Random thoughts for a Wednesday-

I was going to do another blog about hip-hop, but instead, I wanted to write a blog that facilitated more discussion, because I like it when that happens.  So, I am going to lay out a couple questions I’ve been kicking around, and you can tell me what you think, MFR fans.

1.  You know when musicians say that they are creative because they take drugs, and that they need drugs to write the music they write?  Is this valid, or a bunch of crap?  And why?  Is there any middle grounds here?

2.  Should you ever judge an album in the context of prior experiences with the band?  Simply put, should I judge the new Spoon record as a thing in itself (as if it were the only Spoon record ever), or should I hold it up to the bar that has been set by their previous albums?

3.  If an artist starts sucking, (a), do you think they realize that they suck, or are they oblivious?  More importantly, (b), should they care?  Do they have an obligation to quit making music?  What if it’s enjoyable for them, but not for anyone else?  Because they could theoritically keep riding the money-machine-mobile long after they’ve exhausted their originality/creativity (see Paul McCartney), or they could cash out when they know they probably couldn’t do anything else worth recording (see Jay-Z, IF he really retired), or they could go out in a blaze of glory at a young age, leaving your music catalogue pretty much immaculate and safe from being tainted by possible crappy works in later years (see Elliott Smith, John Lennon, Buddy Holly, and countless others). 

Discuss.  I’ve love to read comments and hear some intense discussion.  Go!

6 thoughts on “Random thoughts for a Wednesday-”

  1. 1) I remember Wolters saying that if you do heroin and make great art, then it’s a moral imperative for you to take heroin.

    The catch; it’s got to be GREAT art. If you’re reading this and doing heroin, therefore, stop. The heroin.

    For me, there seems to be a difference between “needing drugs to write music” which ends up being boring music about drugs, or having varied experiences (that don’t cause harm or suffering to others) and writing music out of those experiences, which might turn out OK.

    2) We do, whether we should or not. Music has a personal element, so the WHO behind a work of music matters to us. Rightly so, we’re human. I think it’s an interesting thought-exercise to consider a new record by an established artist as “a thing in itself” – but ultimately, it is not that thing, it is a work of art that is in relationship with the artist, the artist’s other works, and the world.

    3) a) Many seem oblivious… b) “Do they have an obligation to quit making music?” Interesting. Probably not; I’d like to think of music as some sort of human right (TROY??? WHERE ARE YOU???) but certainly that doesn’t mean anyone should listen or care (see; Staind).

    Sir Paul isn’t writing great records now, but he’s still touring and putting on a big fun rock show, which is pretty admirable. I don’t think that constitutes coasting. Cher, now, she’s coasting.

    But “coasting” artists aren’t doing anything that most of us wouldn’t, given the opportunity… the root of these phenomena probably rests with our collective aesthetic value and taste in the culture.

    What a post! Chock-full of brain-grinding goodness. Download MFR’s new EP from D-Rockets at http://www.mrfuriousrecords.com!!!111

  2. Responding in the Howie style:

    1) I think that the best art, be it painting, poetry, music, whatever, comes out of our experiences. Sometimes those experiences involve drgus and sometimes they don’t. I guess I say that if you create art as a result of taking drugs, I consider that valid, as opposed to taking drugs in order to make art, which is crap. It’s like forcing yourself to make something unreal, and if it’s unreal it can’t be truthful, and if it’s not truthful it’s not great art (as we have previously discussed in other areas of this blog).

    2)Absoluteley. Now, I say that not meaning that every album from every artist must sound the same; indeed, the best artist (or at least the ones I like the most) often have very different sounds involved in different albums. Imagine how many times you could see the ocean, but you saw it only from one beach, ever. The first time you see it, it’s an awesome experience, very unlike any other. The next time, it’s still pretty cool, and you’re digging on it fairly well. But as you go more and more to just the one beach, it almost beings to become mundane. It’s just the same thing over and over, and eventually it isn’t special to you anymore. It just is. Now imagine instead travelling up and down the California coast. The first time you see the ocean, it’s an awesome experience, very unlike any other. Then you pack up and go to a different beach. It’s still the same ocean, but it’s also a new expereince because it is a different beach. The more beaches you go to, the more you get to know the ocean from different perspectives. But you can only gain those perspectives by providing the context of previous beach experiences. Some bands never go to the ocean. Some bands stay at the same beach all of their lives. But the best bands run up and down the coast, and you can only tell from the context of prior experience (and albums).

    3)a) I think some get it, and some are oblivious, and I think which is which depends on if they recognize what the crowds are telling them.
    b)Hell no! If they want to be out there making music, what does it matter how much they suck? If it makes them happy, and if they feel they can express themselves that way, then there’s no question they should keep going. Even if they end up playing a street corner for the dimes of passeres-by.

