Monday, November 12, 2007

Cheap music but great music

On occasion, while out shopping, I like to see what I can find in the "two for a tenner" section of a music store. I bought two for £10 over the weekend. Allow me to share the story behind one of them.

A few months ago, I watched a documentary show on TV. I occasionally like to watch these things, y'know, the sort of programmes that come under series titles such as Imagine... or Storyville and the like.

The show I watched that evening could almost be considered life-changing. It was about a man who was a pop star in the 1960s. Of course I knew his name, and I knew one or two songs by the band he was a part of, but I didn't know he had reinvented himself after the dissolution of that band. And I didn't know that he continues to make music.

As I watched this man recording his latest album, he would bang things together in the studio to make the sound he wanted; he would build a box into which he would go to create yet another sound for a particular song; and similar things.

He spoke with that dull monotone of a science teacher, with the look of someone who might be slightly insane. Or might be a genius. Whichever way, he is an artist. An artist in that truest sense. A man for whom making music seems not to be about making music; moreover it's about creating something, and it just happens to be music.

Back in the late 1980s I met a guy named Brian, and Brian would often refer to this artist. We would talk for hours about music, fashion, and women, the most important things in life for a young man, surely. Brian would talk about this singer's "doom-laden vocals", an expression that has stayed with me for some 20 years as I applied it to others without ever really listening to the man about whom it was intended.

That man is Scott Walker, and I'm a recent convert. You might remember him from such songs as "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore", by The Walker Brothers. If, like me, you know (or knew) very little else about him, allow me to share with you a clip of him in action, singing the opening track from his debut solo album, Scott, one of the CDs I bought on Saturday.

As I wrote this post, I began to see parallels (in my own head) between Walker and David Lynch -- both artists for whom the medium is almost irrelevant. Not irrelevant, but... just a conduit, if you like. These two men -- and undoubtedly others, male and female -- just want to create. And as I then glanced at Walker's Wikipedia page, the parallel was cemented for me. Apparently, Walker told UK newspaper The Independent in 1995: "I've become the Orson Welles of the record industry. People want to take me to lunch, but nobody wants to finance the picture... I keep hoping that when I make a record, I'll be asked to make another one. I keep hoping that if I can make a series of three records, then I can progress and do different things each time. But when I have to get it up once every 10 years... it's a tough way to work."

A tough way to work, indeed, and a sad state of affairs. Walk into any music store and you will find row upon row of reissues by the likes of Sting or Phil Collins, reissues, re-releases, repackagings; greatest hits, best-ofs.

But where is the funding for those with a truly original vision? Those who have a deep, unstoppable desire to create? Another thing I love about those documentary strands I watch is the focus, from time to time, on Old Masters. Back when the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo (no, not the TMNTs) were working, they had sponsors and patrons, people who commissioned these incredible, awe-inspiring works of art. And you know what? Sometimes I think we'd be in a better place artistically if that were still the case, instead of the shit that is churned out for the masses.

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Blogger Glamourpuss said...

The patronage system was as flawed - only those lucky enough to find a patron could afford to work, and everything they did had to please the patron. Yes, some great works of art were produced, but rather in spite of than because of patronage. Well, I'd argue anyway.


12 November, 2007 11:59  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Oh, for sure, and I don't doubt there were countless thousands of "starving artists", literally. But the fewer people one tries to please, the greater the chance of creating something truly great, I think.

12 November, 2007 12:07  
Blogger furiousBall said...

amen. as an indie artist myself (when I actually have any time to make music). there is a treasure trove out there of amazing unheard music. I haven't delved into Scott Walker's catalog, but now I will - afterall you recommended Rant to me and that ruled.

12 November, 2007 14:43  
Blogger Martha Elaine Belden said...

i totally agree. and i like this song. great find.

12 November, 2007 15:34  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

F/ball: It's a real double-edged sword, isn't it? And even going back to my comment above, although great works are perhaps easier to come by when having to please fewer people, the paradox is that great works are appreciated by the many... My head hurts now. Hope you'll enjoy some Scott Walker.

Martha: Glad you like. He gets weirder the older he becomes!

12 November, 2007 15:49  
Blogger tweetey30 said...

Interesting insight on how these muscians work. Thanks for sharing. I havent heard of him but again we listen to almost anything at our house.

12 November, 2007 18:07  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

This is such an awesome post...I am kind of overwhelmed. I need to process. I love this.

What you write reminds me of a film Stagg and I saw a couple years ago called "DIG" about Anton Newcombe, eccentric madmen from Brian Jonestown Massacre. I'm going to re-read this post and check out this guy Walker...

12 November, 2007 18:45  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Tweetey: You're welcome. Go look him up!

Candy: Thanks, pet! Be interested in your thoughts later. I'll send you the documentary, and I'll try to look up "Dig" too.

12 November, 2007 23:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ohhh, the crap meant for the masses really is shit.

I've never heard this before (not surprising) But there was one line that caught me off guard: hands you want to beat her black and blue...

WTF? Is he is so happy she is back, why does he want to beat her? Maybe it was just a little too honest for his generation?

13 November, 2007 01:58  
Blogger cappy. said...

nowt else, just that!

13 November, 2007 12:05  
Blogger mister anchovy said...

Excellent post. It amazes me sometimes that ANY music that is in any way beyond the material corporate executives can target to a demographic EVER gets made by the big record companies. I guess they are just so big, that in spite of their best efforts, other stuff sneaks in.

13 November, 2007 12:48  
Blogger Gardenia said...

He is good - sometimes I wonder - when you look at the Britney Spears of the world - what it really takes to make it as an artist - the right breaks, the right connections sometimes allow mediocre talent to rise over brilliant talent - I don't know. Its a question the majority of artists probably ask ourselves.

I too thought of a need for a patron, but then I thought of the artists who did have patrons and had to paint art they were not inspired to paint - how they must have struggled through - yet, they became famous and their work will go down in history -

I don't know what the answer is. I'll be interested to read Candy's comment.

13 November, 2007 14:19  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

RefPo: Well caught, yes. He sings: "My hands, you'll start to shake again / When you remember all the pain / Mathilde's come back to me. / You'll want to beat her black and blue / But don't do it, I beg of you / Mathilde's come back to me." Sounds like a turbulent relationship. This track was written by Jacques Brel, though. Crazy Europeans!

Cappy: Cool. I'm new to the fold.

Mr A: Thanks, dude. You're absolutely right...

Gardenia: Be nice to have a patron, huh?!

14 November, 2007 12:17  
Blogger cappy. said...

jaques dutronc, now theres a chap to listen to!
and sylvie vartan.
french, both of em, and damn good they are too. i've been known to play em on my little radio show!
you ought to look them up!
oh yes, thats a shock to some of you eh? i have a modicum of culture you know! it aint all ska ska ska! well, not always at least!

14 November, 2007 13:04  

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