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Confessions of A Recovering Music Snob

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I confess to being a bit of a “music snob” in a former life.

You know the guy behind the counter at the record store who snickered condescendingly as you brought your copy of Journey’s Greatest Hits to the register?

Yup. That was me.

The guy with the enormous vinyl collection.

The guy who could recite to you the entire liner notes of Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks.

The guy who went straight for your record collection when invited to your home for dinner.

That one actually got me into trouble once.

My boss had invited a bunch of us from work out for a day on his sailboat. After spending the entire day drinking way too much beer in the scorching hot sun on said sailboat, we retired back to his house for some steaks.

And of course, I went straight for his records.

After sifting through the sorry collection of albums by the likes of the Steve Miller Band and Electric Light Orchestra, I made my move.

“So Ray (that was his name),” I asked, “Have you bought any music since the Seventies?” My boss then proceeded to pull out a Kenny G album.

Bad mistake.

My response to that — something about a dentist’s office I believe — got me physically thrown out of his house.

I also spent the remainder of that weekend wondering if I still had a job.

Just for the record, I did. After all, where else was he going to find a “musicologist” as supremely gifted as myself to run his record store?

And let’s be absolutely clear about this: the proper term is musicologist.

Music snobbery has actually become something of a lost art.

It doesn’t help when there just isn’t a whole lot to get excited about in music these days.

That just makes for a whole lot more crap for the seasoned music snob to turn his ever-sophisticated nose up at.

Or more importantly, to look down upon you for listening to.

All that means is that yesterdays Journey or ELO is today’s Celine Dion or Clay Aiken.

It’s just that last night’s American Idol results don’t inspire quite the same intellectual discourse that dissecting a great, groundbreaking album like Pet Sounds or A Kind of Blue does.

Music snobbery is an art that has lost its way.

Oh sure, it’s still the exclusive territory of the usual group of music geeks.

You know the ones I’m talking about.

The pony-tailed record exec. The underpaid Tower Records employee with the green hair, the piercings, and the tats. The stereotypical rock critic that once inspired David Lee Roth to remark that the reason rock critics like Elvis Costello more than Van Halen is because most rock critics look like Elvis Costello (today it would be more like that guy from Weezer).

And it’s still governed by the same set of rules.

Music snobbery, err, excuse me, “musicology”, is all about one-upmanship.

And the rules are quite simple:

When discussing the next big thing, always go for the cutting edge, which in plain English means whatever band or artist is the least likely to have been heard of. When they say Death Cab For Cutie, be ready to counter with the Secret Machines.

When busted with a ticket for that big U2 or Coldplay show at the Microsoft Arena, let them know that you are only there for the opening act.

“I haven’t cared about U2 since Joshua Tree; I’m just here to see the Arcade Fire.”

And pick your guilty pleasures carefully.

Where having an album by the Raspberries in your collection may get you a pass (“Eric Carmen was a Power Pop God before he sold out”), having one by say, the Little River Band, will not.

But where the real art of music snobbery has begun to lose its way in recent years is in the single most cardinal rule.

Know your history.

For the true, unrepentant music snob, the ability to counter one man’s Al Green with your own Otis Redding is absolutely crucial.

At least it once was.

Somewhere around the time of Nirvana’s Nevermind album and the whole Seattle Sub Pop Records thing, all of that changed.

When I worked in music business in L.A. in the early nineties, in an office at a record company with a bunch of twenty something hipsters, I just could never figure them out.

On the one hand, Monday mornings were always this constant battle of one-upmanship.

In an era where “indie cred” was the hipster holy grail, these guys would gather around to swap their stories of who saw the most obscure band over the weekend.

The thing that always got me were the names of the bands.

At one point it even seemed everybody had a Jesus complex. There was the Jesus Lizard, the Jesus and Mary Chain, MC 900 Foot Jesus…

Yet, not a one of them could be engaged in a conversation about music dating back further than like 1990.

It was as though time had frozen with Nevermind.

And that was about the time I got off the bus for good and permanently hung up my hat as a card-carrying music snob.

The “musicologist” in me however, remains alive and quite well thank you.

So point that Sting album somewhere else okay?

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Michael J. West


    So, are you doing this for the money or do you think pop music is good stuff??


    For one thing, you misunderstand my meaning in the phrase “popular music.” I’m not talking about what’s on the radio. Popular music is a term used in music-academic circles to mean “All music that isn’t classical.” That means I listen to and write about all kinds of rock, jazz, country, blues, hip-hop, R&B, folk, electronic, dance, avant-garde, and improvisational music. (I actually explained this on my blog.)

    But even so, there is some pop music that IS good stuff. My sole source of info on which music is good and which is bad would be…my ears.

    Relying, as you say, “relying on The Billboard charts as your info on ‘Good’ Music…” is not really any worse than relying on the charts as your info on “Bad” Music.

  • Vern Halen

    Perhaps the assumption is that posters on this thread actually know their history – at least that would be my impression after reading the regular contributors for quite some time, now.

