As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less patient with activities that don’t add value to my life. See; what happens is that you realize the day-of-the-hearse is approaching. Therefore, with quality-of-time in mind, among other things I’m selective about the choice of concerts I attend. Not that I’m some kind of snob; quite the contrary. You see, my taste in music is eclectic; that is, I enjoy most genres, but (like you) I have those I favor; namely, bebop jazz and classical. Favorites can be identified by what one listens to while reading, driving, or relaxing with a cocktail—the times of solitude. At least that’s the way it works for me. Favorite genres aside, my appreciation of music extends in all directions like the roots of the saguaro cactus. It depends on the setting and mood. For example, if I’m in a German beer garden where the atmosphere is festive, OOM-PA-PA polka bands hit the spot. Likewise in a ballroom dance environment, brassy swing bands are appropriate and enjoyable. Ditto for western bands at a rodeo setting; I can Texas two-step with the best of them—if I have to. Then at the beach there’s Jimmy Buffet and shag music; the latter mainly at Myrtle Beach. |
On the other hand, a pure concert is all about music appreciation, which renders me out-of-step with many mainstream musical performance audiences of the twenty-first century. Here’s what I mean: most pop/rock music concert goers of today are there to attain bragging rights for simply attending an “event”, which is about party-hearty, off-key vocal contributions, binge drinking, halitosis, escape from reality, etc., etc.; almost everything but intently listening to and appreciating the actual music. To be fair, they really can’t listen to the music because the instruments are amplified to the nth degree so that melody, harmony, and lyrics are muffled and all that comes through is the bass guitar and drums banging out the beat. It’s all about the beat or as Meghan Trainor sings, “It’s all about that bass, ‘bout that bass…(no treble)” BTW, Trainor is a fine musician (piano and trumpet). It was the same in my youth when Dick Clark asked any teen what they liked about a new tune. The answer was, “Duh, I like the beat.” Still it is my firm belief that practically all ages—no matter their primary preference—enjoy and respond to so-called good music. Here’s my reasoning: Watch a current popular television talent show and note which acts receive the largest audience response. Mostly it’s for an operatic singer or a classical musician. Remember Jackie Evancho?
Against my better judgment, I once attended a joint (no pun intended) Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bad Company concert with a friend, which was an absolutely painful evening; made more so when our whiskey flasks were confiscated upon entry so we’d be forced to buy alcohol—16 oz. beers only—on the inside. (See, I anticipated the evening would be challenging, so I planned to quietly console myself with bourbon.) The audience consisted of oddly-shaped, poorly dressed, amply-tattooed beings of all ages many of whom drank beer constantly, stood up, removed their shirts, oozed flabby sweat, rocked back and forth, jumped up-and-down, high fived, and screamed above the sound of the band. If there was any music behind the amped-up beat, I couldn’t make it out. Also my hearing was impaired for the following week. Afterwards in the parking lot all one could hear about was what a great concert it was, which from my observation, was mainly about drinking, shouting “woo-hoo-party”, jumping randomly about (which they called dancing), and screaming obscenities with one’s friends.
Then there are the Taylor Swift concerts attended mostly by teeny-boppers dressed in their finest Kardashian slutwear. They go berserk while watching their idol lead calisthenics for a chorus line and sing bubble-gum lyrics like, “That’s what people say-ay-ay-ay, and the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake…” Overcome by art (sigh).
Don’t even get me started on rap. You call that music? No way. It’s recitation in poor verse form, about as complicated as a barroom limerick, by a hostile individual with poor language skills, y’unastan what I be sayin’? Yeah, I know; it’s art.
