29 October 2003

last night we played for a concert pianist. his name was brooks something. he was old, crazy einstein hair, wore a tux with tails, starts with a ridiculous version of "america" from west side story. lots of big fancy fast piano pyrotechnics, high fast loud notes, trills, glissandos, the whole arsenal of romantic piano embellishment. fucking terrible. yet really really good.

i cannot play piano fast. i dont have technical proficiency. i can play slow, and i can play pretty, and i can play weird and i can play creepy and noisy, but my fingers just wont do the really herculian liszty girlswooning fast stuff. there was a time, in college, when i was better at it, and could play some pretty hot runs, but they required lots of practice. i dont like practicing; i like playing. so, i eventually decided to build an aesthetic around my strengths and leave the fast stuff to others who have six hours a day to waste, and i think i do mean waste (well okay not for everyone), on piano practicing.

so perhaps there are pangs of jealousy and regret inside of me when i hear a ridiculous concert pianist; this is definitely true when i listen to some recordings of pollini (reallly fast) or argerich (sexy fast) or rubinstein (slow motion fast) or any of those other ridiculous piano playing motherfuckers. they make me feel like a imposter at the piano; like i am tricking people into thinking they are hearing good piano when in fact theyre just listening to a lot of indulgent masturbation with the pedal down. i dont really feel this way, but i realize that i could...but lets get back to this guy. there are lots of problems with this guy, this beautiful guy who has the audience melting. look at the way he raises his right hand, as if making a fine cognac toast while the left brings in the melody from chopins fantasie impromptou. look at the way he pinches his lips and rebounds a good foot above the keys while playing de fallas ritual fire dance, an old virtuoso warhorse. listen to his ridiculous english accent and the way he says the word "class-ee-cal" with a sibilant stacatto dignity and the way he flourishes his arms gracefully through the air while prancing about the stage telling tender anecdotes and the way that he calls rachmaninov's 18th paganini variation "one of the greatest melodies of teh twentieth century". this guy is a fucker, im telling you. why? why is this so wrong? why is he so right?....wait, ill get into that.

first let me tell you the rest of the show. joplins the enetertainer, done in the style of a. honkytonk piano (chain across the strings) b. old gramophone recording (the gram slows down, the music changes key, skips in the record, funny mouth scratch sound effects) c. vaudeville nonsense (slide whistles, tennis ball thrown into audience) d. rock (including me having to repeat this tendonitisific boogie woogie figure on electric keys). then, greek medley, where i completely fuck up this keyboard bouzuki (that cant be spelled right) part, really royally and loudly and for an extended period of time (you have no idea how fun it is to royally fuck up music in a professional concert and absolutely not care, to just laugh and laugh as its happeneing right under your nose), and then finally a medley of, gulp, hey jude and give peace a chance, with the audience singing the latter slowed down and unsuwng to match with the former (in the intro to this, he says that he "sincerly believes that mr. lennon (listen to that, "mister" - what a fucker!) wrote this song as words for people who might attack us." what!!! its clearly a republican crowd, but still, john fucking lennon? do a garth brooks finale if thats what you want...anyway. oh, yeah, and furthermore, for the second half of the show he changes into a funnier jacket, purple with sequins.

now in the past (ie last cruise) i have accepted performers of vegas style cheese because of the audience response they get. the audiences here love it, they eat it up, standing o's all the time. but after last night, i am not so sure- im not so forgiving. i think there is something deeply wrong with what this man is doing, and it comes down to honesty.

honesty, i think, is the thing by which music, all music can be conistenetly judged. if its honest, it is good, if not, it is not. this is great for me because skill doesnt really come ito it (ie fast playing not necessary). now i love, man just love a lot of different kinds of music, and i hate a good deal of music too. there is very little in between- usually if something is in the middle for me, i a confused and have to listen to it several times until i figure out what is going on. i have brought with me, in fact no less then four cds that have confounded me in the past and am happy to report that i have come to turns with three of them . (nick drake, finally, fucking great. so pretty. love it. radiohead, hail, finally really sunk into the track that goes ".i .dont .know .why i .feel .so .tongue . .tied" that track is fucking great, incredible, makes me smile and dance, everything about it, man! go listen to that song! i think its track 12, though i have a burned possibly out of order copy. it made the rest of the album work for me {though i still think the first track sucks}. cat power, finally, fucking great. the fourth, still bewidlering one is sea and the cake. does that music suck? or doesnt it? hard to tell).