  • zingzing

    oh, i say such things because i just can. sure, if the music is instrumental, the musician better be able to convey the emotion through the instrument, but that doesn’t stop yes or mark knofler or those new agish musicians you note from only being able to be emotionally involved with how well they can play their own instruments. some of the best instrumentalists are the most brutal and basic. steve albini is a far better guitar player than… i dunno… that uwe mengalstein or whatever. megulwiniggins. some swede or something. lou reed kicks jimi’s ass. even if jimi was good. the bass solo is only beaten by the drum solo as the lowest form of human musical expression. the guitar solo is almost that low. restraint is a virtue. a single guitar note can display emotion far more clearly than a messy bit of guitar stroking.

    and, while mike can defend himself quite well, your little “the Billboard charts are your bible…” bit is total bullshit. “popular music” does not, repeat does not, mean “music that charted on billboard.” it means “music consumed by the people.” in other words, he’s not going to go into classical music too much. and yes, pop music is good stuff. yes is pop. mark knofler, in case you forgot, was in a little band called dire straights… which was quite popular. hell, even iron maiden is pop music. almost everything is pop. there’s no way around it. if you know about it, and you aren’t good friends with the band, then some bit of the pop culture had to know about it and tell you about it.

    i’ve heard of most of the artists that you list. i haven’t listened to all of them. mike commented on some, i comment on others (i commented on 2).

    and yes, i have quite a bit of prowess with my junk. thank you.

  • Brian Sorrell

    “the bass solo is only beaten by the drum solo as the lowest form of human musical expression.”

    Mingus would crush you with his pinky. Witness his intro to “Haitian Fight Song” — ah the Prestissimo and Crecendo! Impeccable technique, style, and his ear for a hook — mmmm, you’ll get it in your soul.

    Stanton Moore and Garage A Trois would change your tune about the role of solo percussion too. Moore throws down a funky New Orleans jam, Mike D follows with his eclectic conga interpretation, and Charlie Hunter rounds it out when he switches to pandeiro. Dazzling stuff.

    I take it that you’ve never seen taiko drummers either.

    This thread is stuck on the friges of popular music: you have yet to travel underground or around the world.

    Yeah, “musicologists”. Umm hmm.

  • nugget

    yea. zingzing is talking out of his ass.

  • nugget

    yea, did you folks know that people actually go to school and get degrees in “Musicology?” Like PH Ds n stuff?

    Self-proclaimed “musicologists” are HI-larious.

  • Rodney Welch

    And don’t forget Max Roach.

  • Michael J. West

    This is the kind of “musicologist” that we’re basically talking about here. :-)

    And as long as we’re mentioning those who do elevate drum soloing to fine art, I crown Art Blakey the king.

  • Morgan

    Damn – what are you gonna do with me? I can’t listen to Usher or Alicia Keyes but can’t put my Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye CDs away. Andy Bey is a genius and people should be listening to him instead of Michael Buble. I still pull out my Best of 10 Years After once a week. Have every Elvis Costello cd. Hate Celine Dion. And love Clay Aiken’s voice. Snob/No Snob. It’s just music man.

  • zingzing

    my comments only pertain to rock or pop music. it’s pretty damn obvious that if the music is 100% drums, “drum solo” has nothing to do with it. in jazz, solos are exempt from my comments, because they are a part of the music, the structure, while in rock or pop, they are just pretention.

    and mr. sorrell, don’t start accusing people you don’t know of having simplistic, surface only taste in music. you obviously don’t know what kind of music i listen to. now, i will admit that i lag on various world musics, but then again, i’m not very entertained by most folk musics. still, i probably have 50-100 discs of non-north american or european music. so there. i won’t go into how “underground” i am or not, but, suffice to say… i know “my” shit, which is prolly different from “your” shit.

    still, i must say that I DON’T LIKE SOLOS (even guitar solos really) IN POP OR ROCK MUSIC! it’s a waste of time. of course, there are some exceptions. but it’s very very rare that a bass solo or a drum solo really do much for me. maybe the bass solo from that violent femmes song… “kiss off” maybe? i don’t remember. no… it was ‘blister’ wasn’t it? fuck it.

  • zingzing

    and, for the record, my favorite album released so far this year has to be Liars “drum’s not dead,” which is pretty much all drums and a bit of guitar noise. most of the music could be considered one long drum solo… but it doesn’t really count as such.

  • Brian Sorrell

    zingzing cut back on the coffee or something dude. I’m just saying this has been all names and no content. There is no “your” shit and “my” shit.

    I agree that I have no idea what kind of music you listen to. The content of your collection don’t matter a whit.

    I’m still just sayin’ that there are lots of names of things here, but very little talk about what makes those things interesting.

    So relax man. Chat about what fires you up about the tunes you like. I, for one, would like to hear.

