Why Johnny Can’t Play

Stacy McCain had a piece up on music that really resonated with me about the Band “Chicago” music back in the day.

I love music. All kinds.

I play music – both guitar and bass, and have for decades. I’m good at it. Not great, but competent. By the way, a lot of friends that I’ve played with at Church didn’t know that one, I can read music. And two, I played classical guitar for years as a kid. Hated it. Didn’t get it at the time.
But I do now. And I listen to all sorts.

I was fortunate to grow up in an era with absolutely epic music. And to be fair, it wasn’t just Rock in the 70s. Even before what we had waves – Beatles (I only thought they were OK), Folk, R&B, Blues, Motown. Even Country/Western was better. And I’d say decent music was still around in the 80s and 90s. There were many bands still coming out with unique, awesome sounds.
But that started to peter out as the turn of the century hit, displaced by the gawdawful sounds we hear today from Pop and Rap.

Why are the music and especially the lyrics of days gone by better?

The writer stares with glassy eyes, defies the empty page.

His beard is white, his face is lined and streaked with tears of rage.

Thirty years ago, how the words would flow with passion and precision. But now his mind is dark and dulled by sickness and indecision.
And he stares out the kitchen door, where the sun will rise no more…

Some are born to move the world, to live their fantasies. But most of us just dream about the things we’d like to be. Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it. For you, the blind who once could see,

The bell tolls for thee…

RUSH, Losing It

Let’s start with laziness. Playing an instrument and learning music theory is work, it takes hours and hours of practice and failure. Everyone wants fame and money, but won’t do the work and don’t realize that most great musicians sing and play because that’s what they like to do. Money comes later. It’s a cart-horse thing. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters was attributed to saying get some dudes together and start playing. You’ll suck but then get better. He said this about “the Voice” contests. People don’t work, and can’t sing. All the pop music I hear seems only to have two or three notes, and they still use an autotuner.

Second, our schools have taught shit for English for decades. What’s the average American reading lever? 5th grade? Ever pick up a foreign paper – you know one with an educated base? It’s wonderful. They don’t read, so they don’t live vicariously through stories as we once did. If you don’t read, you can’t write. Hell, I’ve had people send me emails with absolutely horrid grammar.

What dreams he made for us to dream, Spanish skies, Egyptian sands. The world was ours, we marched upon Our little Corporal’s command.

And I lost an eye at Austerlitz, the sabre slash yet gives me pain. My one true love awaits me still, the flower of the Aquitaine.

Save my soul from evil, Lord, and heal this soldier’s heart.

I’ll trust in thee to keep me, Lord. I’m done with Bonaparte

Mark Knopfler, Done With Bonaparte

Third, on the laziness theme, in this interconnected world generations have done nothing. So they have nothing to write about even if they could articulate. Like with newspeak in Orwell’s 1984 – even if they had some sort of experience, the words aren’t in their heads and even if they were they’d have trouble writing them down. Seems like nearly all the songs I’ve heard lately are about sex or gossip. Look at those two lyrics above – Losing It is about losing your youth and skill. Done with Bonaparte is about a French soldier that’s worn out from fighting under Napoleon – written and sung in first person. Do you think most of the singer-songwriters could even get that in their head, much less articulate it?

You know what’s worse?

Don’t think you’re going to get around this by listening to classical. I had two kids in orchestra, and one has a masters in music performance. I’ve been to many, many performances. And if the composer was born after 1930 or so, or is still ambling around, their music mostly sucks. What happens is before they play the piece, the conductor or even the composer will talk with the audience about the piece. And if they have explain it, you won’t get it, and it’ll sound like a bucket of ball bearings falling down a ladder interspersed with chainsaws.

Every time.

And when you are asked how it was, and you’re honest, you’ll be told you don’t understand music.

Whatever. Played it most my life, all kinds. I get it.

Back to rock. Have you seen or heard anyone under the age of 40-50 that’s a virtuoso of any kind? I can’t think of any. Pretty sad stuff.

At least we have the music from when people knew how to make it recorded.