My family likes music. I like music. More like I love it really. Mom plays piano and fools around with flute. Her sister plays anything with strings pretty well. Their father and his brother and sister all played piano and guitar…sometimes for money…
My mom’s 1948 student piano is here with me. Its a bashed-up Wurlitzer. My Grandfather’s chromatic harps are here. He used them to play these great little jazzy, floaty, endless melodies…one of his guitars is here too come to think about it.
When I was a kid my family would go to the grandparent’s house on Saturday afternoon. We would stay late almost every time. My father would yawn at some point and it would be time to go. The thing that kept the grown-ups there late was music. They were playing music together. All of their favorite songs I guess. It was easy to get caught up in the good time they were having. Probably had a good little buzz going too.
The family had a couple of ringers. Uncle Jay had been on the road after WWII playing guitar with the horn bands. It was a union job. He liked it. He could play. Aunt Karen…well my parents never told me where she had been…neither did she…she was drunk though and she played what my family called hot fiddle. She could actually sing a little bit. But they all could.
If you went into Rich’s Department Store in the late 1940’s shopping for a record you would wind up in a place with records and sheet music. There was a brisk business in sheet music. More than the recordings! One of the things this meant was that the store would have tons of sheet music for which there was simply no recording. You might wonder what the sheet music would sound like…thats why there was a piano there for you to use. There was also a “music player.” Not a device, but a person…hand the music player the sheet music you want to hear and listen away.
Try to imagine with me…It is any Friday night…maybe its fall. Not too hot, not to cold. Its maybe 1880. But it could be any year before the turn of the 20th century. You and me we are friends. We like to have dinner and a drink and smoke it over. Sometimes we want to hear music. Sometimes the local bar or theatre has music. We get dressed for dinner and go downtown. We see other people and together we hear the music. The next day we want to hear it again. So we play and sing it…or somebody does… or we are left with the power of memory and imagination.
Not as easy as pressing the rewind button.
The point is…what is the point? We still go to the show right? So what if we don’t play music together as an afterthought? So what if we can hear the song a hundred times just by pressing a button? So what if we cannot play the music we listen to? So what if it seems like a strange idea? So what if the people creating the music never played it together? So what if they can’t? So what if they can, but it sounds funny? So what if they can’t play or sing that well in the first place? What do we care?
Greil Marcus said that the artist’s intent makes no difference because music is completely subjective. Each of us separately determines whether we like it or not…I agree. Sam Nunn was a senator from Georgia. He quit after being re-elected many times. He said he could no longer go on pretending that the electorate cared. Without an informed and educated electorate he could do no good. And so he quit.
The bands can do nothing without the listeners. The more educated, aware and active the listeners are the better the bands become. If we are in a lull (and it is much worse than that) it is the listeners who are to blame. How much intrinsic value does music have? None? All? Is it devalued by recording it? Or does technology always challenge us to stay human?
The only direction we can go is forward.