Music is not about how you look, it’s about how you feel.
It’s not so much about the five senses out there, not even hearing.
It’s about the sense in here, in your heart and soul, how the music makes you feel, how you perceive it.
It’s an art of the heart.
So as a musician, or even as a keen listener, it’s not quite as important to, as they say, have an ear for music, as it is to have a heart for music.
Musician Dave Grohl had once talked about how he’d written the Foo Fighters’ Everlong, on the “stone cold alt rock classic” album The Color and the Shape.
He said he didn’t even know what the opening chords of Everlong were. He just treated his guitar like the drums.
The low open D was the bass drum, and from there, he was lead to go onto the cymbals- the higher 10th fret minor chord- and then dynamically alternate between the two. (I here find my fretting hand fingers subconsciously going out to play the first 5 seconds of the song… Whoops!)
It was because he probably closed his eyes, saw a drum, and then let his emotions, through his fingers, do the talking on his guitar.
So no one can teach you how to ‘make’ music. Exactly how no one can breathe for you, and no one can think for you, this is your own let-loose time.
It is also why, no matter how beautifully and articulately someone describes a piece of music to you, it can never do justice. I’ve read pretty ordinary reviews of albums that have added a fourth special dimension inside my head, (and some thrashing ones. In a savage mood? Pitchfork’s review of Jet’s debut, Get Born, is scathing.) and some delightful reviews and recommendations, tempting me to go listen to some music or other, have lead to disappointment.
I’ll point out, some, not because they were necessarily pathetic but only because they fell flat on my taste. And that’s subjective.
I want to point out that I have a highly charged immune system when it comes to music.
An anecdote: musically, for a few years, I was at odds with my immediate world. They liked trending artists, I listened to stuff they’d never heard of. (But no, it never affected our friendship.)
‘At odds’ is a mild phrase: we were diametrically opposed, North Pole and South Pole, plus and minus,
butterflies and hurricanes.
I don’t quite know how it came about to be, but I managed to get one direction listeners to try some punk. Through the ages; proto punk, with the Godfather, and the Stooges, to the Pistols and Clash in England, and the Ramones and the New York Dolls in America, thinking the Saints and the like in Australia, to the underground 80’s punk, (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Public Enemy, the like) to it’s reemergence in the 90’s- the punk revival movement, with the Bay Area scene, the Riot Grrl movement and bands like Mega City Four and Senseless Things in the UK, (sorry, but if there’s one drawback with rock music, it’s that it’s 90% British or American) but we never got that far. It got too loud for my pals. Reverse karma: I was now stuck staring at the prospect of having to listen to five unbroken MINUTES of Taylor Swift. (Wheeze, wow, I can hardly believe grade 10 was that long ago!)
I joked to them, I can’t do this alone at home, I need paramedics around me! But heck, such is life, and I stood out, staring at calming green trees as I got to begin, just in case I suffer my first panic attack. I clicked it. I grimaced. As salvation, my friend had told me, “At least she’s using a guitar there,”. It began. One… Two. Three. Four… Oh, god! Five. I paused and gasped. Even today, I can’t explain it. Screw the trees, I got up and ran to the dunny and so very nearly puked.
In five minutes hence, I had rung up my friend, who, in all astonishment at my story, could do nothing but laugh. I swore to her, I am genuinely allergic to Taylor Swift; medically proven today. Told you we might need those paramedics.
She laughed and said, okay.
I have never attempted harakiri again.
So it’s true, as much as I try, I am admittedly not equally receptive to all sorts of music. (There’s some, that I snort, ‘can’t even be called music.’ But hey, that’s my private ale.) That’s everyone’s complain against me, and I am guilty. When it comes to sifting through music, I am sort of like the Cure song says,
‘I don’t care if Monday’s blue
Tuesday’s grey and Wednesday too
Thursday, I don’t care about you
It’s Friday, I’m in love.’
Very picky, I guess!
But perhaps it’s because I can hardly force myself to like a song. If I feel a connect from within, I’ll hear a mental click!; we’re locked in.
And I don’t mean connecting, just lyrically. I’ve fallen in love with Kashmir’s riff, I’ve fallen for Plug In Baby’s riff; I’ve fallen for the sound of the mellotron in one ear and the guitar’s in the other, on Night Flight; my sister’s a sucker for good drums; one can go gaga over a wah pedal or a pitch shifter, that opening vibrato on Foxy Lady, get mesmerised by the voices, the shrieks of a Mick Jagger, the Plants and the Mercurys, the look of pure happiness on Hank Marvin’s face as he plays his beloved guitar, a quiet lyrical gimmick, a wicked synth arpeggio… it’s easy to go on all day! But something in the song will speak to you, you’ll feel a thrill and contraction in your heart muscles and you’ll momentarily forget the universe, that’s what music means, and that’s exactly why, over three millennia, music hasn’t died. Because it comes from the heart. It’s what makes music the thing it is.
What does this mean to people as artists today?
It means that every part of your song makes sense to you, and means something, that adds meaning overall to what you want to convey. So your lyrics may be ones where you have wrung the sincerity of your heart and hung it on a peg to dry, but the rest of the song is just you randomly picking and placing notes, the meaning, significance and relevance of the song may just dim. Because music was never meant to be an “industry” but always an outlet.
(David Bowie talks a bit about it here. (keep in mind he’s being sarcastic since he’s talking about a parody, but the man speaks true words.))
To some people, it may be a balm and therapy, to some, relaxation, it may make some want to get up
and, uh, scream! pick up a guitar and jump (… or is the jump part just me?) But it will never fail to push that thrill right down your spine.
(I’ve included some of the songs’ links above, in case anyone wishes to go exploring.)