  • Michael J. West

    Andy Bey is un-fucking-believable. I never knew that jazz could have that kind of dark atmospheric feel to it; nor would I ever have guessed that all it took to make that dark atmosphere was a baritone singing voice. He is (I know this is a shallow comparison, but bear with me) America’s answer to David Sylvian.

  • zingzing

    oh, sorry brian sorrell… i was arguing with a large guppy and you got caught in the crossfire.

    name dropping is the sign and symbol of the music snob. like the original post says, say a name and a music snob will just say another.

    so, both to maintain my membership, and to appease your request, i will say two names: excepter and the blue nile.

    (as in, two bands i have been listening to lately)

    i like them both for the same reason, even if they come from completely opposite ends of the spectrum. excepter is pretty much improvised noise with some mumbled/delayed vocals. most of the music is made on synths and drum machines, and the tone is usually dark or mysterious… but somehow, excepter seems to find an emotional core, and that emotional core also reveals their sense of humor. you can tell they are having fun making this… very mercurial, unfamiliar music. it allows you to have fun. there is never really a steady beat, or any real melodic content… but there are enough hints of both to allow you to create the rest… or to dig deeper into the music to try to understand it on whatever terms you desire. they really make you listen to music, just to make sense of it… and there always seems to be something there. not a single one of their records sounds the same, even if they are very easy to pick out.

    the blue nile also uses synths and drum machines to make highly emotional music. strange thing is, they do it from an almost michael bol*on level of adult-contempop. the singer kind of warbles along, cliches are picked up and destroyed one after another, lyrically and musically. they use the familiar to create music that hits so deep, it trancends the familiarity. most of their songs are love songs. instead of a tired retread of cliched lines and musical flourishes, there is a restraint and sense of timing that only serves to heighten the emotional impact… to the point where listening to one of their love songs feels like being in love. which, as everyone knows, feels just great. being in love at the same time just makes it better. or worse. sometimes blue nile can be hard to take. it’s brutal stuff.

  • Guppusmaximus

    I can appreciate experimental…I’m not an expert at the genre because I have only listened to some of Mike Patton’s work and maybe some other stuff with his contributions. But this crap about someone not having enough emotion even though they have spent a good amount of time mastering their instrument is f*cking bullshit and comes from people like you who couldn’t play a like of what Malnstein,Mizzigida…MALMSTEIN plays.

    Yeah, Mark Knofler sux…LOL, But Blue Nile is better because they play with computers.Their not pretentious because they make noise. So, I should be attacked because I prefer people who can break the same boundaries as your synth crap but they do it with real instruments? Hmmm…Spend my time with drums(20 years) and have some limitations or spend 1 year with a drum machine and have no real sense of playing any instruments?? This is the true question…

    I will stick with my original comment..
    “There is GOOD music in every genre and then there are bands that need to pack it in. Wether or not you can hear the difference isn’t my problem….” That’s great that people can name a trillion bands but do they really listen to them? Do you they truly understand what’s going on?


  • Steve

    Hey, MJ, I was always a fan of Sylvian’s band, Japan, but am only familiar with his earliest solo material. Have you heard any of his more recent stuff?? What’s it sound like? Pretty much the same as the early stuff??

  • zingzing

    mastering an instrument does not mean that you can convey emotion. it might, and often does, have the opposite effect. of course i can’t play guitar like malmstein. wouldn’t want to. you can’t either. so what’s your point? malmstein doesn’t do it for me. neither does clapton. if the only people that understand malmstein are those that can play like him…

    fuck that. communication is far more important than virtuosity. if you can’t see the plain truth in that, there is no point arguing. you know, i love prince, the man is a genius, but when he goes off on an extended guitar solo… i lose the point. now and then, he gets away with it; more often than not, however, it’s only him that getts off on those fucking snoozefests.

    rock is supposed to be rough. if it’s too smooth or too easy, it loses power. endless soloing is dull. it’s just a matter of taste, i suppose. compare faith no more to mr. bungle. which one does it for you? the slick pop-metal of fnm (which i think is okay), or the experimental genre car crashes of mr. bungle? what about fantomas? if i had to listen to just one mike patton related album at the expense of all the others, it would probably be the first fantomas, just because there are so many layers and changes and… bits of utter strangeness… but i don’t know if i could live without california or disco volante either…

    i spoke about blue nile and excepter because that’s two bands i’ve been listening to lately. (i’ve also been listening to a lot of doc watson…) the guy from excepter used to be in no neck blues band, which uses almost all “real” instruments (a bullshit qualifier… what’s an instrument? something that makes music…). i was pointing out that it is quite amazing when a band can drag that much emotion out of synths. it’s just what i’ve been listening to lately. i was responding to someone else, not you.

    i’m not saying anything is better because it was made on synths–i don’t give a fuck about such things–and your response kind of shows the limits of your appreciation of music. you put rules on things. some of us can name plenty of bands that we actually listen to. can you?

  • Michael J. West

    No way, Steve. I mean, the basics are still there–the crooning voice and slow-as-molasses pace–but he’s moved away from the jazzy stuff into more minimal, drony, music-concrete type of stuff. More experimental, if you like. :-)

  • Steve

    OK, MJ, thanks for that info.

