I found humanity through music. I lose focus and grow cynical at times, but if I am honest as a listener, and remain receptive, the chance of transcending my emotional disturbances and triumphs through music remains. There’s the possibility of unity, and humility, but always humanity, in sharing our art. The very idea of allowing our naked self to be exposed through what we create transcends so much of what a modern culture of division tells and sells us.
In the kinds of music I celebrate, there is a statement of belief in the spirit of the human, that we are more than wrecked and wretched animals acting in defense of ourselves as individuals. Music is why I think I am here, to live in it, to emote and receive through sound. It saves my life consistently. It is a way to remain connected to you, and it’s why I continue to play and write, at times impulsively. I need it. I need to connect with people that way, or I am alone, regardless of who surrounds. I am stubborn and have a way I want to connect, because I want that relationship to be real. I want them to know me, not someone I am pretending to be. It’s simple and perhaps sentimental, but there is no worth and no use in gaining recognition for something you are not.
With the influx of music academia, and scores of musicians born from the era of watching rock stardom on the television, the ability to connect at a substantive level on a mass scale has grown scarce if not lost, and the very acknowledgement that this sort of art-engaged interaction is important to our society, its growth, and our health as individuals can often be cast as limp wristed fantasy peddling. The ability to make a statement, our statement, to feel like we should only be ourselves, and create from there, is more difficult to achieve as an artist. We worry and think about what others are doing and how we measure up. This is destructive and has no place in an honestly creative process of creation.
I met the guitarist known as Buckethead once, he was incredibly sweet man, but suffering. No one knew who he was and he couldn’t get a gig without putting on a Phantom of the Opera mask and a Kentucky Fried Chicken cardboard bucket over his head. That would be the physical manifestation of what can have the art world suffering. We’re not alright with ourselves, except for some who are, and we love them, because we feel them, and its empowering. Be the mule.
Always at risk overstatement, here is a video of one of the best things to ever happen to the arts in my fraction of consumption. There’s a statement here. It’s one that should be discussed and felt, and I’m uncertain exactly what it is in words, but let the blood spit around and feel what it is.
Hundreds of thousands of people at a rock festival, and these artists show up and improvise for 35 minutes with some of the most powerful, emotive collection of rhythms and pitches I have ever heard. It doesn’t matter that is one chord if you are a music judge. It’s real, and look at the people. They couldn’t believe this shit. I still can’t. Using a word that has lost its significance in its being overused, it is truly epic. A triumph of the human creative spirit. Put it next to the premier of Don Giovanni, JFK’s speech on secret societies, and Dante’s Inferno. That’s the type of statement that’s here. It reminds me that I am real, and I can do right by being honest and provocative.
It is the music, and relationships, that began in basements and bled through in van tours that still resonate at this deeper level. You can feel these people through their notes and interactions. Its all there, this giant swath of humanity from the playful to the deadly. You can’t fake that stuff. You need the hours alone in the dim lit apartment with a chair and a mattress, the rehearsals no one wants to go to, the broken bands, and the shedding of people you cannot truly love. Find people you love. Do it, love them hard, they need it, you need it, the music needs it, and in the end it sweats out of you to whoever you are playing to. That’s going to be your statement, you can shade it in various concepts, but if you develop a way to be honest, your statement is made for you.
So what is your way to connect, our statement, why are we saying whatever we are. I don’t believe the answer has to be finite or shaved to a three word marketing pitch, but it’s important to be aware that the most human, most resonant, and most poignant of musics, and arts, come in a statement that is not only unique to the person doing the creating, but also bears weight as being illuminating in a way that is new.
Your statement does not have to be particularly profound, nor reactionary, nor angry, nor empowering, it just has to be you. People will come back then, and they will want to talk to you, and, the ultimate presumption, you’re going to feel right about it. The need to criticize and divide will be stripped away, because you won’t be afraid any more. Get unafraid. We can all be better for it. Don’t waste time complaining about the electorate. If we awake as artists, people follow. We are desperate for truth, there’s just not much of it happening. Be the mule.
We have more music students than ever in our history, yet the “studied musics”—jazz and classical—are somehow losing their poignancy and cultural relevance on a wider scale, perhaps only surviving in a cyclical teacher to student-to-teacher protective life span. There is a nostalgia to it, there is respect for its tradition that survives in some circles, but largely the younger generation doesn’t find it interesting. Is it because the music is boring, or too busy and note heavy, lost its focus as melody driven? Is everyone just too dumb to get it? Or is it because there’s just not that much being said there? The answer probably involves a soft yes to all three questions, but that’s for you to figure out by sharing your art.
Hip Hop when it broke made a profound, intriguing, and illuminating statement on the life of an impoverished younger generation. It bit hard, and was creativity at its most relevant, an innate commentary on life beneath the circuitry. We can lose this in academia. Academics are to give us tools, not a way we must use them. Hip Hop won’t survive in academia, and its spirit hasn’t survived capitalism (nor have the blues, nor folk, our most culturally significant American of musics, along with jazz). Does that make the art form or the institution irrelevant? My guess is the art outlasts the institution.
So, what’s the point, to denigrate the already battered university homed worlds of jazz and classical musics and declare the irrelevant in making an effective creative statement? No, that’s easy, cheap, and common, and the fringes of both genres are cultivating new and profound music that will one day be heard for what it is. On the contrary, I hope to empower. Use the knowledge you have to be you, not them.
Be a person, an artist, above a musician. Practice and indulge in vision more than you do chord scales. Live a lot. Question. And when voices and statements flesh themselves out, get behind them with all you have. Time, relationship, money, whatever you got, get behind your stuff. Its hard and hurts, because they are not always going to love it, maybe no one will, but its gonna be yours, and you gave it to the world, and no one else could. Don’t try and bullshit them with theatrics, or show them something, just be it.
This is not nostalgia, its real, and it’s coming back. Get on it. Unlearn all the stuff they teach you that divides, find a way to speak that is your own, and if it’s truly meaningful to you, and you really know that – the delusions have been shed – its going to work. Get behind it. And then drag them with. Be the mule. Your statement will be made for you.