Monday, July 10, 2006

Background

--Reader participation required--
iPod: on: music: Artists: Robben Ford:Keep On Running: Hand In Hand With The Blues
"I have learned that there lies dormant in the souls of all men a penchant for some particular musical instrument and an unsuspected yearning to learn to play on it, which are bound to wake up and demand attention some day. Therefore, you who rail at such that disturb your slumbers with unsuccessful and demoralizing attempts to subjugate a guitar, beware! for sooner or later your own time will come." - Mark Twain ______________________________________________________
I watch the streets outside my window
I wait but I know you’ll never come

Time to burst a few bubbles. To all musicians everywhere…We are insignificant! That’s it… not much else to say about it… except to clarify what I just said, we are totally insignificant! Who says? you may ask. I say, I do - of course, I can’t offer anyone else’s opinion than my own so there you have it. In light of all that goes on in this world… we aren’t all we think we are… we’re just the background music that plays while life happens.

The world goes passing by
People laugh and babies cry

Now, what do I mean by that? Who is the “we” to which I am referring and what do I mean by “insignificant”?

Never knew I had so much to lose.
You introduced me to a new companion

I guess I have just enough experience and inside knowledge to make me dangerous - but not enough to be able to say this opinion holds true for everyone who ever held an instrument or performed on a stage. I’m NOT “all knowing“. But since I’ve never actually met a musician to whom this doesn’t apply… I’m fairly well convinced of its accuracy.

When you left me standing in the rain
Anyone lookin’ would have watched me go

The first statement of fact must be that we aren’t as important as we think ourselves to be. Sure we get to stand up on a stage and have people pay money to hear us. Some people sing along, some cry, some even ask for autographs when the music stops and all this does is further impress upon our egos that we are needed, that we’re important or that we matter. We don’t. If I were speaking to a musician right now, I’m sure I would hear some strong disagreement so let me open a window or two.

Walkin’ hand in hand with the blues
hand in hand with the blues.

Most of the time we play, we aren’t playing to the paying crowd. (that’s a shell shock to the “listeners” out there) We play to our peers. Who cares if the listener likes what we do, we only care what our well educated, astute musician friends think about what we do. It’s a big deal when a rival comes up after the show and says; “nice job”. It means more because you know they know what you just did.

I watch the streets outside my window
I wait but I know you’ll never come

The average listener (concert goers, groupee, fan, anonymous audience attendee) doesn’t have a clue how hard you worked or what trick you pulled out of your bag - all they know is that it sounded good to them. The very old inside joke has always been “it’s got a good beat and was easy to dance to, Dick”. Upon which we roll our eyes and walk away smirking at how stupid that really was to say - though it is said in many different ways, we know it immediately when we hear it.

Night falls and I draw the blinds
The will to live gets harder to find

Sure, we throw in crowd pleasers - but only so much as to get the job done. It would be a terrible misstep to go so far as to fill the show with them. From cliché riffs to covers of top 40 hits to bowing as if we were actually famous for something… a little goes a long way and too much will certainly draw consternation from our most hallowed peers. That would be a fatal misstep. Our peers would never let us live it down.

I can’t bring myself to face the truth
Enter the king of the broken hearted
When the band Kansas first hit it big, cries of “cliché riffs” were heard everywhere you went in Wichita, Kansas. If the local hayseeds pinned it, then certainly the biggies in the business did too. They went on to record a number of popular albums before they slid off into obscurity - I guess the record buying public can get its fill of clichés as well. While you may get signed to a big record deal by getting your crowd drunk on free beer and showing off your musical prowness to a record executive, as history has shown, it takes more than dust in the wind to sustain a long popular career.

Someone to share my pain
Anyone lookin’ would have watched me go

Now, before anyone thinks I am taking shots at the guys in Kansas unfairly - please don’t. I like their music, I like the tricks and I like the way they took their music - before the mindless listening tastes of the concert goers (from here on will be called “masses”) lost interest due to the difficulty in listening to more than a I, IV, V progression. Shoot, unless you’re over the age of 30 and under age 60, you probably don’t even know who Kansas was!

Walkin’ hand in hand with the blues
hand in hand with the blues.

Now, when the masses show up at the same time our peers are there… that ol’ ego thing really kicks in… especially if they’re not throwing tomatoes!

The empty hours they move so slowly
Cold sorrow sinks into my bones

But here’s the rub. They are there because you’re popular right now. You’re playing on the radio - right now. Your song is on their mind - right now. The masses are driven by one mentality when it comes to music - “what have you done for me lately”. They don’t care how many hits you’ve had. They don’t care to know your personal life, they don’t even care what kind of guitar you play or if you use Zildjians or Paistes! All they care about is “it’s got a nice beat and it’s easy to dance to, Dick”.

Night seems to never end
Pour a drink for my new found friend

They don’t listen to music the way we do. Its all just background to them. It is played in the hallways, it’s played in the bedrooms, the dens, the cars - but rarely if ever - loud enough to hear. Never and I mean never too loud that it can’t be talked over in common conversation. In fact, next time you’re in a car with a civilian, and a good song is on, wait and see what happens when the lead break starts… they turn down the volume and start talking as if to say - “OK, the words are over for now - now I can talk.” But when a musician listens, we turn the vocals down (sometimes) and NEVER talk through the break - no matter how long it goes!

Try to drown the pain of loosing you
We’re gonna go down that road together

Yep - I return to my premise - we are insignificant. We are the background to whatever else is going on in the lives of our listeners. Get used to it. The only significant listener is the peer to whom we desire their highest regard. Other than that - we are insignificant.

And I’ll never see you again
Anyone lookin’ would have watched me go

Don’t believe me? Go ask one of the masses what kind of music they like. 9 times out of 10 you will get this response; “I like all kinds of music.” Truth is they don’t like any kind of music - its just background to them. One style is as good as the next. Its just noise to play in the background so that they don’t have to really spend any time thinking about anything too difficult. Certainly not anything so difficult as time signatures or the value of a series of 1/64th notes and whether you’re playing a myxolidian or dorian scale.

Walkin’ hand in hand with the blues
hand in hand with the blues

Nope - you’re just background. Insignificant aides to the masses existential realities. Background - that is all.

Night falls and I draw the blinds… The will to live gets harder to find… I can’t bring myself to face the truth… Background!

hand in hand with the blues
hand in hand with the blues.

lead break to the end...
____________________________________________________
For my friend Gary
the best undiscovered guitar talent in America
he lost his wife - and then her life - and now he too goes walking with the blues...

1 Comments:

At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Robbie Quinn said...

You have hit the nail on the head here, Jon. This is the reality that plagues so many musicians, seems like. Thanks for the insight. May we play for reasons that matter.

 

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