  • Brian Sorrell

    Now that’s some insightful stuff zingzing. (I understand about the crossfire). I don’t know of either of the bands you mention, so I’ll hunt around and check them out.

    Our author seems to think that there is nothing of value available in music stores today. I submit Charlie Hunter (and his many side projects) as a pioneer. For those who don’t know him, he plays 8-string guitar and every now and again (at his shows), hops on the drum kit or pandeiro. His influences cover a truly global range, from traditional jazz and blues to hip hop and rock to, well, the pandeiro, he’s got all the bases covered. His “Songs From The Analog Playground” features the then-unnoticed Norah Jones and Mos Def, among many others.

    His approach to 8-string guitar is intriguing also. He seems to consider it to be an instrument different from both guitar and bass — somewhat akin to a drum kit when drum kits were first assembled. So, he sees his role as developing a new vocabulary (or language perhaps) on a rather unexplored instrument — much as drummers had to change their tune when lots of percussion instruments collided in the ubiquitous “kit”.

    I don’t mean to be a walking advertisement, but if anyone is in the LA area — April 12 at the House Of Blues Hollywood there’s a mini-jazz festival with a few bands from Ropeadope Records. Charlie is among them. Anyone who doesn’t believe that there is any good new music out there would do themselves a favor to witness the gifts of these guys.

    In other thoughts: here’s a bone I’ll throw to the flamers: I think that Shakira is brilliant. I’m totally serious about this — she’s breaking lots of interesting ground AND makes it to the charts. That’s another story….



  • Mark Saleski

    Charlie Hunter is actually a great example because he’s a person who has great chops AND does something interesting with them…to take somebody from the opposite extreme, how about Stanley Jordan. he brought a totally different technique to the scene but, i dunno…there was just nothing there (at least for me)

    Shakira, eh? dang, does that mean i can buy one of her cd’s guilt-free? ;-)

  • Brian Sorrell

    You have my blessing to buy one of her CDs. I’ll freely admit, I bought after the “Obsession” music video because, well, c’mon! But I was bowled over by her production and writing — not so much the lyrics, but her ability to integrate a wide variety of musical styles — she’s not a front for a production team: from what I’ve found, she’s involved in all aspects of production. Her voice is a bit quirky, but I really dig it. Oh yeah, and she’s smokin’ hot ;)

    I’m on board with Stanley Jordan: really compelling technique, but more or less a one-trick pony. Charlie is such a huge contrast. For example, my wife gets flustered that we HAVE to go every time he’s in town. But his show is totally different every time — solo, trio, quartet, quintet — with radically different styles pumping out of each configuration. We were talking about the LA gig just this past weekend and she’s converted: she agrees that we do indeed NEED to go every time.

    This reminds me: someone else who’s impressive these days is John Mayer. His new blues configuration is quite good — his guitar chops, which I heard evidence of when I saw him like four years ago, are now just enormous. And his voice, which I didn’t like then, is vastly more dynamic and nuanced now — well, for my tastes anyway.

    Enough pontificating… I’ve got work to do.

  • Guppusmaximus

    “mastering an instrument does not mean that you can convey emotion.”
    Wrong… But that’s ok. What can you convey if you don’t work to master your instrument? It’s kinda like baby talk but I guess that’s why Nirvana was huge… Malmsteen composes classical work where he is the soloist.That’s the reason why it is such a masterpiece.He has more emotion in his pinky than you do in your entire body. It just goes to show what music education won’t get you(He taught himself). Soloing is only dull when you don’t know how to do it. Prince would be a perfect example,Thank You.

    As for FNM? I like,”K.F.A.D.F.F.A.L” because of the edginess but most people think they stopped with “AngelDust”. Mr. Bungle- Their first major release which was a compilation,”Travolta” was brilliant. Fantomas- I like all their work so far because it has no boundaries….It can be very humorous but out of all of Patton’s recent work, I like Tomahawk because it’s raw and unforgiving. Ofcourse it doesn’t have the brutal assault from Dave Lombardo but it’s very creative and original for the most part.

    I made a remark about your love for synth music because you chimed in on a discussion that Mr.West and I were having…So don’t cry,man. It’s ok…

    Yes, you are correct… I put rules on things:
    1. Never listen to morons about emotional content when they name crap like Blue Nile.
    2. Always listen to CDs from bands who have talent because it’s better than trying to figure out the useless garble from wannabes.
    3. Don’t wait for the mainstream because when they figure it will be over.
    4. Don’t list bands for morons who couldn’t appreciate them.(See rule 1)

  • Christopher Rose

    Totally agree with Brian Sorrell on the brilliance of Shakira. Clever lyrics, mostly great music, and she’s funny too. I listen to “Oral Fixation” a lot.

