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What Music?

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I know this may be an absolute shot in the dark but I am curious as to what you, yes you, consider ‘good music? What elements of music make it good to you? I say this having read countless posts and news articles about good and bad music. Seeming as though something so abstract and so personal can not have a definitive formula, how can we say or dictate what good music is?

Right now I have in my CD travel case Jay-Z’s the Black Album sitting literally on top of the Nancy Sinatra and Maroon 5. Neither of which complement the other but all of which says a lot about me.

Each record encompasses a different part of my spirit and attitude. Each touches me in a far different way. I love the sketchiness of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang. It reminds me of Nina Simone all over again. It’s the words and the melodrama of her harmony that entices my earlobes almost bringing me to tears as if I’m holding onto a secret I can’t find.

Raw emotion, you have to love it.

I can listen to Jay-Z ‘what more can I say’ over and over and over because it epitomizes Hip Hop and lyricism. Its all about the attitude and that song embodies it:

And no I ain’t get shot up a whole bunch of times
Or make up shit in a whole bunch of lines
And I ain’t animated, like say a, Busta Rhymes
But the real shit you get when you bust down my lines
Add that to the fact I went plat a bunch of times
Times that by my influence
On pop culture
I supposed to be number one on everybody’s list
We’ll see what happens when I no longer exist
Fuck this

(What more can I say?)

It’s the finest poetry. How you ask? Think of Emily Dickinson writing about poetry in a poem. This is exactly what Jay is doing its all the same format just a different frame of mind. Its not so much what he’s saying ( although it is) as how he’s saying it. Think about being fed up. Think about proving a point to someone so obstinate that you step out of your calm self and get down to the bare essentials. I’ve been there! I’ve done it! I have been placed in the position where I had prove myself and for some of us it doesn’t come out squeaky clean, it comes out raw, illuminating my point, eliminating misconcepcion. Feel me? (If not, what more can I say)

Then there’s someone like Maroon 5 who has Harder to Breathe and Tangled. And they give you edgy and gritty:

How dare you say that my behavior is unacceptable
So condescending unnecessarily critical
I have the tendency of getting very physical
So watch your step cause if I do you’ll need a miracle

You drain me dry and make me wonder why I’m even here
This Double Vision I was seeing is finally clear
You want to stay but you know very well I want you gone
Not fit to fuckin’ tread the ground that I’m walking on

Why do I like this? If you haven’t noticed by now it’s identity. I have been in a position where I have felt exactly like this, so in this case before anything else the lyrics remind me and then the music controls me.

In any case whether its because I identify, exemplify or just feel the beats on some level all three have to be possible in order for me to take a record in and nurture it as apart of my beloved collection.

There are always bigger and more profound questions. Why do you listen to music? Is it too dance? Is it to escape? Is it to enjoy? Art? Creativity? Are you listening to melodies or lyrics? Are you passing time or capturing life? Is it all or none of the above?

I live music, it helps me write, it helps me think, it helps me live. I see every side and each point of view. I feel as though every new song is a new experience and I appreciate that almost like a mini story. I revel being witness to it. I take what I can from each song and move on or stay and stay and stay and stay until I have worn out my welcome or the record, whichever comes first.

Because I am a music lover, it does become an extension of me. I feel the pings and stabs when people blast Eminem (for example) because I identify with him. I understand why he is presented the way he is (because I don’t know him I can only assume a presentation). So when they down him they down that part of me that understands him. Maybe for some it’s not that serious and for others this is only scratching the surface but I can only dictate what music is to me. What about you?

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About Dew

  • David


  • David

    wierd=weird (and vice versa)
    which=that (sans comma)

  • David

    You know, I like all kinds of stuff. I like stuff that’s funny. I like stuff that’s catchy. I like stuff with kinda sorta poetical lyrics (incidentally, in poetry, cliches are to be avoided; in lyrics they are not), stuff that rocks, stuff that meant a lot to me when I was young and idiotic, and which appeals to the part of me that still is. I like stuff that’s wierd.

