Oy, oy, oy, oy! The stuff that passes for music! Bleeagh! That’s three exclamation marks, and I’ve just started.
I’m frequently accused of being a musical snob, and my accusers might well be right. The music to which I listen is: Jazz – probably the most complex of all musical forms and the most dificult to master. Not that anyone ever can. The learning curve is steep and and never seems to flatten. The musicians in Bruce Hornsby’s band say that, in their annual break, they go away and shed (this is a term that was coined for going off to the woodshed to practice.
The woodshed, because you were far enough from the rest of humanity that the endless repetition didn’t drive others up the wall) and if they didn’t have something new, they would get the ‘look’. I imagine it’s the one our mothers gave us when we were kids. The look that speaks volumes.
Now Bruce Hornsby is not a jazz musician in the strictest sense of the word, but his live stuff has the same level of improvisation as jazz. John Williams, one of the greatest classical guitarists ever, is recorded to have said that jazz was the pinnacle of music, rquiring all the skills of a classical musician, plus the art of instant composition.
Rock – played properly, is also one of the most demanding forms of music there is. It requires high levels of musicianship and, with a band like Deep Purple, for instance, great rapport with their audience.
Classical – I have a fairly large collection of classical music and love most of it and listen to it repeatedly. Again, outstandingly high levels of musicianship, allied with exquisite melody.
I do not listen to the radio, except for cricket commentary, because the radio is a frightening place if you have any musical taste.
What do we have? 5FM? 94.7? Jacaranda? Pukerama? Need I go on?
I’m well aware of the fact that, in my day, there were a lot of very poor bands, but the sheer volume of great bands made up for it. Who do we have today masquerdaing as a rock band? U2.
This must surely rate as the greatest confidence trick ever pulled. And this for over thirty years! Bono with his pink glasses and his social conscience, the Edge (ooh, edgy name, that) who could not play his guitar without an echo chamber, or a beanie to keep his head from exploding. It was only right that this band should make their appearance in 1976, when the great rock era was over. The New Wave of music was on its way, and most of it was pukeworthy.
Granted, they were up against punk, and even they had to shine when put up against Sid Vicious, et al. But that doesn’t make them a good band. A hobo with a hundred Rand is rich, by hobo standards, but he certainly is not rich, objectively. And for some strange reason, U2’s popularity seems to grow. But when I hear the garbage being spewed out of passing cars and pop radio stations, they have to be considered good. But not objectively.
I’m giving away my age, but I grew up in the era of The Beatles and, as great as they were, they produced a fair amount of dross: consider Oobla di-Oobla da and Revolution No. 9, to name but a few. But at their best, they were unmatched. They are being listened to, and their albums bought, by kids whose grandparents listened to the Beatles.
I’m not going to go into an exhaustive list here, but musicologists from around the world said that the period from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies was the most fertile in the history of music. And before you classical buffs jump on your soap boxes, it was a ten-year period, with an almost unending variety of different kinds of rock music, incorporating classical, jazz, country, folk, latin and what is now known as World music. And they were all brilliant musicians. So much so that Sir Malcolm Arnold, the conductor of the London Philharmonic, praised their music and their abilities, and called members of his orchestra a bunch of hide-bound old farts for not recognising it as such.
There were a few bright spots in between, mostly from the usual suspects, bands that had started in the late sixties, but very little else of note. (pun intended)
Finally, in the late eighties, a whole slew of new bands arose, mostly from the states. Bands like Primus and Sound Garden and so on. Bands that were original and displayed brilliant musicianship. And this continued apace for a few years, but then, same old, same old…
In Jazz, most of the new developments seemed to be coming from Europe and, to my surprise, in rock as well. Well, well, I thought. This is interesting. And everything worthwhile still seems to emanating from Europe. Musically, that is.
And U2 keep churning out the same old vapid dross. And people consider them a great band. It must be said, however, that this is the MTV generation, who think Dumb and Dumber is good comedy. This is the generation whose reading skills have plummeted to the point where, in the USA anyway, 30% of High School graduates are functionally illiterate: where people boast of never having read a book.
It’s why there are no more musical poets, such as Paul Simon and Kerry Livgren, who conjure up images that are forever burned into our memories.There are no longer any people like Frank Zappa, who make you think about the music they’ve written.
And, looking at today’s lot, there will never be another Eleanor Rigby.
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