  • Odysseus160

    That is supposed to be music snobbery? Talking about ELO and Otis Redding? Clearly, this must be Music Snobbery for the Common Man (with apologies to Copland.) Real music snobbery is when you can sing along with Bach’s Mass in Bm. As an added benefit, you’ll be able to impress any Christians, who usually are fairly undereducated, by reciting the Nicaene Creed in Latin, the text of the Mass. (“Credo in unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam …”)

    Also, for a snobbery add-on, try Bach’s cantatas in German. I can recommend Cantata 89, “Meine Seele Ruehmt und preist,” and #51, “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen.”

    Of course, it also doesn’t hurt if you can discuss modulation using Padre Mattei’s lecture on the figured bass to modulate from any key to any other. Now, THAT is music snobbery, no? But that type of stuff is usually reserved for conversations with people who really know music. And no, I am not a musician nor have enjoyed formal music education. Just your average super-snob …

  • zingzing

    guppus… you are so wrong in so many ways. i know you can’t prove a negative, but it’s pretty easy to prove that musical virtuosity does not equal emotional content. look at reeves gabrel or whatever. sucks! look at eric clapton’s later stuff. jimmy page after led zepplin (i’d almost argue during led zepplin…)

    anyone can express emotion on an instrument without being a virtuoso. look at punk and post-punk music. actual valid emotions coming out of players who couldn’t play for shit. there are far more people out there who can’t play instruments like they should be “composing classical works” (gimme a fuckin break), but can express an emotion quite well.

    we obviously come at this shit from different angles. the very thought of some greased up longhair playing a guitar solo over a fucking orchestra for 40 minutes makes me want to be sick. you live alone, don’t you?

    as for your rules:
    1) thanks. ever heard them?
    2) you could argue that anyone has talent. talent for songwriting would be one that it seems you miss out on. if you limit yourself to “real” instrumental virtuosity, you are missing out on whole loads of aesthetics.
    3) metal’s dead, darlin’. of course, that’s not 100% true… also, you’re just repeating a cliche, so lay off it. who is the mainstream? 12 year old girls? do they ever catch up? you’re sooo underground dude. you could be a bottom dweller.
    4) thanks again. you don’t really have much to say to me then, do you?

  • Michael J. West

    I will only say this (in a discussion that is not my own):

    Instrumental mastery is NOT, by any stretch, the same thing as talent. ANYONE who is not completely tone-deaf can master an instrument if they have the commitment, the patience, and the fundamental training. A robot could do it. (And several have.) It’s really not that far removed, mechanically speaking, from learning how to type.

    Talent is different. Talent is finding a voice of your own on the instrument, using imagination and innate musical abilities to come up with a sound and a style and compositions that are unique to the individual.

    Being emotionally expressive on a guitar takes talent. Learning to be a virtuosic guitarist only takes fingers.

  • Michael J. West

    Oh…and commitment, patience, and fundamental training. I forgot those three.

  • Guppusmaximus

    LOL… “anyone can express emotion on an instrument without being a virtuoso.”
    Sure, it’s called Frustration..

    “Instrumental mastery is NOT, by any stretch, the same thing as talent….”

    Are you kidding? Isn’t talent the natural process of learning? I never took a lesson for the drums but I picked it up by ear. It’s an inept ability to learn without instruction kind of like learning another language without lessons…BUT, There still has to be mastery of said skills. You’re always going to hear things that you wanna play..It doesn’t just happen. However you etch that lesson into your brain you still have to work on it!! I don’t know where you guys get the idea that talent doesn’t take any work…!?!

    “Being emotionally expressive on a guitar takes talent. Learning to be a virtuosic guitarist only takes fingers…”

    Spare me… Talent equals Virtuosity..Vice Versa
    Virtuoso – one who excels in the technique of an art; especially : a highly skilled musical performer (as on the violin)

    Yngwie Malmsteen isn’t some,”greased up longhair playing a guitar solo over a fucking orchestra for 40 minutes…”
    In 1984, when he released “Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force”, He was just 20… He taught himself from the inspiration of Ritchie Blackmore, which led him to the classics(Bach,etc..) then to the world renown Russian Violinist, Gideon Kremer. Mr. Malmsteen composes Classical emotion on an Electric guitar…You could only dream of having the emotion this guy has when he is playing and he has the skill to back it up!!

    Please…Keep me laughing. It relieves stress.

    Good Night… ;)

  • Michael J. West

    Isn’t talent the natural process of learning?

    No. The natural process of learning is imitation, not talent. A dog can sit by the natural process of learning, but first you have to push its ass down on the floor several times. Then it imitates your actions. The dog does not have a natural talent for sitting.

    It’s an inept ability to learn without instruction kind of like learning another language without lessons…BUT, There still has to be mastery of said skills.

    It’s called PRACTICE. Take any possible manual activity under the sun…shaving your face, let’s say. You can pretty much learn how to shave without instruction by watching another person shave…but the first time you try it yourself, you will have nicks and cuts, guaranteed. As time goes on, you master the skills of shaving. But not because you have a TALENT for shaving…you master the skills because you do it over and over and over again, trying different approaches and stumbling by accident over ways to get a close shave without lacerating your face.