Now while I’m being a tad sarcastic, I make no value judgments. And I cannot deny the commercial success of those concerts and the star performers (I can’t bring myself to call them artists). If the foregoing is what people like and support—great! But it’s just not for me. My wife is a huge country music fan. Me? Not so much. To keep the peace I’ve allowed myself to be conscripted into attending country concerts now and then. Sudden thought: If one combined country and rap would it be called CRAP? Anyway, I’ve seen her personal favorite, George Strait, at the Houston Rodeo and Las Vegas, and have to grudgingly admit the guy is a class act—all about his music. No theatrics like fog machines, fireworks, and smashed guitars; no self-serving monologues other than to humbly say thank you; he simply sings for an hour and a half then rides away on his horse (No kidding!). He’s squeaky clean with freshly blocked hat, starched cowboy shirt and creases ironed into his Wranglers (I kid you not!). Turns out he’s a real cowboy, working a ranch and entering rodeos in the team roping event. Dwight Yokum, on the other hand, was (or tried to be) a Bad Company clone. I've observed that many country performers have an inferiority complex; and therefore, morph into rock. Thumping bass and drums; indistinguishable singing, melody, etc. I left midway through and sat in the lobby. The funny thing was that each musician had a rack of ten or more acoustic guitars that they’d change out with great ceremony between numbers. They may have really been playing air guitar for all anybody knew. Geez, fellows, get over yourselves. The venue for Yokum was a classy, ultramodern palladium made especially for symphonic orchestras, which means great acoustics. Yokum’s roadies amped-up anyway, and his fans showed their approval by standing, dancing, and screaming. A year later, Vince Gill played the same venue with an ear to acoustics, and his performance, which again is not my cup-of-tea, was quite pleasurable meaning I sat through it.
So through it all, I’ve come up with a number of rules for concerts, which I made especially for me. If any of these rules are violated, I walk out. Here they are: 1) Amplified music/noise shall not drown-out a singer or a solo instrument. I insist on being able to hear the clear, harmonic tone of an oboe; 2) DO NOT ask me questions! (Are you ready to rock? How’s everybody doin’?); 3) DO NOT request that I participate. I will not participate in a concert since I’ve paid money for the musician(s) to entertain ME. (Being told to put my hands together or stand up. Holding an extended microphone expecting me to sing and/or indicating I should clap my hands.); 4) Faking it or using auto-tune or lip-syncing; 5) Ladies sitting in my vicinity shall have eyebrows that number two; I see a uni-brow and I’m out of there. 6) No grimy, semi-lard males or females displaying their midriffs and having hanging boogers. Note: I realize the last two items have nothing to do with music quality, but I insist on minimum aesthetics. I mean, C’mon!
Give me music that makes me move based on syncopation (back beat) not an overpowering down beat. Maybe that’s why I like jazz since it’s the genre best known for syncopation; that is, using rhythm and beats in unexpected ways to make finger-snapping music. It’s what makes dancers want to move. It’s a shifting of the expected accent from the usual strong beat to a beat that is expected to be weak. Hint: watch the drummer’s hi-hat cymbal. Mozart and Haydn (who was Mozart with-a-wink with his unexpected key changes and sudden starts and stops) used it back in the day. BUT…to appreciate any music one first must be able to hear it, meaning all the constituent parts.
To conclude this essay about music appreciation in this world of travail and cheap wine, I’ve learned all I need to know about jazz in America from Wynton Marsalis and Ben Sidran that according to Sidran can be broken down into three little pearls of wisdom; which means that you too can have first hand knowledge about jazz in America if you but memorize these three little constituent parts. They go like this: Number 1; the most important thing about jazz in America is a BAD ROMANCE; not a little one or two week affair that goes square, but a really deep down hurt. And given all the bad romance in this country, I’m surprised there aren’t legions of jazz lovers. Hell, I’m an expert on the subject. Number 2; the second most important thing about jazz in America is a GOOD TRAVEL AGENT. You see, when you have a bad romance, you’ve got to get out of town, which exposes you to new people, sights, and experiences (such as bad romances). Finally, the third most important thing about jazz in America is SEAFOOD. That’s right; when you get out of town you’ve got to stay healthy so you can pursue additional bad romances. So there you have it: bad romance, good travel agent, and seafood. Simple, huh?
If you don’t believe me, listen to Marsalis lecture about jazz and give a listen to Ben Sidran singing “A Good Travel Agent”. You’ll see…
Copyright 2015 by Gene Myers; author of critically acclaimed books and opinionated essays that practically nobody reads. I’m in it for the art. (Yeah, that’s it.)
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