One of those things.

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Music is just one of those things.

A half-spoken realization in haziness. A fresh breath on a Sunday afternoon. A wave to inspire oceans of emotions in the human spirit.  It can be unclear and overwhelmed in ambiguity. A science that has little visual input, yet so many audiovisual and paradisaical images to offer the inner palette.

Or, yeah, nah, it’s shit writing by an equally shit poet.

It may seem inconsequential to some, but I love every moment I listen to a 4/4 beat that sizes me up, strips me bare and totally nails my shit:

how I feel,

how I’m grooving,

how my day is moving.

To me, it, well, y’know what: that damn beat nailed my life, in this moment, right now. Each stutter that kick-drum makes, so too does the timbre of my core. If these artists want to play call and response, I always respond for more.

So, tell me, how does an artist make more of this?:

Here I am, a wannabe critic and I’m asking for them to make more of these expertly produced tracks. A feat for which totally obscures my own knowledge. I have no idea how many hours they spent in the studio just to extract Lauryn Hill’s anguish in a take.

But I know how the music communicates her every fear and worry about her son.

Her baby boy.

Her beautiful Zion.

And how her love for her son totally eclipsed every other thing on the planet. Yeah, her tender, motherly love sings right there, right between one of the best Santana licks I’ve ever been privy to hear and a church choir that puts me in the heart of a black congregation in the Deep South, and with it she totally obliterates everything I may have thought I knew about pregnancy.

How it seems they’re just marchin’, marchin’, marchin’ to their Zion.

Just

marchin’ (marchin’, marchin’),

marchin’ (marchin’, marchin’),

marchin’ (marchin’, marchin’)

to their own beautiful, beautiful Zion (beautiful, beautiful Zion)…

Even if no one notices them.

Yeah, Lauryn Hill made me understand damn well what it felt like to be a pregnant black woman on the cusp of becoming a female-Kanye-before-there-ever-was-Kanye in the hip-hop music industry. Moreover I’m impressed by how far she pushes her peddle to the metal. I want to listen to how she’s trying to hold on to dear life itself as the media circus forms in anticipation of the games to play with her on center stage.

I want more of that.

I want to hear more of this someone, bleeding their soul through my speakers. I want to hear more of those sounds, blasting me every half-second I look down at my shoes. I want to hear more of that voice she does, singing about each and every little sweet nothing that no one ever gave a damn about until she put it on a track.

That shit’s some A-fucking-plus stuff right in front of my face and I dare to ask for more by the cut’s end.

Yet I can’t hold a beat worth jack.

Once again, I feel like I’m asking for more of what I don’t know. I’m plumbing the pipes of the Pandora’s box for answers. I’m questioning a musical machine that lives out of my frame of life and interferes with my life regularly.

Apparently there’s a hit factory somewhere out there. Because Lauryn Hill mastered our senses of sound. She knows exactly what sounds good– what makes you, me and every Mike McGee down the road feel satisfied about themselves. And if her personal strife doesn’t feed the need to be entertained then some other record producer will figure us out soon enough. Because, she, like the record producers, can build a beat, set down some backing tracks, find a danceable rhythm with some distortion and  a simple three-chord change.

And if they didn’t then explain away this:

And some times I wonder if that’s the artist’s conundrum: they know how to manipulate my feelings in a way that’s incredibly personal when they themselves can be ironically veiled behind their work. Because, I only know Rick Astley based on two outings — the aforementioned (tell me you didn’t like that track with a straight face and I’ll eat all the crow you want) and the otherwise mentioned.

But I’ll be damned if we haven’t gotten great music out of the deal. I mean, where were we really scammed to begin with? I’m not ever sure any music-junkie, listening to music day-in and day-out could know exactly what the public wants. But I’ll trust the Artic Monkeys or the XX to figure it out soon enough because Alex Turner and Jamie XX could absolutely play me inside and out just as easily as any of there own instruments and I hardly even know their names.

Fuck, I guess that’s all we’ll have to go by is: a name.

For $9.99 someone could go into a digital record store and own a name– not just an album, a name.

From ABBA to Fela Kuti to Led Zeppelin to TLC, I don’t anything about the artists other than how he or she keeps a beat, responds to their own cry and manipulates a guitar or a trumpet or a piano or some MacBook they were lent anywhere from two days to two years ago. I don’t know how they make such a wonderous orchestra of sounds from math on a page. I don’t know how a musician does that, just that they do.

Shit, some of these cats don’t even need instruments– just their voices can send shivers through men.

In some ways I’m critiquing what I don’t know.

I may never pick up a guitar in my lifetime. I may never turn a tune or keep a key in my life. So I’m not one for saying I know how to do any of this. But holy shit do some people know how to hold a note, you can bet your ass I love listening to every scream, pop, whistle, cry and sting from John Coltrane’s sax, every time that young man with a horn played, I have to hold my breath and say at points:

“Holy fuck.”

Translation: “Holy fuck.”

Because there are these moments in listening to music where it all comes to head around the chorus, and with each crash and shimmer of sound it comes, every bit as mystical and magical as I’m describing it behind a screen, out the speakers. And whatever they’re saying, they’re doing so perfectly and beautifully.

Jeff Buckley nails the experience forthrightly:

That was so real.

Whatever this artist made in their statement, was real, every bit of it. From the whines of his voice, to the raggedness of his guitar strumming, to the warbling minimalism of the instruments, to the screaming crescendo feels every bit of the realness, the grittiness of his music. I feel every bit of it.

Every bit of Joe Strummer happily tossing out glancing blows like candy bars turns me into a restless late ’70’s London punk. Every bit of Whitney Houston yelling out that she wants to dance with somebody can turn my shiftless nights into a dance party of one. Every bit of the angelic highs and every bit of the demonic lows of “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin can turn my one hell of a bad day into one hell of a god damn good day.

So yeah, I may never pick up a guitar in my lifetime.

But I will pick up a pen and write down that “so-and-so-artist” absolutely nailed their message to the church door.

Otherwise I wouldn’t bother writing at all.

-Ben

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