Each one of those questions is probably worthy of an entire blog entry on its own. Back when I was the editor of On The Water magazine my publisher (also an editor) taught me to thoroughly examine each point made by a writer and not be blown away by massive amounts of information or outright BS. Once I sent him a feature I had written and was quite proud of, but he rejected it because he said I hadn’t fully expanded on the many good points he said I’d made. He was right. I rewrote it. He would probably flinch at the attempt I’m about to make to tackle those questions above. Oh well. I don’t work for him anymore, ha!
There’s no question about the evolution of musical taste, not to anyone who’s seriously into music. From a player’s perspective I think the trick is to keep what you need or like as you move on and learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. The certainty of youth gives way to many-layered reality. But I’ve noticed something curious over the last decade or so. I know some very good local musicians who see no need to evolve and seem to be perfectly happy playing popular music from a generation or even two, before. Part of me finds this to be a bit lazy but hey, they get work and the audiences don’t seem to mind hearing the same songs over and over. The better ones know which side the ol’ bread is buttered on – they will keep playing those old nuggets – but when they are playing for purely their own enjoyment they often spring some pretty amazing music on their friends. One bass player I know (he is also a fine guitarist and mandolin player) is fine with playing in a couple groups whose entire repertoire is semi-acoustic oldies but he also pays plenty of attention to the latest crop of young singer-songwriters and does a great job with covers of their stuff. You’ll just never hear him play that music at the local watering hole. I suspect that there are plenty of serious and semi-professional players out there who do the same. They are evolving but in a quiet way. Pragmaticism wins again. This is not a criticism; I do that myself!
Taste. Likes. What we find compelling again and again. This is one of the joys of music I think. Quick example. Way back when I was in college the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album was released and for a period of a few months “Suite for Juby Blue Eyes” was absolutely inescapable. I loved it then and I love it today! And here’s why. That song has reappeared countless times at pivotal moments in my life, almost like a soundtrack. Every time I hear it a rush of emotion comes over me, recalling good times with dear friends, road trips to beautiful places and much more. I’m sure we all have songs like that. Sometimes we even have the joy of remembering a song or an album that we loved years ago but has slipped our minds. Last summer I rediscovered the classic Little Feat album “Let It Roll,” which was released back in 1988. I positively loved that album for a while – I defy anyone to sit still while its playing. It became my go-to album last summer when I sat out on my back deck in the evening after finishing teaching, slipping on a glass of Petron Anejo. Man, does that make me feel good (not just the tequila!).
One of the standard raps I give my students goes something like this:
Guess what? Now you’re cursed! Your days of going to a music show and just sitting back and enjoying what you’re hearing are gone. You’ll be sitting there asking yourself – what chords is the guitarist playing? What kind of guitar does he have?
OK, I mean this totally in jest but for many budding guitarists it’s a real thing. Not a bad thing, just a reality. What I’ve found over the years is that it’s certainly possible to note those things but then if the performance is really outstanding the music can take me to an emotional depth that non-players just can’t understand or appreciate. If the performance is not that great, I can always go back to focusing on those chords and the guitars. So I think this is a win-win!
My last question bumps into a lot of issues, not the least of which is ego. I’ve written about the pitfalls of ego-based music making many times in this space. Hopefully, our ego allows us to accept and appreciate a wide range of music that it totally unrelated to guitar playing. There is a great article in the latest issue of Fretboard Journal magazine that profiles the amazing flat-pick style guitarist Molly Tuttle. If you haven’t heard Molly, check her out, I guarantee you will be blown away. When the interviewer asked her who she listens to, who’s on her Spotify play lists, she rattles off many of the people you’d expect but also included are 2Pac and Thugz Mansion. Wow. “I try to stay open to everything,” said Molly.
But hey, she’s young. I’m not going to be exploring hip-hop any time soon, OK, never, but Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” slays me every time, without a guitar in sight. There’s plenty of classical music I feel that way about. All I’m saying is, take Molly’s words to heart.
Peace & good music,