    On a side-note, I can’t think of anytime an artist has gotten a free pass on a song they’ve written more than Sir Paul and his “Freedom” song he wrote after 9/11. Have you actually listened to the song without thinking patriotically? It’s such a terrible, awful, awful song. Ot so I think, anyway.

  3. JT, I like your analogy. But one thing stuck out at me:

    “If they want to be out there making music, what does it matter how much they suck?”

    I think that the overall quality of art a culture creates does matter. Good, challenging, inspiring, beautiful art can nudge people towards becoming more beautiful; can enlarge souls. Cheap, reproducible, commercial, junk art cheapens our lives. The continued popularity of Limp Bizkit or smooth jazz or Xiu Xiu (read SPIN’s review; busted asses over at Pitchfork!) drags down our collective cultural life (of which I AM ONE, DAMMIT!). Simultaneously, Radiohead buoys us up. It matters.

    Somewhat related, more general philosophical point; altogether too many folks think that “relativism” means that there are NO MEANINGFUL DIFFERENCES to talk about. Aesthetics can be largely relative, AND STILL BE PERFECTLY ABLE TO MAKE DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN ART THAT IS GOOD FOR US AND ART THAT IS BAD. Same of ethics, etc.

    relativism does not equal absolute relativism. i fucking mean it. this is not aimed at JT, but our people as a whole.


  4. When I said, “If they want to be out there making music, what does it matter how much they suck?” it was aimed at a personal level rather than a cultural level.

    Yes, Creed sucked as a band. Yes, they kept making bad music. Yes, they kept bringing down our culture, and yes we’re all worse off for it. The argument isn’t whether we thought (knew) their music sucked, or whether we thought (knew) people should stop listening to them.

    Do I feel my life would be better if Creed had never existed as a band? Of course. But that’s such a selfish viewpoint. They made their art, which happened to be really bad, and everyone thought it was good. It’s not their fault that everyone thought their bad music was good. And just as I wouldn’t want the good (?) people of Creed to bust down my door and tell me to stop my writing, I couldn’t tell them to stop making their music.

    Luckily, someone got something right somewhere and they did stop making their music.

    It comes down to this: I can never tell someone to stop making their art, no matter how awful it might be or how much it might cheapen our culture. I can only make the distinction between good and bad, cherish the good, and do what I can to not eliminate the bad, but rather improve it. You never know when something awful can change to something beautiful.

  5. You know what? I agree somehow with both Howie and JT, in the sense that it’s our right to make music if we want to… What I didn’t make clear in the blog is that, if you’re an artist on a major label, and you start sucking and you are AWARE of this fact (this is key), do you have a moral obligation to quit the label instead of releasing your shitty music through the label, just because you know people will buy it? I mean, getting rich off of making terrible music is bad, getting rich off of music that you know damn well is bad is downright awful, but making bad music because it’s fun is totally fine. Well, maybe not fine, but at least ammoral. It’s your right to make crappy music if you want to, but if you’re aware of its crappiness and you still insist on making millions off of it, you have made a morally wrong choice. In my opinion. Let’s say I was getting paid to do music- I hope that I would have the good sense to stop charging even $10 per CD when I knew it wasn’t worth that.

    Lots of gray areas of course, but making millions off of music that you know is bad is like working for a tobacco company; sure, you’re making lots of money, but you’re also ruining a lot of people’s lives and dragging down the culture with you.

  6. Personal/cultural has a lot of overlap… and each person’s perspective is all they have (lessons of existentialism), so it’s good to try and blow it up (expansion of the soul, lessons of Tom Robbins) as much as possible.

    Let’s switch gears from good/bad art and think about potential. Human potential, and fulfilling or actualizing it. The time spent on Creed, band and listeners alike, is immense when compared to the human potential it fulfilled. Creed might have been very fulfilling for the band members and a few hardcore fans, but for most people it was a drag on their process of soul-enlargement (though they may not realize it).

    JT’s poetry, on the other hand, is very fulfilling for JT and a handful of friends who are privy to it, and has had no real effect on anybody else. So in terms of time and energy used for it, and its actualizing of human potential for goodness and beauty, JT’s poetry looks great. (I’d place the whole MFR project in the same camp).

    There’s a big difference there, and I think I can fairly criticize some artists for the way they inhibit expansion of soul and subvert the process and value of art itself while they’re at it. Like corrupt police, their crimes hurt us twice; first the crime itself, then by eroding the value and trust we have in what they represent.


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