The psychology of music-or why I am drawn to bands that are really bad.

Growing up, my first exposure to music was the country and western of my mother and the big bands of my father. Sometimes they crossed over- Vaughn Monroe  was big band but he did ‘Riders in the Sky’, Jim Reeves was country, but he often used an orchestra-but neither were my favorite genre then, or later in life. My personal tastes for music were probably formed at an early age, somewhere just before the invasion of the Beatles when I hear my mothers Ray Charles albums. Yes, he had an orchestra and could vaguely be called big band, and yes, he did what you could call country songs but there was something more. The music moved, it was alien to my home. It wasn’t homogenized. In short, it had soul-and I don’t mean that it was black music-it felt like the musicians were having fun. It felt ‘out there’ it felt slightly wild and rebellious.

Pre-Beatles and British invasion rock n roll gave us Del Shannon, Dion, The Beach Boys, and of course, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, but by the time I was old enough to appreciate these early pioneers, Elvis was in the army, Chuck Berry was in jail, Jerry Lee had married a little girl and Little Richard was old hat. The rest of them, the early rock n roll pioneers had been taken over by the ‘suits’ and their music was sounding tame, corporatized if you will. Then came the invasion. The Beatles, the Stones, the Animals, Zombies, Yardbirds and a host of others and these guys had that same feel-wild, rebellious, free. Of course, they were invoking what I came to know as American blues and R&B but at the time all I knew was it was fun. Now, a lot of these musicians weren’t actually very good musicians, but I didn’t know that either. As John Lee Hooker said after a tour of England where he was backed by a group of ‘young British musicians’, “these white boys want to play the blues real bad, and these white boys play the blues REAL BAD.”

Of Course, mixed in with the bad musicians there were some legitimate musicians or some musicians that would become genuine masters of their instrument-Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page (who was a very sought after studio guitarist at the time) Jack Bruce, etc…and there were some vocalists that could deliver a song to the sound of garbage cans crashing curb-side. But for the most part, any real musical ability these guys had was developed long after they became stars and icons of rock n roll.

With the success of these ‘invaders’ there came a whole flock of American bands trying to emulate ‘that sound’. For awhile, producers would sign groups who only touched their first instrument last week, as long as they looked good. This gave birth to a whole new genre of music. The garage band. Some of these groups trying to capture that feeling literally didn’t know a chord from a guitar string. But they had that feel, that rebelliousness and they were successful to varying degrees. It was in the late 60’s when I had digested enough 60’s music to know that I wanted to be a musician, after all, the rock n roll players got all the girls, and I was becoming old enough to care about getting the girls.

I discovered early on that I didn’t have the natural talent it would take, and I couldn’t sing a lick, but with all things throughout my life, I studied it deeply. The history, the language of music, the structure of time signatures and chord structures. Along the way I gained a new respect and learned to enjoy jazz music, classical music, blues music, R&B music and a very long list of genres. In other words, I came to be educated in what good music was comprised of. I reveled in the genius of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, the craft of John Lennon, Paul McCartney as well as the eloquence of Bach, Beethoven, Ravel and other composers. I found a beauty in the mathematical structure of music and started to get more discerning about what was good and what was bad.

Today, my ear is refined enough to know that some of the stars that have hit the scene lately are god-awful. Fall Out Boy sucks musically. I laugh when some of these ‘new’ guitarists are compared to Hendrix or Clapton. But then, after all these years of educating myself on music, both as a player and as a listener. After collecting a very large selection of great jazz, or great classical, of the geniuses of rock and R&B I find myself on select days passing by Lush Life and wanting to listen to some garage rock. I want to hear The Chocolate Watch Band, or The 13th Floor Elevator, The Groupies (who ever only made one album and were more about taking great press photos than playing good music. And, I ask myself why? I mean this is like a doctor smoking 3 packs a day when he knows better that anyone else the damage that does. Then it comes to me. I want to feel that rebelliousness, that freedom, that simple joy again. I want to be ‘moved to my soul’ I want to twist and shout and do the mash potato and I don’t care if it’s not great art.

There. That said, I think I’ll go put ‘Little Steven’s Underground Garage’ on the satellite radio. Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.

The Dirty Lowdown

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