Sunday, March 20, 2011

"What's your favorite band??" Answers to an Annoying Question

I've been guilty of it too-- the ubiquitous, annoying, get-to-know-you question, "What's your favorite band?" It impossibly simplifies an immensely complex and loaded question for any musician with any self respect, and probably for any mature music-listener. So when someone asks me, and they actually seem the least bit interested in my answer, I go off on my five minute lecture that follows:

You see, being an immensely complex question that truly has taken years to formulate an answer, I cannot honestly tell you one band or artist that has inspired me, entertained me, and fulfilled me enough to be considered "my favorite." And what's more, the particular band or artist that at any given moment is topping my iTunes playlists or is stuck in my head or infecting my thoughts and actions or reflecting in my guitar playing, is always changing-- that comes as a function of being a living, breathing, human being. But, rather than leaving you with this arrogant little speech demeaning your simple and well-intentioned question, I have taken the time, in my head, over a period of time spanning long before you ever intended to ask me this question, to formulate a, somewhat concise, but, holistic response to this question that, at least for a good amount of time, should be a more-or-less unchanging and consistent answer.

My response is broken into five categories, as there cannot be one, true "favorite" artist. They are as follows:

The most cohesive and functional band (favorite band), The most effective and moving artist (favorite artist), the most talented songwriter, the best mind for creating rock and roll music, and the band most competent at performing music. The winners of each category are as follows:

Band: The Beatles. For me, personally, the Beatles have an especially important place as they were the band I listened to during my "musical renaissance," an awakening that opened my eyes to music and, for the first time, made me truly listen to music. My informed opinion about them still holds that they are the most cohesive and functional band, meaning that as four musicians banded together to create music, they do a damn good job of it. They produce variety, which creates interest, yet they have a trademark sound and an awfully high percentage of their songs have a great deal of soul and meaning. So as a young, first time listener, they win this category, and as a more mature, well-rounded listener and musician, they still win. Notable songs: Here Comes the Sun, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Blackbird, Two of Us

Artist: George Harrison As a subsection of the last category, George Harrison held a particularly important place, seeing as he penned the songs from the aforementioned that most deeply effected me. As I have dug into his solo material, the resonance his songs have with me grows deeper with time. I cannot express in a short blurb the power George's songs have had in affecting, changing, and shaping my life, both as a musician and a person. Notable songs: Beware of Darkness, My Sweet Lord, The Light That Has Lighted the World, Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)

Songwriter: Bob Dylan. This is obvious. You probably saw this coming. Do I really need to explain this one? I listen to Dylan all the time, he never gets old. His songwriting is masterful and can hold new meaning with each listen. Notable songs: Hurricane, If Not for You, Simple Twist of Fate, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Rock and Roll mind: Elvis Costello. Not to be confused with Elvis Presley. This guy can write a rock and roll song like no other. He knows the difference between rock and roll and pop (this could lead to a music theory discussion), understands its roots and influences, and has been forging a fresh path for a genre that should always be pioneering for his entire career. Notable songs: Peace Love and Understanding (yes, I know Nick Lowe wrote this, but Elvis just kills it), No Dancing, I Want You, Uncomplicated

Performance: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. See my post from a year ago on The Boss. Basically, this guy, and his band, know how to put on a show because they play from the soul. Its never just about the music with these guys. And that's why, in one show, I'm moved to tears (from emotion and also laughter), screaming with joy, dancing till I drop, and singing till my lungs give out. Notable songs: Thunder Road, Jungle Land, The Rising, Land of Hopes and Dreams. This guy's not too shabby at songwriting, either. 

Artists that didn't make any particular category but should have: Paul Simon, M. Ward, Johnny Cash, Neil  Young, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joan Baez, Glen Hansard, Stevie Wonder

I hope that answers your question.

Psychological Realism

I love the psychological realism of this scene, from "500 Days of Summer." I think I just coined a new phrase. By that, I mean that although it lacks any sense of what would or could actually happen in the real world, it is exactly how the world appears to anyone walking down the street in an ecstatic moment of joy and happiness. This is the very top of the charts of "feel good" feelings. Its the best of the best-day-evers. Its the biggest, loudest, most energetic "YAHOOO" there ever is. That day when everyone's frown gets turned upside down. When the lights turn on like spotlights on your runway of life. When fountains and marching bands announce your arrival on the grand sidewalk of life. You're the king (or queen) of happiness, and its your day of coronation.

Man, how I'm longing for a day like that sometime soon. Here's hoping we've all had one of these days recently, or are about to have one soon:

(sorry for the link, can't embed this one)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Time to Revive this thing

Not wanting to let this thing go to the wayside, but coming up dry on what to write about, I'll start this post with a clip of some incredibly powerful music-- as all things should.

Mumford and Sons blew the doors off the Grammys this year, playing with raw power and emotion. This is a band with nothing to hide, made evident by the way in which they put their all into their performances. You can read every emotion in their faces, their voices, and their instruments. Its passionate, exciting, and empowering. I feel alive every time I watch this video. A lot of bands perform with high emotion-- and its great. But here there's a moment of sheer bliss as the band ignites with the horn section behind them (see 1:50) and the singer Marcus Mumford looks up with a face exuding what it means to be truly alive...

My band, Parple, has started playing shows in New York City and we know that the only way to get anywhere in this is if we put all of our energy into every show we play. But beyond leaping around the stage and jumping and screaming to catch an audience's attention, putting everything you have into playing music is, to me, the most pure form of happiness. When I truly get into the music I am playing, its the rare moment seldom experienced otherwise where I am truly living absolutely and singularly in the moment, feeling truly happy, truly passionate, and, when with other musicians, truly in solidarity with those around me. There is no cynicism in those moments, no doubts, no despair. Its a transcendent moment of absolute bliss.

How then can this translate into our daily lives? How can this emotion-- this wonderful, freeing, whole feeling-- last beyond the three and a half minutes of the song? I don't yet know the answer, but I do not that it can happen, and its a beautiful thing to work towards.

Here's another clip of musicians living passionately in the moment-- Billy Preston, George Harrison, and others at The Concert for Bangla Desh playing "That's The Way God Planned It." (See 3:20- Billy leaps off the organ, dancing in ecstasy as George looks in with a smile of absolute delight.) Enjoy!