fuck, anyway. the common thread...right:

the common thread is honesty. when musicians are playing honestly, when they are getting as close as possible to translating electric impulses in their brain into pure sound, with no steps in between, they make good music. (now, im just talking about performance and composition here, he whole inifinite power of music to explain the universe thing suggested in last post can wait for now. i dont even know if i beleive that, i just get carried away when writing about that spiritual shit. please, salt grains, everyone). children singing sound great. dying alcaholic billie holiday sounds great. bob dylan sounds great. miles davis changing a dozen times sounds great. the rolling stones young and alive sound great, but later, not so good. later, they are imitating a sound. its not them. its not honest. a lot of pop music, (using the term in the worst possible way) is dishonest, in that it is contrived to sell, and thus not a manifestation of the artists head. and there is some great song writing going on there (i still love "that way"), but it leaves me cold. and i think a lot of the most popular groups of any genre are the ones that are concsiously distilling the genre, breaking it down into its essential recognizable parts so that it may be easily packaged. this has been covered pretty thourghly elsewhere im sure, and i dont really want to get into the corporate music machine thang, that not really my style, so lets just stop and say the one common thing there is in every piece of music i personally like is honesty.

now of course this can get terribly complicated. if you honestly believe the words of an old jazz standard, will it sound good when you sing it, to your high school boyfriend, on the beach, with your uncles out of tune guitar? no. it will sound good only if you sing it honestly, if the actual physical movements of your throat are natural and not an attempt to recreate any singing you have ever heard before. which is damn near impossible, but good (fuck is it good!) when it happens. and also explains why so much good music is so unique...a quality almost, but not quite, as defining for good music for me as honesty. high school jazz band players sound awful because they are not playing honest notes- they are hitting certain notes played at least thirty years ago becaus it "sounds like jazz". music that sounds like jazz is awful. this genre titles get so damn difficult because if its really honest, its probably going to either a. fall outside of any genre or b. define the genre. so. honest. and you can still sing inside of a genre and sound fucking great, but its going to be coincidence, see? a great folk singer working in the folk tradition will sound great because her honest voice just happens to fall into the great folk tradition. but if someone just says, oh, folk music, i like that, im gonna sing it, look out. odds are their voice wont sound like that, and theyll force it into all sorts of twisted caterwalls based on the memory of an old joan baez record. thats not folk.

not to say that there isnt craft involved, and practice and understanding of music history. i think these all contribute to making great music....im making a ridiculous distinction here between good and great music. not everyone can make great music, that seems pretty clear; it requires a lot of work and dedication and passion and a certain type of mind, analytical yet emotional. and there are geniuses, oh god there are geniuses. but i think everyone can make good music, even hand clapping. or whistling. or late night bathtub singing. it can be very beatiful, yes? yes. but as soon as you start to imitate, as soon as you become concious of the making of music, you psych yourself out into playing old tired charlie parker licks. thats not jazz. thats not rock n roll- kenny g aint got no soul, john coltrane is rock n roll. yes?

now the piano player. he is being honest, and for this reason his show is good, but conditionally, and ultimately, i think, dangerously (god im so fucking melodramatic). because just what, oh what is he saying? what is his truth?

it is not "see my soul, im in pain." it is not "i feel that way too, you are not alone." it is not "i love the world". it is not "i have felt things and learned from them and i want to help you." it is not "there is a god." it is not "if you move your body for a while and stop thinking you find true joy and awakening." it is not even (though it almost is) "the human body and mind are amazing in combination with each other. you can do astonishing things. you are god too." these are the messages of good music. these are good messages.

brooks whatshisnames truth is "music is understandable and virtuosity obtainable through hard woork and dedication. it has a power to move people that can be learned and controlled. performance is an art that is powerful and can be mastered. i care for you and want to show you a good time, so i have mastered these things." which is not a terrible message...but its dangerously accepting of the audiences complacency. that is, its a presentation rather than an invitation to comtemplate. or an invitation to grow. no one in that audience worked for their smile and joy last night. no one saw god, thats for damn sure. they were shown a good time and reacted as if they had a good time, just as the retelling of saturday night live jokes will always get a laugh at the water cooler on monday. (im assuming that this still happens...maybe?). so if something sounds like good music, people react as is it were good music, but i think these people are asleep. and should be woken up. should be played some real music.

i appreciate the mans craft. i even laughed at some of his jokes. and i especially appreciate the fact that he bought each member of the band a bottle of liquor before signing off (jameson for me, hee hee!) but i do wish sometimes that people would realize that god is hiding under each of those 88 keys, each of those twelve notes, and that if you pound, if you dont approach your instrument as a priest approaches the communion table, you risk damning your soul and raping the souls of those around you.

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