Friday, July 22, 2005I love to drive around and sing. When doing so, my usual preferred genre of music in country in one form or another; folk, bluegrass or modern stuff like Ryan Adams. A few weeks ago I talked about how I saw him at City Stages in Birmingham. He's a great performer, but the guy was absolutely hammered. Knowing some of his other habits, I'm frankly not surprised that he didn't have a little nosebleed, either. That said there are times on his new record, Cold Roses, where my jaw just drops over how good the music is. I'll find myself staring at the stereo wondering from where the magic comes. It's just that good. It's no Heartbreaker, mind you, but it's pretty darn close. Of course Adams is known for his ego and self-indulgence, but when he is focused, he is a phenomenal artist.
Here's a list of a few other artists that blow my mind everytime I listen:
- Tom Waits is probably the best songwriter in America. He can write in any genre he chooses, whether a Tin Pan Alley ballad or a beatnik ramble. Waits' illlustrates the seedy underbelly of the big city in a way that is touching and tragic. His love songs echo with romanticism but never superficiality.
- Patty Griffin has yet to do me wrong. Her music is unbelievably sad at points, entirely hopeful at others. "Rain" is such a powerful piece of music. So is "Forgiveness" and "Mother of God."
- Townes Van Zandt was the best songwriter in the world in his heyday. His songs are soaked in existentialism, though, and it's not surprising that his own life was mired in such tragedy.
- Van Morrison manages to pretty much summarize everything I would ever want to say in music, but I suppose one day I'll try anyway.
This is a loose list and this post is really not going anywhere right now. I just thought I would talk about music for a minute. I can talk about jazz later and believe me I will, because I think that jazz is the quientessential music of the American city and the existentialism of the modern world; our movement and rhythym and our smog and smoke and steam. It conjures up the loneliness of an empty street or the sheer pleasure of a crowded restaurant full of close friends. Country is different in all its forms as it meanders up mountains, down coasts and over dusty plains and open roads. I love the wail of a fiddle and the whining of a steel guitar, a lonely man looking for work and singing about a woman he's left behind in Alabama. Most of my favorite songwriters have some roots in this music, certainly the ones above do. They capture an essence of American life perhaps better than anyone else I've encountered.
Lastly concerning jazz, I'm trying to understand the changes in jazz from swing to bebop. What's the significance of the changes from chords to scales and all this business about modal jazz? I can hear the differences, but not knowing much about music, I have a hard time grasping it. In the same sense that I think Francis Schaeffer and Nancy Pearcey - bless them both - are straining at gnats when they gripe about DeBussy and Ornette Coleman engaging in deconstructionism. It makes no sense to me. Let's argue philosophy if we must (and we should, frankly), but when Pearcey writes that rock music is pretty much bad because John Lennon was once a deconstructionist art student, I get bored in a hurry. I'm not making common cause with deconstructionism, mind you. I think Foucault and Derrida and Sartre were dangerous ideologues who have done a great deal of harm to our world, but it's apples and oranges, and if we want a good example of why their thinking is wrong, let's talk about the Khmer Rouge mowing down two million peasants, and leave the Beatles to someone else.