Monday, January 5, 2009

What Music Do I Like?

I have eclectic taste in music. When I try to explain or demonstrate my taste, folks often simplify the discussion to one word "weird." I guess that's fair, my taste buds are spread all over the musical tongue.

I heard a piece on NPR this evening, however, that might help to illustrate what I love about the many different musics I like: an openness.

The story is about a group of Nashville session players who set aside their formulaic day-job playing once each week to play as The Time Jumpers in a regular Monday evening gig at a place called The Station Inn. They play standards from across the American music spectrum; generally as western swing. They play for love, fun, and friendship. They are not trying to be "successful." And they sound great.

The part of the NPR story that caught my ear was toward the end, when guitarist Andy Reiss explained what he likes about playing this way:
The beauty of music is [that] when your ears are wide open, your heart is wide open. You're not even thinking. You're listening and you're part of something, and everybody is doing that. When that happens, it's pure magic. And as a musician, you know how rare that is.
What struck me is how similar this is to the way that the members of the Grateful Dead, who play what would seem an entirely different sort of music, describe what they seek on stage. They talk in very similar terms in their 2009 tour announcement (which I linked to over the week-end).

Mickey Hart calls it the "mind meld." The group describes the process in a video posted on their site as "all about listening. You listen more than you play..." Phil Lesh says that that sense of surprise is why he keeps playing:
For me, it’s the question mark that’s really pulling me in...what’s gonna happen? When you walk out on the stage the possibilities are infinite every time. The musical possibilities are infinite: there is no end to it, there’s no back wall and there’s no ceiling, there’s no floor. It’s infinite and therefore you can still explore it till the day that you die.
So here we have two different sorts of music that bear striking similarities. They both draw from the deep well of American songs, they both exist somewhat outside the main stream, and they both are played by musicians who understand that the beauty of the music is found in the other players.

This is what I like. The genre doesn't really matter; I'm interested in the process and the surprise.

1 comment:

Mike Mahaffie said...

That photo, by the way, is neither the dead nor the Time Jumpers. It is The Ignorants, a band I played bass in at Colby College. I think this is from the spring of 1982, on the lawn out back of Foss-Woodburn.

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