    However, I’ve always been taken with a Gunther Shuller quote in the liner notes to one of my Sonny Rollins albums (Rollins was God circa 1958, incidentally, although he got bored with that and settled with being a demigod), which I believe was “he has the ability to play a complete surprise, which seems inevitable in retrospect.” That’s what music aspires to. Rollins, like I said, achieved it. Beethoven achieved it to the max. And, of course, drum machines were invented by Satan.

  • first of all, great post!

    this topic has always fascinated me. i’ve been wanting to write about “why does that sound good to me” for a long time now….but it’s such a complex and mysterious topic.

    i think about the times where i’ve been just moved to tears by music…and how those expericiences can at first seem so far apart and unrelated.

    here’s an example: every time i’ve seen Springsteen perform his version of “Trapped”, there’s something incredibly moving about the chorus…i just get all choked up. then, this past weekend, me & my wife are up in portland, maine doing some shopping and anniversary celebrating…there’s a group of guys set up on the street playing christmas tune (two acoustic guitars, elec. bass, and drums)…we happen to be walking by as they jump into “Blue Christmas”…and it’s just so friggin’ cool…

    and why is it so cool?

    …i just don’t know.

  • Eric Olsen

    I wouldn’t describe those singers as “raw emotion” so much as “refined emotion” – they process it into something of their own.

  • BrownBoognish

    Sincerity and attitude have always taken precedent over musical ability for me. My favorite singers are not trained. An expansive range is nice, but pales in comparison to the raw emotion from singers like Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and Paul Westerberg.

  • We saw Huey Lewis & The News in Reno in 2002 at the Silver Legacy. We were both disappointed with his performance. His singing was good, but his song selection was lacking.

    We’ve seen Loverboy locally at an indian casino and they were great with much better song selection.

    For me, anyway, song selection at a concert isn’t something, it’s almost everything.

  • Dew

    I’m still discovering new music everyday, especially 80’s tunes. I tend to gravitate towards the Alternative like Duran Duran, INXS, Geroge Michael(post-Wham), Michael Jackson (pre-criminal charges), Hall & Oates and yes dare I admit it, Huey Lewis and the News.

    Although at the moment I’m writing to ‘Ain’t No Love…’ Bobby Blue Bland. You have to have some Blues.

  • right = write … damn!

  • I like to write by music too, Dew, and for the most part I’m still stuck in the 80’s musically.

    It was when I was in a band and it was the music we played.

    For some that was a real crap period for music but I would argue that since the 80’s there has been very little to get excited about musically. Grunge, rap, post-grunge? Please.

    I still listen primarily to music that was produced/released in the 80’s. I still buy music from bands who were happening in the 80’s.

    The late 60’s and 70’s had some outstanding music too. Basically what is known as “classic rock” is what I listen to.

    With that said, a really good, heartfelt song in any genre I’ll listen to. I’ve remarked elsewhere that I enjoyed some of Clay Aiken’s new material.

    But the bottom line … what am I listening to as I right this? L.A. Guns: Hollywood Vampires. Probably aren’t many L.A. Guns fans reading this right now, or are there?

  • Like Sandra, I wrote a lengthy response. It got so long that I posted it separately on Blogcritics.org. Thanks for the inspiration, Dew.

  • Dew

    Thanks for the comments!

    For me, Duane, lyrics are important but not exclusive. I tend to like Classical classics when it comes to instrumentals. Fur Elise, Flight of the Bumble Bee and the Circus song I can not ever remember the name of just to name a few but when it comes to raw funk and musicianship – Earth Wind and Fire! Brazilian Rhyme is still amazing to me even after my thousandth listen. The way they use their voices as instruments, I love it.

  • I’ll post the comments I made earlier at Dew’s site here, since the topic’s generating interest here:

    Music for me is divided into two camps – that which is “art” and that which “moves me” for any number of reasons. The best stuff does both at the same time, but is very rare, obviously. I listen closest to the actual music – the bass lines, drums, guitars, etc. I’m fascinated by the process and how different parts of the music interact with each other in almost subliminal ways. But there are some artists whose lyrics are so powerful that I barely care what the music beneath them is – Elvis Costello, for one, Aimee Mann is another.

