On the Way by Eric Johnson and the Superficial Costumes of the Tribe

I really enjoy the above piece, On the Way, by Eric Johnson.  I’ve always loved, among a million other styles, fast, melodic, and clean guitar playing in the vein of early Johnny Marr.  Johnson shows on this piece, being a master guitar player, how easily he goes between that kind of British jingle jangle style and American country picking.  As well as being a bass player, I have always played guitar, so just the pure musicality of the piece interests me.  However, I think even as a non-musician there are things that one can find pleasurable and interesting about the piece.  One thing you realize playing music is how many various forms of music are really similar once you get right down to it.  It’s easy to turn a country song into a reggae song or to turn a reggae groove into a calypso by just slightly altering the accents of a rhythm.  I think in this piece it is really obvious how different forms of music are more interchangeable than they let on.  When the song starts out it is pretty traditional country in the chord progression and the note choice.  As it progresses the chord progression and melody get more complex and melodic, and it starts to sound more like something Johnny Marr would have played in The Smiths.  Music is often associated with different tribes within society, although this is less prevalent than in the past.  Country music is sometimes associated with rednecks, reggae with Rastafarians, soul music and hip-hop with black culture.  But really at its core music is just music, in the same way that we all share a common humanity when you look past the superficial costumes of the tribe.


Roads Still Yet to be Traveled

I’ve really become interested in electronic music lately.  Some bands that I’ve been listening to lately have been Kraftwerk, Daft Punk, OMD, and Book of Love.  I also love the Knife, though their music fits less moods than the others, as they are more abrasive and confrontational.  I also love the music on Johnny Jewel’s label, especially the band The Chromatics.  I’ve always loved synth pop.  I grew up on bands like New Order.

I’m interested in the idea of people getting emotion out of technology.  Also some of the best pop songs are in this genre.  Bernard Sumner from New Order can write endless melodies that never leave your head.

Although I grew up with bands like New Order, Electronic, and Depeche Mode, some of my current interest has been driven by the films of Nicolas Winding Refn.  He uses this music to great effect in films like Drive, Bronson, and Only God Forgives.  He understands that although this music is very synthetic on one hand, it is also capable of great emotion.

If country and folk music, which I also love, evoke pastoral settings, electronic music reminds me of the city at nighttime.  That’s not to say that electronic music can’t also be pastoral.  Brian Eno’s 70’s album Another Green World is an album that brings nature to mind more often than not.  Kraftwerk’s Autobahn album also has moments like this.  Although I love songs that have a message and am a fan of great lyrics, sometimes music is wonderful when it just creates space for dreams.

Haruki Murakami’s book After Dark creates a surreal dream like version of the city at night.  When I read things like this I often picture certain pieces by Kraftwerk and the Chromatics as being the perfect soundtrack to these worlds.

I grew up as a fan of the pop song.  More recently I’ve begun to be as interested in music that is non verbal.  Music that is non verbal has to create emotion and thought through pure sound.  This can be music that is instrumental or music that has the vocals obscured through production techniques.  Non verbal to me can even be bands that sing in foreign languages, where I can’t understand what they are saying, and the voice becomes just another emotional texture.  Often in electronic music, especially as you see with bands like Daft Punk and Kraftwerk, only a few simple phrases will be repeated throughout a song.  Even though you understand what they are saying it is open to interpretation when combined with the music.  The words become almost just another sound that feeds into the music and vice versa.

Although I write in the pop song format, and it’s still my favorite format, there is something to be said about music that is non verbal.  The human imagination is a powerful thing.  In the place of words we will often find that our dreams take over and place meaning into things that may or may not be intended by the artist.

I’ve mentioned before how David Lynch liked using grainy digital video for the movie Inland Empire, because he wanted the human imagination to fill in the space that the imperfect images left.  I think a lot of electronic music, the kind that is non verbal or almost non verbal, does this same thing.  It allows for interpretation and dreaming on the part of the listener.

Well there are many forms of instrumental music, many of which I love, the sounds created by electronic instruments create a different headspace.  Again it is often, but not always, more urban and futuristic.  Some bands like OMD, who write pop songs and instrumental pieces, create a retro futurism.  It’s like the sonic version of a film noir that takes place in the past and the future at the same time.  One of my favorite albums right now is their album Dazzle Ships.  It is an album full of mystery, ideas, and dreams.

Too often I think people let cultural or tribal things get in the way of exploring new worlds.  People are more open now to new musical experiences than ever before.  Sometimes though, there still exists a certain tribal instinct that gets in the way of people enjoying different forms, based solely on what they might find “cool” or acceptable in their group.   The human imagination can go anywhere and should be given as much room to roam as possible.  Don’t listen to anything but your own gut.  There are many roads still yet to be traveled.

Where I’m Coming From

I would like to explain the kind of writing I am trying to do with this blog a little more.  Think of it as a diary, but where a diary is a reflection of one’s own feelings and inner thoughts, this is a diary of what I see and think of what is going on in our culture on a day to day basis.  Where a diary would be all about me, with this blog I am trying to hold up a mirror to the world as best I can.

I am trying to write on a daily basis, without fear, on what I see, hear, and read.  All writing is biased and personal to some degree.  I don’t have a stranglehold on the truth.  I am simply trying to tell my truth as best I can.

View the culture as an ocean.  Everyone is swimming in that ocean.  It influences us in ways that we can’t even comprehend.  I am trying to help people understand that ocean and how it influences us.  In even the simplest pop song there are market forces, cultural prejudices, and tribal loyalties at play.  When someone drives a pickup truck they may be driving it for reasons of need related to work, or they might be driving it because of reasons associated with identity.

I grew up in a liberal family with mostly conservative friends.  I am from the North East, but I live in the South.  I am a musician who played sports as a kid.  I’ve worked white collar jobs and I’ve worked blue collar jobs.  My parents are Unitarian, but I have read the Bible and taken religious classes, and I don’t belong to any kind of church or organization.  I’ve read Steinbeck and I read Entertainment Weekly.  I treasure David Lynch, but I’ve watched trashy reality shows.

My heroes include Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter Thompson, Morrissey, Oscar Wilde, Oliver Stone, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Nicolas Winding Refn, Bob Dylan, Paul Westerberg, John Lennon, George Orwell, Hampton Sides, Lou Reed, Bill Maher, Haruki Murakami, Flannery O’Connor, and George Carlin.  Those are just a few of the many people that have influenced my way of thinking.

I have an American Studies degree from PennState and am getting an Environmental Science and Policy degree from St. Edward’s University.  I play in a band called No Show Ponies and a band called Shinyribs.

This will hopefully tell those of you that don’t know me a little bit about what my background is and who I am.  I’ve always liked George Carlin’s distaste for groups and the way that he tried to treat every individual as an individual.

I have my own biases and blind spots.  I don’t claim that I have some kind of secret information that elevates me above anyone else.  If there is anything that I view as being slightly different it is that I don’t fit neatly into any tribal affiliation.  In the past year I’ve gone to art museums and drank beer on the back of a pick up truck while my friends went hunting.  Although most of my political beliefs could best be described as extremely liberal, I have friends that run the gamut in terms of their political orientation.

Every time I write something I am filled with a feeling of pride followed by a serious feeling of dread and self doubt.  I promise to write as honestly as I can in the moment and let it stand as is.  I will not revise anything, unless it is for spelling or grammatical purposes.

Hopefully those of you that read this will learn to trust me.  Not that you will agree with me, but in the sense that I will not bullshit you.  I will fail and I will succeed.  I am human.