This reminded me of something that I think is sorely lacking in most music these days: humor. We certainly live in serious times, OK, I get that, but don’t we all need a laugh now and then? One of the best qualities I find in performers, whether in music or the other arts is self-deprecating humor. Take someone like the actor George Clooney. Sure, he’s made plenty of serious movies but don’t you get the feeling he truly loves those somewhat dim and goofy roles in the Coen brother’s movies like the wonderful “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?” and more recently, “Hail, Caesar!”? Clooney could easily bank on his talent and looks in serious roles but the bottom line is that, because of his perceived view of himself, you always just KNOW that he is absolutely loving his work, regardless of the role.
In music it seems to me that the humor gene has skipped the latest generation of singer/songwriters and acoustic music based musicians. Sure there are a few notable exceptions like Dan Tyminski of Union Station (see them in concert to confirm this!) and some modern country tunes have humorous elements.
What I’m talking about is as much about the overall performance as the tunes themselves. Some of the older singer songwriters who cut their musical teeth in small venues where they had to demonstrate some personality along with their music chops understand this. Tom Rush is one example. No one would accuse Tom of being a great guitarist or much beyond an adequate singer but he is positively hilarious in his between tunes banter. John Prine, who wrote one of the funniest songs I know, “Please Don’t Bury Me”, and Lyle Lovett both demonstrate wry humor all the time when they perform. Even James Taylor, who is generally perceived as being the grand daddy of “serious” acoustic singer-songwriterdom has taken in recent years to showing lots of self-deprecating humor, including a hilarious send-up of “Fire & Rain” on a late night TV show. Jimmy Buffet, God bless him, has always incorporated humor into his writing and shows but hey, when most of your fan base shows up in parrot or shark fin hats you’d best keep things light weight, or lit up, as the case may be.
Not all of the oldsters embrace humor of course. It’s hard for me to imagine Dylan ever changing the lyrics of “Like A Rolling Stone” to something like “Like My Rolling Bones” (which might be a good idea judging by his recent tours and albums).
I guess what I’d really like to see is a trend toward doing shows as a more involving experience for both the performer and the audience. This is tough for many musicians even with the most supportive audiences. Some are just plain shy and uncomfortable with the idea of talking and feel no obligation to reveal anything more of themselves than what can be gleaned from their songs. The danger in this, which many young singer songwriters don’t understand is that they are setting themselves up for a fall. They are asking their audience to pay rapt attention to the music and “get it.” Some may, some will, some will not. Do they care? Maybe not. But they should. Otherwise, why be out there at all?
So here’s a radical and somewhat corny thought, youngsters. Learn a couple…… jokes! Yes, you could fall flat on your face and as a sports figure said recently, “Hater’s gonna hate.” But you will gain some credibility with those who want to know YOU, along with your music. And showing a sense of humor is always the best way to gain friends and influence people.
So in the interests of starting you on your journey to hilarity, I offer this pretty bad joke. Do with it what you will.
A guy walks into a bar with a set of jumper cables around his neck and sits down.
The bartender says, “OK, you can stay, just don’t start anything!”
Peace & good music,