    I can understand feeling personally attacked when someone takes shots at your favorite music. It’s like they’re taking a shot at you because whatever you value in the music is being torn apart by someone else. I used to feel really sensitive about that, but the past few years I’ve realized that it’s much easier to just understand that everyone has very specific reasons for listening to what they listen to. What I take offense to are the people who will blindly stand behind someone and defend them without questioning the validity of other people’s claims. No one gets extra points for being the uber-fan, and it’s quite likely that by examining music at its deepest level you can come to a new understanding of yourself – and learn to let what you think is someone else’s insult slide right off. The distance actually tends to make your relationship with music that much stronger, oddly enough.

  • Sandra Smallson

    Your post is one of if not the most intelligent post I have read on any topic, since I joined this site. I am sure I will find time to write a better response to it. Meanwhile, I will agree with all the feelings/reasons/descriptions you have given as your own reasons as to why you choose your type of music. As to what makes good music to you. I share all those sentiments completely, the only difference being that I would probably have different artists to show the range of my tastes or what makes good music to me. I do like Nancy and jayZ and both sit highly in my CD collection.

    The point your post makes could have come right out of my mouth..music is so abstract and personal that there DEFINITELY IS NOT a definitive formula as to what makes good music no matter how many “experts” gather to denounce any genre. Its all opinions at the end of the day.
    Be it through experience or through ability to make music yourself. It is still just your opinion. Not like Doctors or lawyers who attain qualifications to do their jobs. Ofcourse, If Aerosmith say, the Darkness are a horrendous rock band and just a novelty act, some may agree since Aerosmith are a fabulous world renouned rock band and their opinion will be given weight, but at the end of the day, its just their opinion. The Darkness may make music that affect others the very way you have described your own music affects you. Bottom line, its so personal and abstract, there is no definitove formula.

    Hiphoppers think pop music is crap, jazz musicians and classical musicians think rap is crap(some say its just saying bursery rhymes real fast) classical artists think all other genres of music are novelty genres. Nobody is perfect so nobody should be arrogant enough to conclude for the rest of the free world that this particular type of music or artist should universally be looked upon as bad music and not credible while the other lot are good music and credible.

    Example: A friend and I today discussing who the better rapper is b/w 50 and Eminem. He says Eminem because he is lyrically better. I say, name what is so unique about his lyrics other than he is telling his life story, plain words, what is so great? He gives me that example that you all might know better than me..”Others might look like me, dress like me, but not quite me” or something to that effect. I said, what is so great about that? Then I said, I far prefer that 50 song where he says..”I love you like a fat kid loves cake”:) Now, that is fantastic. The humour in that alone, plus I know before he got to that line, I liked the lead up. My friend thought the fat kid line was ridiculous. Yet he was fascinated by a line from Eminem saying some may dress like him, look like him, but are not quite him. Diff strokes for diff folks. It depends on what gets you going. That will always be good music to you.

    I remember from my music lessons at school, a teacher saying, good music is all about melodies. I shall probably return to write more about what Artists move me and why, but I must find food. Besides I must look for a more polite way to say how K’s choice music makes me feel:) Its a great feeling, and I love them to bits, but what it makes me want to do is not something I do, but the thought alone is a good enough high:)

  • duane

    Last night I listened to a drummer/bassist duo on a street corner in SF. There was no singing, just some funkified jamming. Quite stripped down. It was not beautiful, but it was irresistible. It was elemental. The crowd that was gathered around could not help but sway with the rhythm. It was physical. It was not for dancing per se. It’s more fundamental. Movement.

  • Eric Olsen

    Nothing to be gentle about – I think you have a very deep and passionate relationship with art and have an uncommon ability to find what is good and important about all kinds of art on its own level.

    Like you, I love all different kinds of art and music in particular for all different reasons. I like oblique music that hides just beneath the surface and only reveals itself on repeated listenings and is never used up. I like very catchy and accessible music because it is just that and we only live once. I like cool, hot, less warm (“be either hot or cold, if you are elukewarm the Lord will spit you from his mouth”) but still plenty of that. I like really real and really fake, anything done well or well done.

    Excellent, poetic post.

  • Dew

    Be gentle