    But when you can get through a shave with no stray long hairs poking out of your face, and no little spots of blood, it has absolutely nothing to do with talent. It has to do with a skill that you learned.

    However you etch that lesson into your brain you still have to work on it!! I don’t know where you guys get the idea that talent doesn’t take any work…!?!

    Nobody said that talent doesn’t take any work. What we said was that with enough work, you can master the skill and technique WHETHER YOU HAVE TALENT OR NOT. And it’s absolutely the truth. That’s why a computer was able to win a chess game against a Grand Master.

    Spare me… Talent equals Virtuosity..Vice Versa

    Talent does not equal virtuosity. As you yourself pointed out, even with talent it takes work to become a virtuoso.

    Virtuosity equals skill. Skill equals practice. No more, no less.

    Virtuoso – one who excels in the technique of an art; especially : a highly skilled musical performer (as on the violin).

    Notice how your definition said absolutely nothing about talent or creativity? It said “technique” and “skill.” As in, things you learn. Practice hammering a nail long enough, and you’ll acquire technique and skill. You won’t acquire creativity.

    A software program can play back Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata perfectly. Note for note. At triple speed. By your logic, Guppusmaximus, the software program is staggeringly talented.

    You could only dream of having the emotion this guy has when he is playing and he has the skill to back it up!!

    So you actually believe that Malmstein’s skill on the guitar makes him capable of emotions that unskilled people are not capable of?

    Not a single politician in Washington has ever said anything less true than that.

  • nugget

    Thanks comment #77. (for stating the complete obvious)

    Guppus said that talent = virtuosity.


    Talent + work + creativity = virtuosity.

    you sound like a pedant to the enth. I’ve been to waaaaaaay too many classical concerts to believe that talent = virtuosity.

    say what you want about vladimir horowitz. His fingers were off the chart, buuuuuuut he was DRY AS A BONE!

    Malmstein? bleh. feh. fast fingers. Typical solos with some good Bach-like suspensions. Typical tapping. Distortion makes it sounds more important than it is, and on top of that the ELECTRIC GUITAR IS FUCKING EASY TO PLAY.

    The best single musicians I’ve ever heard in my lifetime are Ben Folds, Django Reinhardt, Antigoni Goni (classical guitarist), the lead singer for Band “jump little children”, and Kathleen Battle. There are thousands of great musicians, and many of them have great technique to facilitate their talent even more. But not all of them have great technique.

  • nugget

    I will say that it’s absolutely dumbassish when someone who HAS talent doesn’t pursue technical prowess. Technique only helps, aids, and facilitates natural talent.

  • Glen Boyd


    80 some odd comments later and what’s left to say?

    Only this I guess.

    When you write a tongue in cheek piece about music snobs (and let me remind everyone here that it was largely tongue in cheek), I guess you have to expect the music snobs to come out of the woodwork.

    And boy, did they come out of the woodwork here.

    You had your metal snobs, your technique snobs, your classical snobs…even a computer snob (that one was particularly funny I thought).

    The computer guy’s comments (“I’ve read better”; “My Unix..or whatever it was..souped up browser that can access websites your’s can’t is more secure than yours I’m sure”)

    ….Absolutely priceless.

    A close second was the guy who gave “his blessing” for someone to buy an album by Shakira.

    Speaking of that guy…

    His big beef with my piece seemed to be that I didn’t back up my musical snobbery with reasons to like or dislike certain artists.

    That was never the point Mr. Sorrel.

    The article was not about what justifies or does not justify musical snobbery, but about the act of musical snobbery itself.

    And again, it was meant to at least somewhat tongue in cheek in nature. A point you (as well as a few others) seemed to miss.

    But since you bring it up, I will mention a few things that float my particular boat when it comes to music.

    My three favorite artists in the world are probably Dylan, Springsteen, and Neil Young.

    Dylan, although praised often as a songwriter and a lyricist (deservedly so in my view) is often criticized as being less than a great singer.

    I wholeheartedly disagree. Although no one will ever accuse Dylan of having the multi-octave range of say, a Mariah Carey, Dylan has a way of uniquely wrapping his vocal chords around a phrase that for my money is unequalled. If you’ve ever seen Dylan in concert…especially during the seventies and eighties, he also reinvents his songs onstage and bites off the lyrics with a ferocity that was as though his life depended on it.

    Neil Young has also been criticized for having a “whiny voice”. To me, on Young’s best work, it is that voice itself that best evokes the lonely, desolate images that flavor his best work.

    There was also a fair ammount of argument here (that would be understating it by a mile actually) about guitar styles. Neil Young is not the most technically gifted guitarist I’ve ever heard. But the passion of his best cranked up to eleven guitar solos…”Like A Hurricane”, “Cortez”, and “Change Your Mind” come to mind here…make to my ears, a beautiful noise indeed.

