I’ve Never Really Understood…

…purists who insist only one band can ever have experimented with a sound or style of making music, particularly if they have long since abandoned it, or have disbanded. I would think that, so long as any newcomers wishing to mine some of the same sonic territory actually do it in their own way, adding new melodies and rhythms and not just rehashing old riffs in new combinations (though a little clever riff swiping can be a legitimate form of creative use as well; Led Zeppelin, Yes, and the Beatles certainly weren’t above stealing from the best sources), then it’s all fair game.

Now, me, I’ve certainly dabbled in classic rock styles, but I’ve also written and recorded stuff that didn’t sound much like anything or anyone other than myself. For my money, I think any band being stolen from in the right spirit would generally be flattered. Sometimes, they think they’re just being ripped off, and that’s fair, I suppose, at least until they speak with the culprit and learn that it really is just the sincerest form of flattery, and not a deliberate ‘gonna steal your crown, old man!’ sort of thing.

In many ways, I’m probably glad that my musicianship is as informal and flawed as it is, because I simply don’t have the chops to really borrow too much from my key influences. Even Anthony Phillips’ skill surpasses mine, and many people have seemingly dismissed him as a lesser musician, simply because he didn’t become a multi-millionaire like Phil or them.

The truth is, Ant is an amazing guitarist, and I can only occasionally manage to ape some of his more familiar sounds with difficulty. And that suits me fine, because really, I don’t ever want to get so good that I stop thinking I can do things that I’ve never tried before. I like trying new things, even if they don’t always work out.

Getting back to my topic, though, the thing is, modern bands that find their niche mining mineral-rich veins that were once the home territory of some band that hasn’t recorded an album in over a decade can’t really been seen as stealing; it can only be called carrying the torch. Not all bands that do this are created equal, and surely there will be those that are undistinguished. However, there will also be exceptionally gifted musicians and songwriters/composers, who will do a superlative job of picking up the torch, and to my mind, they aren’t thieves; they are progenitors. They are what keeps a given style of music fresh and relevant.

Purists have this odious tendency of declaring that only music from a specific era is genuine, and all that follow in their footsteps are mere imitators, pretenders to the throne, and have no right to exist. I tend to think purists are a waste of space, but that’s neither here nor there. Everyone has a tendency of hearkening back nostalgically to an era that well and truly ended perhaps decades ago. But there is nothing to be gained by dismissing all endeavours to recapture some of the magic of a specific era or genre of music, regardless of whether its most legendary practitioners are still alive or not.

I’m one of those people that believes–very strongly–that a musical style is only valid if it can be enjoyed and revisited and revised and renewed by younger musicians with new sensibilities. It might seem like sacriledge, but there are very few styles of music that interest me if they can’t have life breathed into them once more in the hands of new practitioners. If everything that can and should be said about a certain style of music was said thirty, forty, fifty years ago, then it’s of no interest to me. It’s dead to me. I feel strongly about this, and it is hard for me to enjoy certain limited styles of music simply because they are so formalized and rigid, leaving no room for invention.

Fortunately, even styles I’m usually disposed to dislike are not impossible to redress, if done with the right spirit of invention. I’ve yet to hear a polka I genuinely like, but Al Yankovic makes polka fun and adventurous, if nothing else. Peter Fox recorded perhaps my favourite album of German Rap (Stadtaffe), and did so brilliantly by not flinching away from his European roots. Very well played. And certain modern musicians occasionally prove that country and western music can indeed be rehabilitated for modern times without basically playing ‘new country’/’country rock’ (which I’ve done more than once, so I’m not knocking it). I’m not a fan of it, but I can genuinely appreciate when it’s done well, and not TOO reverential to that which has come before.

Just don’t ask me to name any modern country artists who do classic country western in a way I truly enjoy. I can appreciate it, but I’m no fan of western, bluegrass or mountain music. But Alison Krauss can keep trying to convert me, because I think she sounds wonderful, and is cute as the dickens.

So, what brought this on? Oh, I broke my cardinal rule about not reading the comments again, while visting Youtube. I linked to a song by Big Big Train, one of my new passions, and of course, someone in the comments dismissed them as a second-rate Genesis sound-alike, to which I wanted to say something, but experience has taught me arguing on the internet is a waste of breath.

So instead, I rant on my blog. Hey, I didn’t say I was going to sit and do nothing. I just refuse to argue in a comment thread any more. It accomplishes exactly nothing. But incidentally, anyone who simply dismisses Big Big Train as a Genesis wannabe hasn’t given them a fair hearing, because they have a lot more than just Genesis sounds to offer.

Okay, I think I’m all ranted out. Probably going to go to bed pretty soon. Hope everyone has a fine evening, and a fine day as well, since most of you won’t be reading this until you get to work.

Thank you for reading. Music reviews coming soonish.


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