Alex Lifeson from Rush, of course, which is really what I should call him up front. Titles are hard, sometimes. Rush isn’t really my favorite band any more, but I still have lots of time for them when the occasion arises.
He’s a largely self-taught musician, but managed to innovate in several ways, notably—to me, at least—his preference for creating color and texture in the spaces between his virtuosic, more showy bandmates.
Like Ringo Starr, another sometimes unsung hero of rock music, he always strives to serve the songs first and foremost. I think this is an admirable approach for any artist, striving to do what you think is best for the piece, not trying to show any particular skill.
Moving brings out all the emotions. For me, it’s not all stress, all the time. I’ve always brought a sense of melancholy as well, sorting old letters, books, photos, notes, objects long hidden in a box that never got unpacked from the last move.
I want it to be Vanpire Weekend’s “Cousins,” but of course it feels like (brilliant) Ethan Gruska’s remote-gas-station-lit “Teenage Drug.”
This is a useful, and I think harmless, if not even helpful, kind of nostalgia. Feeling the past while you actively head toward the future.
A Little Meditation on Silence From Pitchfork Is No Snarky Take
One is the Genesis song “Dance on a Volcano” from 1976’s A Trick of the Tail, one of those perfect albums pretentious muso nerds like me keep bringing up. Mid-period Genesis meant a lot to me when I was still on a path to becoming a musician. The technicality, the care in production, the aspiration, all was inspiring in exactly the opposite way that punk would later engender in me. [YouTube link for non-Spotify folks]
The second is this search for images on Tumblr for the hashtag “gregg rulz ok,” a reference from the gloriously affecting game Night in the Woods. My favorite character, he of the knives, crimes, and anarchy.
Trying to Look at Familiar Things With New Eyes (And Ears) Is Difficult, But It Works Your Creative Muscles
News and social media can wear you down. There’s nothing for it but to step back a bit, or completely, if you can. Unless you’re a journalist, there’s not much point in staying up-to-the-minute on the relentless news cycle. You have things to do. This is good right here, a real slowdown for the mind: The Last Ambient Hero
Case in point, so many internet things that are amazing and have criminally few eyeballs and earholes attached to them. I understand the magic of discovering treasures that are meaningful to you. I’m sad that it’s such a widespread impulse to resist sharing those things with everyone else. It’s the Daffy Duck mentality, a throwback to post-infancy, when we desired everything for ourselves, before we learned empathy.
One of the reasons I’m continuing to work on this blog is to share those things, to resist the hoarding impulse. Because it’s in the sharing that we grow, it’s in the mutual delight of discovery that we support and enhance each other. This is a better way to live.
All that to say, watch the latest BJ Rubin show. It’s full of music that’s so far out on the fringe it’s fuzz floating away on the breeze. It’s weird, it’s unique, and the world needs so much more of that right now.
I finally got around to seeing the Carpool Karaoke featuring Paul McCartney, and it was typically wonderful. I really can’t get enough of Paul just being his alternately down-to-earth and godlike-famous selves—the latter of which he dubs “Him”—but this was a cut above. It must be terribly hard, sometimes, to reconcile being a person who just wants to walk around in the world as a normal human with a concept people want to worship and get a piece of, everywhere you go. I’m continually amazed by the grace he displays of such relentless recognition. I’m sure it’s hard.
So many of us think we want to be famous, and should think harder and longer about what it might mean. There’s little controlling it if it happens.
I’ve listened to a couple pieces the last few days, separated by many years but near-perfect in their own ways. The first is George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. It’s a huge collection, filled up with songs rejected by John and Paul, as well as plenty that he’d written purely by being inspired. It flows well, it’s dynamic, and it’s powerful. It doesn’t drag at all, as you’d imagine a 23-track album would have to. Spotify link
I’ve been a fan of Neko Case since I discovered The New Pornographers, after Mass Romantic made everyone’s best of indie lists in 2001. Case proved an even better songwriter in her solo career than she was a singer in TNP, and that’s saying a lot, because I’m in love with her voice. Her newest, Hell-On, runs a dizzying emotional and aural gamut, managing to be melancholy, funny, and hopeful all at once. Spotify link
So, I used to love this band. I discovered them just before I entered high school, and near their commercial peak. They were Canadian, and I’d already started to love all things Great White North, though they were possibly my first “favorite” one of those. I was in band from 4th grade—Grade Four, for you Canucks—and I noticed they were a musician’s band, an entity prized by insiders and often dismissed by the general public. I’ll stop hinting and say now that Rush, the band in question, became my top musical thing almost instantly, and remained so until the mid-90s.
The lyrics were almost all written by drummer Neil Peart—take out the “P” and the “t” and you know how to pronounce his whole name properly when you put them back again—and although sometimes pretentious and sometimes less than wholly elegant, I loved them and they inspired and guided me. Neil was like a teacher out of school, someone who cared increasingly about writing about human things. He wrote about individualism, about forging an artistic path in the face of opposing forces, about working hard and staying true to one’s dreams. Then he started to write about more personal and everyday experience. He wrote about fear, about dreams, about inspiration. He wrote about relationships, about loss, about the little things that make life richer. This was the period I felt most connected, when I thought, “yes! This deep connection is what’s important.”
Then something changed. For a time, the lyrics he wrote seemed to me to have a sardonic tone. I found an attitude in them I wasn’t sure I liked. It wasn’t quite contempt, but they didn’t have the same love of humanity I’d noticed and identified with before. I’m not sure what happened, but I’ve seen something like it in artists who achieve a high level of material success. Perhaps it’s the isolation of fame. It might be simple weariness after years of exhaustive effort trying to maintain their success. Whatever the reason, I think it’s instructive.
We have a duty as artists to tell the truth, as we see it. But contempt is not an attractive quality. I’d say that humility, rather, is something to be cultivated and kept in mind while working on anything we make. Nobody does this work alone, we all need help, at times. What makes art universal is its basic humanity, the connection to common experience: our emotions, our fears, our triumphs. We should strive to respect and understand those traits, rather than downplay them.
I don’t believe in much. But as often as it can seem like the world is full of selfish assholes, I believe most of us want the best for others, most are willing to help, most have the capacity to love and to give. Those are things to celebrate and encourage, and they’re compelling and engaging. I refuse to believe everything is shit just because life is hard and sometimes we’re horrible to each other. We can be so brave and charitable, too.
There’s a coda: Peart changed again over time, and a new maturity—post terrible tragedy and grief—crept back into his work, culminating in some really tender and heartfelt songs, encouraging and affecting stuff I was and still am proud to enjoy. I can’t deny it—even if I have new favorite musicians, I do still love that band.