    Springsteen is another one who doesn’t get a lot of props as a guitarist…and again, in terms of being of a “technician” he’s not in the league of a Clapton, a Beck (that’s Jeff for you youngsters), or a Satriani. But if you’ve ever heard the intro solo to “Prove It All Night” from the 1978 tour (it’s fairly easy to locate on bootlegs), the passion of his playing is undeniable.

    And that brings us to the whole “technique” vs. “passion” argument that has flavored much of this thread.

    Again, it’s not what I wrote the piece about. The piece was about the snobs who listen to music, not the musicians who make it.

    But beyond that…that particular argument, which is as old as music criticism itself, is simply one that can’t be won…no matter which side you are on.

    Guys like Al DiMeola, and the one poster’s hallowed Yngwie Malmsteen, have never really done much for me simply because they are so clinical in their approach. I also interviewed Yngwie once, and the guy was an insufferable asshole…but that’s beside the point.

    Playing scales and classically based arpeggios at lightning speed is a learned skill…but it is a skill none the less.

    Likewise, you can’t deny the chops of guys like Clapton and Beck…but you also can’t deny that their best days are long behind them.

    So on the one hand you have the clinical skill of the Malmsteens and Satriani’s of the world…and on the other you have the ragged passion of less technically skilled players like Springsteen, Townshend, and Neil Young.

    Personally, I’m gonna take the Neil Young’s of the world every time. But thats me. For people coming from more of a technical perspective, a guy like Yngwie is always going to win. There just isn’t a right or wrong in the argument. It’s all subjective. Which is why it’s one that simply can’t be won.

    Occasionally you will get that one musician who has got both the technique and the raw passion. Somebody like Hendrix would be the most obvious example. Likewise, the sustain heard on some of Carlos Santana’s earliest records is some of the most achingly sweet I have ever heard.

    Another guy whose name I was a little surprised didn’t come up here is that of Steve Hackett, the original guitarist of Genesis during their early years with Peter Gabriel at the helm.

    This was another guy who combined that classical sort of precision with some very economical, yet passionate playing. His early solo work is also exceptional. Check out the albums “Voyage Of The Acolyte” and “Spectral Mornings”…there’s a little bit of everything on them…from soft flamenco and classical on the accoustic, to sweet, crying electric sustian….

    Did I mention that I’m a sucker for sustain?

    Of course, speaking of Genesis…there’s probably not an easier target for the musical snob on earth since Phil Collins turned them into the backup band for his attempts to become the white man’s Lionel Richie in the eighties.

    So I guess you’ve just discovered this musical snob’s dirty little secret. Genesis are my guilty pleasure.

    But it was the pretentious art rock Gabriel era Genesis I liked okay? Not the Collins led poor man’s version of Motown.

    Anyway, Just do me a favor and don’t tell anybody.

    And Thanks to all of you for all the feedback on the article.

    -Glen Boyd

  • Michael J. West

    Welcome to Blogcritics, Glen. It’s a world where commenters take your words and ideas out of context; where your remarks here will be used in argument against you a year from now on a completely unrelated thread; and where your posts are merely springboards for commenters to continue long-running bullshit arguments.

    It’s fun!

  • Guppusmaximus

    It’s very addicting and challenging because it’s hard (for me) to get thoughts down in writing that would have been easier to say… Sometimes, I can be rather rude…but, all in all, I don’t take these debates personally and I hope my fellow music lovers don’t either.

    My penchant is for Metal(though it’s not my only love).. I’ve been listening to this genre for 20+ years and it has been an outstanding way to meet some cool people.

    My music snobbery began when I was introduced to Watchtower, especially being a drummer, the music was complex and had the metal attributes that I love. The Helloween/Maiden vocals and the fusion of different influences on the drums. I could go on & on…But, I won’t…

    Great Article, Glen!!

  • zingzing

    meh. glen, your skin/patience will develop. it will be a crusted burn.

    guppy, you can be rude, so can everyone (as in me)… but, fuck it, eh? arguing about anything is fun, arguing about music is sublime.

    (still, by your logic, as someone else put it, mariah carey is better than dylan…)

  • Brian Sorrell

    I think that Mr. Boyd missed the point of my criticism of the piece: My point is that name-dropping is not tantamount to music snobbery. Snobbery is what we’ve all been engaged in with the commentary. So the article, in my estimation, can’t be poking fun of music snobbery if all we started with is name dropping.

    Your response, Mr. Boyd (#83), is pure, unadulterated snobbery. I love it! In fact, I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of Neil Young, especially.

    And I stand by my Shakira! Dammit! Don’t get me started with Madonna…. These are my guilty pleasures :)

  • Guppusmaximus

    Well, zingzing… I love to debate about music because it’s my life. You are correct…It’s absolutely fascinating! About my logic…I can understand how someone might think that. I think “old” Mariah was soulful but Dylan’s ability to write has been established for a long time. Young Dylan and Young Mariah together would’ve been a great project. Personally, I can’t stand listening to either one.
    (Here we go again… *Smirk*)
    All I have to say is, show me who is a virtuoso and who has plain talent? I truly feel they are one in the same because Talent is the natural acquisition of skill. Whatever is natural for you…This is my opinion.

