“I should have seen this sh** coming down the hall/Every night I spent in that bed with you facing the wall/If I could have only once heard you scream/To feel you were alive
Instead of watching you abandoning yourself.”
When We Two Parted – The Afghan Whigs
Music is a funny thing. You just never know what’s going to take with an audience. Sometimes it’s the sugary pop confections of bubble gum music ala much of the music from the early 50s and sometimes it’s the all out sonic assaults of heavier stuff such as much of the metal that dominated the 80s. People’s tastes are fickle indeed.
Often what makes music popular is the assemblage of the music – the guitar solo or the drum beat. Too often, much attention isn’t paid to the lyrics. And there’s that rare of rare when the music and the lyrics combine to make something truly great which brings me to the case of Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs, the Twighlight Singers, and the Gutter Twins.
Dulli is that rare example of a songwriter who, whether purposefully or not, writes lyrics complicated enough to alienate a large chuck of his potential audience. Seems to me he’s carrying on a long tradition of such singer-songwriters who, generally, are too smart for their own good – Leonard Cohen, and at times Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson immediately jump to mind. They’re our conscious and the voice of our times, our poet laureates giving voice to the current situation. But because sometimes their lyrics are obtuse, full of symbolism and other elements that obfuscate their meaning, they’re dropped for the lighter fair of the FM radio. Some, like Dylan find a way to have enough easy to grasp material out there to gain popularity and other like Cohen have longevity on their side, gaining enough of an audience to sustain them with each passing year.
I guess it’s a lot like writers of classic literature. I’ve often heard it said that James Joyce’s “Dubliners” or “Finnegans Wake” are sublime, masterful works. And I’ve tried on several occasions to give Joyce’s work a crack to not much avail. I’m sure there are some great and wonderful human truths in there but to date they elude me. Faulkner is another one, while I read and enjoy his work, I can’t help but feel there’s more going on there then I’ve fully grasped. But I keep trying. I keep coming back to these authors and musicians hoping that perhaps, with me at a different time and space, I’ll finally gain that insight that I’ve been missing.
Ultimately, that’s my point – intellectual pursuit. Nothing worth having is easy right? You have got to work at it, whittle away at the edges until finally that moment of break through occurs and you sit back, somewhat smug in satisfaction of the effort expelled.
I’m not really sure how, but it seems to me that we’ve become a nation that looks down on those who are super smart, maybe we don’t like the way they make us feel. I don’t know, I just know that it’s a dumb position to take, instead of denigrating those who have put in the time to academic pursuits, us joe six-packs should be spending a little more time trying to follow in their footsteps because I just can’t believe that the image of the “joe six-pack” is one any of us aspire to.