Music Without Pretense

Like everyone else, I have a certain taste in music. I have hangups that preclude me from liking certain popular artists, but nevertheless I listen to an eclectic assortment. I use the word “eclectic” here very reluctantly because it’s the go-to word that music snobs use to lord over you the fact that they are complicated and have better taste than you do. Secretly what they really mean is that they listen to indie music almost exclusively and hate (or at least pretend to hate) anything else on principle. Oh you rebellious wannabe hipsters, you make me giggle.

 

Music lovers are like the fans of most other art forms, except there are way more of them. It has its snobs just as it has throngs of people who just “know what they like.” Disclaimer: I am a designer by trade and an amateur musician. Yet I am still among those of you who sees a Jackson Pollock and thinks to myself “How the hell is this art?” I understand its importance from an academic standpoint, because, well, I studied about it in an academic setting. But that doesn’t mean I have to actually like it or even marvel at it from an artistic standpoint. It is just paint splatters after all. But good for him. He got a bunch of pretentious art snobs with too much money to buy his work. I’m not really judging the taste of these people so much as I’m judging their attitude about art and their unfounded air of superiority. As a general rule, you won’t see any real artist paying tons of money for another artist’s work. Think about that for a minute.

Really it makes sense, though, doesn’t it? A mechanic understands better than most what is involved in fixing his car. Do you think he pays someone else to do it? But we’re talking about art, and ostensively, the creation of one person is different than what another artist could do on his own. Nonetheless, the artist understands what goes into the art of his peers better than the average art lover, and so is in a better position to appreciate its worth from a technical perspective. I’m not going to shell out a thousand dollars for someone to design a website for me because I can do myself and I know how.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think everyone that likes Jackson Pollock paintings is stupid or misguided. I’m just saying that you’re allowed to not like them and still be a lover of art. It’s fine to have your own taste, and taste is something that’s developed in any number of ways. I’m not even necessarily saying that your taste shouldn’t be influenced by what other people say, because let’s face it, sometimes people say intelligent things. I just hate it when somebody likes something because they think they should like it, or because they think that it will somehow enhance other peoples’ perception of them.

So let’s get it all out on the table. I’m a child of 90’s and alternative rock forms the bulk of my music collection. But there’s also the likes of Marvin Gaye, Norah Jones, David Grey, and various Gospel / Contemporary Christian outfits. This is a discussion for another time, but I’m a lot more selective about what Gospel / Contemporary Christian artists I listen to than most Christians are. If I had to pick a common theme in the music I enjoy, it would have to be that an artist’s vocals make or break them for me. I usually don’t get too hung up on the lyrics, though — unless they truly ruin a song. I appreciate good poetry over bad poetry, but delivery usually wins out for me in the end. I also do not emphasize the meaning of the song over its artistry as many pious Christians are apt to do. To me that’s tantamount to refusing to listen to someone that disagrees with you, which is decidedly un-Christian. I don’t have to agree with their worldview to enjoy the artistry any more than I have to wish for the dismantling of society by appreciating the chaos of Deconstructivist art. I’m generally not into Pop, Country, or Rap, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. I can appreciate the appeal of each of those genres, I just don’t dig them.

I have to stop here and talk for a minute about Creed. I like them. I was living in China when they burst onto the scene of late 90’s / early 00’s alternative rock. I was in the United States when it all of a sudden became cool to hate them, but apparently I missed the memo. I googled it. Apparently the reason for the disdain is a combination of overplay on the radio, perceived hypocrisy, and a couple unfortunate statements made in interviews. Who cares? I don’t listen to the radio. If you listened to a station that played Creed non-stop, that’s your fault. What the members do is pretty much a non-issue for me. I don’t idolize them, I just enjoy their art. And even if I did, is it really that hard to separate their admirable qualities from their aberrant behavior? I think what makes it difficult for people is the fact that Stapp’s lyrics are often overtly religious, and he describes himself as a Christian. I’m not going to pretend to know how it is for a rock star at the peak of his career, but I will say that people in general do not deserve the “hypocrite” label simply by failing to live up to their own standards. By that metric we are all just as hypocritical. To my knowledge, Stapp did not get preachy about the evils of pre-marital sex on stage and then go backstage to receive oral sex from some coked out groupie. (The latter he did, the former he did not do to my knowledge.)

Some people just honestly don’t like that kind of music, which is fine. Others think Creed is some cheap Pearl Jam imitation. Again, I fail to see the problem. I love Pearl Jam. If Creed sounds just like Pearl Jam, I’d like to have more please (but they don’t). And anyway, it’s not like Pearl Jam is so unique or something. They have their influences just like everyone else. They’ve been in court cases to defend their work for copyright infringement. I don’t get hung up on the fact that so-and-so sounds like so-and-so. What I really care about is whether it sounds good. And, by the way, that goes for artists as they “evolve” throughout their careers as well. All the critics are hung up on whether an artist sounds like they did before — whether they are “progressing” as an artist. Excuse me, but the reason I like an artist is because they sound like they do. Why would I want them to change? If I want something completely different, I’ll listen to someone else; I won’t sit around and complain about how the artist sounds the same. I’m all for the artist experimenting, especially if the result sounds good, but I don’t get all up in arms if they make awesome music similar to the awesome music they did before. More often than not, artists that change musically to any significant degree end up being the artist that was good when they started but now suck.

And now back to indie music. Ah, the genre that isn’t a genre. So basically, you have a group of artists on independent labels. Because they aren’t on major labels, they have trouble getting their name out there. Often they have a sound that is not mainstream, but that’s not always the case. A bunch of hipsters in the know get wind of them and celebrate how indie they are. They tell their hipster wannabe friends. The indie band starts to enjoy modest success. They are picked up by a major label. Are they still indie? “Indie” is not a category of music, it’s a label for something that’s not mainstream. There are very diverse sounds under the banner of “indie,” to the point that the label is essentially meaningless for everyone except hipsters and wannabe hipsters who think they are cool because they listen to hitherto unpopular music. It’s not that the music isn’t good, it’s just that it’s not popular yet. And once it does become popular, they’re on to the next unpopular artist because popularity is somehow uncool. Seriously, the more popular something is, the less cool it is.

No, this must stop. Listen to music without pretense. Who cares how popular it is? Who cares that the lead singer is a douche? If lyrics matter to you, fine. Don’t tell everyone that they should matter more to them. Let people like what they want to like. Share good music. Don’t make fun of people for having different taste than you do (unless they like pop, country, or rap).

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