    Nugget… Establish for me how you can hear what is “Dry as a bone” in classical? You may not like Yngwie but he definately has emotion. He also pioneered a way to play…

  • Rodney Welch

    The best portrayal of a music snob in film is Barry, played to perfection by Jack Black in High Fidelity. Every record store has a know-it-all like that.

    Years ago I was looking for Joan Baez’s cover of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and the clerk with the standard-issue Lennon specs simply could not resist informing me that it was ACTUALLY by Bob Dylan. I’m like “Oh, no kidding? Dylan? Really? What a fount of knowledge you are.”

  • zingzing

    kevin shields (of my bloody valentine) is pure talent. without all his smarts and tricks, he can’t play for shit. but the sound he unleashes out of that guitar is plain amazing.

    peter frampton is all flash and no substance.

    how can you say that you’ve never listened to an album, and even thought the guitarist may be technically great, it left you cold? that’s never happened?

    who’s that white-boy blues player… younger guy… sure, he can play guitar. he still sucks. it happens every day.

  • Brian Sorrell

    zingzing says:
    “glen, your skin/patience will develop. it will be a crusted burn.”

    I would like to add: Mr. Boyd, please don’t take our caustic discussion too seriously. Consider that you wrote an article that got us all talking about something that we all love to talk about. That’s to be commended sir.

    Furthermore, as I was driving to lunch today, I was thinking about this discussion (see what you’ve done!), and I thought that if you meant the article to be a tongue-in-cheek dig against pseudo-music-snobs, then it’s brilliant! Because a bunch of us fell for it. Cheers to you for that as well.

    zingzing also says:
    “guppy, you can be rude, so can everyone (as in me)… but, fuck it, eh? arguing about anything is fun, arguing about music is sublime.”

    Indeed. The sweet sounds of music-talk are nigh Pavlovian and absolutely irresistable.

  • Glen Boyd

    Actually I am (obviously) delighted with the discussion the article inspired.

    I just wanted to put my two cents into the mix after going largely silent for …what? 80 or so comments?

    High praise indeed Mr. Sorrell.

    And taken as such.


  • zingzing

    fun, isn’t it?

    gets yr blood pumpin’.

    religion, politics, music. three things worth arguing about, and only one of them is actually any good.

  • Guppusmaximus

    So then zing… Why would you hate Yngwie?? Maybe the guy is souless but he can fool my ear. The guy is f*cking relentless… Pure Brilliance. I would say, if the sound is amazing then he(Kevin Shields) is doing something right, but I guess that depends on your definition of amazing? Alot of people thought Nuno Bettencourt was amazing…*Smirk*…lol. Chris Impelliteri would sting circles around that putz. Anyways, I still think alot of people cannot prove that virtuosity has nothing to do with emotion or talent. To me it’s all the same…

  • Mark Saleski

    i think the problem is that the whole topic of shredding guitarists is pretty devisive. i mean, you either like it or you don’t.

    i don’t. that doesn’t really mean anything other than it’s just not for me. it’s part of the argument earlier in this thread. there’s mastery of the instrument (whatever the hell that means) and there’s “can you do something interesting with it?”. the ‘interesting’ part is decided by the listener alone.

    Malmsteen is a tough sell because in his early years he carried himself as a sort of Paganini of metal guitar.

  • Guppusmaximus

    Actually it isn’t just about “Shredding” guitarists… Buddy Rich was a virtuoso on the kit.

    Man… What don’t people understand about a guitarist that totally plays in the classical scale? He didn’t carry himself because “carry” implies that one isn’t truely being himself. That’s who he is…. Classical. He is a soloist. He composes classical music and he plays like a violin player which makes him more than a shredder.

    It was,”Mastery of said skills…”. What’s not to understand? Even if it was “Mastery” of an instrument, that wouldn’t be too hard to grasp.

    Mastery – possession or display of great skill or technique b : skill or knowledge that makes one master of a subject.

    How would that not apply to a musical instrument? The same as an instrument of death!
    An instrument to clean your teeth….
    For fucks sake…..

    Holy Sh*t!! Is this what listening to all that Dylan and The Stones has done to you people’s brains??

  • Mark Saleski

    look, i totally understand this mastery thing. i’ve played guitar for over 25 years.

    it’s just that being “great” on an instrument is completely subjective to the listener.

    Buddy Rich is a great example. for me, he played with a ton of soul. i just don’t hear that in Malmsteen.

  • nugget


    you 30+ year-olds are such idiots. Especially the new guy! Glen!


  • nugget

    hey mark saleski. You mean you’ve played the ELECTRIC guitar for 25 years. I doubt you’re very good with your right hand p-i-m-a. Quit trying to get technical credit via the internets.

  • nugget