In the Meantime, There is Music

This entry was posted by on Friday, 6 March, 2009 at

Some months back I decided that I absolutely despise 80’s music, and was so bold as to further assert that if I had my way, I would erase all of 80’s pop culture from history, saving only Calvin and Hobbes.

“What about U2?” I was asked.
“Eh, screw ’em.”
“But wait, if you get to save Calvin and Hobbes…”
If you are rushing into a burning building, I reasoned, and you can only save one thing… that’s my one thing I am saving from the 80’s.

Now in truth, I was not talking about U2, Queen, Tom Petty… or really any band with a multi-decade career that happened to include the 1980’s. What I can not stand is the 80’s pop one-hit-wonder types; the kind of thing that they play on “flashback” specials, “awesome 80’s” collections, “80’s night” or what have you. The kind of thing that people enjoy for nostalgia value, or like specifically because it is so cheesy… really for any reason other than because it is actually any GOOD.

I put quite a lot of thought into this because it was irritating me so. I realized that 80’s songs weren’t really ABOUT anything, or more specifically, they were about something silly and/or some bizarre analogy for sex. (With quite a few songs specifically about partying/dancing/playing music/having a song on the radio/etc.)

The 00’s has not been such a great decade either when you get down to it. It seems like everything is “over-produced” this or “a cheap imitation of” that. Even my favorite bands from the past are disappointing. Radiohead has transcended the need to make music to which people can relate; I hear that Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson and some drummer are now in a mediocre “The Cure” cover band. And U2… [sigh].

Last year, despite (or perhaps due to) my profound lack of productivity in other areas, I actually had quite a number of ideas on the music front. At one point I thought of an album title that was so good, it really made me wish that I actually had some songs to put on it. Well, how many songs do you have? I dunno, four or five I guess, if I finish everything that I have been working on. Really, everything? The question was, “How many songs do you have?” Oh… like 30-40… but I was talking about recent stuff.

I came up with a new song in the middle of my “Scarecrow” sessions a few years back. It served as a nice bridge between my older guitar work and my more recent computer based stuff. It even had lyrics based upon a few of my then-recent blog posts, but I never quite managed to “bring it home.”

I put a lot of effort into adapting a certain other song, which I felt that if I ever performed was sure to get me sued, fired or excommunicated depending on the context. It is that good.

I wrote another song with some challenging [for me at least] strumming patterns, and unusual […for me] chord progressions – including one chord that I just plain made up. I can not even play each piece of the song consistently, let alone string them together. I had a concept in mind for the lyrics but had trouble coming up with specifics. In one verse I merely stated, “Je ne sais rien/Je ne comprends pas” while jamming one time, and decided to keep that for lack of anything better. I have the sinking fear that this song really sucks, even if I could put it all together. That is particularly distressing, because the subject of the song is such that it is very important for this NOT to suck.

I started another song and only got one verse and a chorus before hitting a wall. This one seemed to want to be in a Dean Martin/Frank Sinatra sort of style… a genre about which I know almost nothing. I do not know the structure of such songs, and more importantly, even if I did finish writing it, I would likely need to find someone else to sing it, because there is no way I am capable of “crooning” this baby. It was a good start, but I do not know if it will ever get finished. The particular state of mind I was in at the time has passed and I do not know if I could recapture that mood.

It was while working on that last one that I finally had to ask myself, “Man, what are you doing? Why don’t you stop this nonsense and try to remember how to play ‘Last Night I Slept in the Garden’?” So I returned for a time to my older songs. It was a strange sensation; in trying to remember songs that I had not played in years, which now seemed so foreign to me, I found myself asking, “Did I really write this? I don’t remember writing this.” Then it came to me: You didn’t write those songs… *I* did. Oh. Well that is not exactly good news is it?

I had another new song as well. It started off well enough: I was trying something different by fretting with my RIGHT hand while hammering/plucking with the left. Although that part was rather innovative, in trying to flesh out the rest of the song I kept thinking that I have done something like this before musically, or that I had used that same lyrical pattern in the past – I had to change one line specifically because I had definitely done that kind of wordplay before. It just did not seem that there was anything “new” about this song. Then it hit me: 80’s music had no substance, the 00’s have no teeth… but kids, this is how we did things in the 90’s. (You know… more or less.)

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