Monday, August 20, 2007
I've been having a wonderful email discussion with my younger brother, Nathan
He was complaining about modern musical styles generally as well as trying to convince me of the importance of Synchronicity by The Police. He made some excellent points about interesting musical choices that they made.
I said that I think a whole lot of what's wrong with all of these musical genres and any number of sub-genres is lack of outside influence.
Imagine Mr. Rock & Roll Dude decides he wants to start a Rock & Roll band. He knows the popular Rock & Roll bands of the day and a small handful of the pre-canonized Rock & Roll bands from the 1970's. He knows a small number of individual blues songs, but little about the catalogs of songs that would have influenced the bands he loves. He knows the basic greatest hits of Johnny Cash and possibly one other country artist. He probably can't name a gospel song. He doesn't know much jazz or anything in particular about how it's played.
Because he has this tiny little understanding of music, his only way to approach the melody or rhythm is the same way he heard in that same small group of people. He neither instinctively comes to experiment with different approaches nor comes to a thought-out decision that another approach might make his performance more interesting.
It seems from what I've read and heard over the years that more specific sub-genres of music seem to have substantially more of that kind of tunnel vision approach. Rappers listen to rap and a small number of R&B artists that are direct antecedents to rap. Heavy metal guys listen to other metal and certain kind of classical.
But, of course, Grandmaster Flash, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, etc. or Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, etc. didn't come from that limited an approach. They all knew music.
And even when you look at simpler music, the early Rock & Roll and R & B performers of the '50s and '60s, the majority came out of a background of knowing blues, country, gospel, jazz, etc.
Of course, that's what all three members of The Police brought to the group, and even more, they brought distinct strengths that the others didn't have as much, so that collectively their instincts and influences stretched a good long way out from the specific motif they were working with, which allowed them to play more interestingly within that motif. The same thing that's true of Elvis, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Nirvana or what have you. Frankly, nearly anyone who made compelling music over the course of some amount of time.
I think the same is true of movies.
Action movies are being made by people whose experience doesn't extend past Die Hard in any significant manner.
I discussed "torture porn", as it were, with my friend Jo.
Now, I'm uncomfortable with the blanket dismissal of these movies. I think the movies that open the trend were made by people who were attempting, arguably succeeding, in doing something more interesting or entertaining than easy shocks. Unfortunately, like all trends, they're taken over entirely by marketing departments and desperate young moviemakers desperate to jump on a trend to get attention.
And too many of these young moviemakers don't know how to give bigger and better shocks any way except ratcheting the extremity or at least attempting to. Despite the fact that the video revolution has created the ability for aspiring moviemakers to see movies from all through time, but the evidence suggests most are still focusing their attentions on the works that don't extend back further than the works of David Fincher, aside from a kind of greatest hits package.
If one wants to understand shocks, they should have a thorough knowledge of what has come before. Having a rich knowledge of Hitchcock, knowing the various movies produced by Val Lewton, seeing the Hammer movies, understanding Bava. But even past that, the rich darkness of Welles, the shattering emptiness of Bergman, etc. These are the kinds of things a person should be able draw from in order to make decisions that aren't mere second-generation copies of recent movies.
Think of what a horror director whose favorite movie is Tales of Hoffman might make...
Not that I'm trying to suggest one should see and recognize what works in the new. I'm a huge fan of art moving forward to fresh and exciting places.
Going back to The Police, however, you can see that they were also excited by the new sounds going on in punk rock, reggae, etc., but their understanding of jazz, R&B and early Rock & Roll is what made them able make something that was new and exciting at the time rather than simply a cheap and boring imitation of other British Punk bands or white reggae artists.