mean it should not be heard. We digest horrifying bits of televison everyday on the news and on tv programs, but they become disjointed images and soundbites easily removed from everyday life with a smile of the anchor and a quick transition to the weather, sports and traffic. It is all someone else's problem.
Music can often say something ugly that simple words cannot convey, or words and music together can create an unholy whole. To listen to it is to surrender to it. You accept automatically that all is not well, or you go and listen to Fun.
I suppose this is ultimately why so many of us search for a meaning that explains everything. They say there is someone above who can explain but won't because we're not ready. We just have to accept. But, of course we don't either. That is the hilarity. We have to accept what we don't understand. But only if we wish. You don't have to accept homosexuality if you don't understand, but why must you understand? You do not live it, you do not have to live with it. You simply need to let others live it for themselves if they choose. I thought that was the basic premise of these United States: freedom to speak, act and practice as we choose as long as we do not hurt others. Well, hurting each other! This seems to be an odd occupation of a certain, rather large, segment of our population.
If you feel misunderstood, try listening to some of these less popular voices. They have been where you are, and they were able to redirect their visions into other arenas. There is always hope until you decide there is no more hope. All the seeds are scattered upon the soil. Which will take? Who can know?
Who can say? What will grow?
A name for next time along these lines:
Merry Christmas, if you wish,
and a Happy New Year!