Big Ideas / Brian's Guitar Journal

Bad Music for Good People

Here’s a crazy thought that came to me on my way into the studio this morning: We could all benefit by listening (and I mean actively listening) to more BAD music. Gentlemen, you may now faint. Ladies, you may now begin fist fighting each other… Ok. Now that the initial shock is out of your system, you will allow me to explain.

The truth is there is no such thing is BAD music. What one person thinks is brilliant, or relevant, or artistic, another person thinks is wet garbage. Opinions about music (and possibly everything else) are just ways to reflect who we are. The “I” in the phrase “I don’t like THIS” is really what we are trying to call attention to and usually elevate above the “THIS”, which is sort of irrelevant.

The main reason our opinions so often have so little to do with the music the opinion is supposed to be ABOUT, is because we simply don’t listen to BAD music. Even when we think we have listened to something, we don’t take into account the world of prejudice that is in full effect before Grandma drops the needle – your Brother pops open the jewel case – your nephew clicks the triangle – your friend who lives in Brooklyn drops the needle – or your friend who lives in Portland begins turning some sort of crank.

We often know, or think we know, what we are about to hear before we hear it. If we think we aren’t going to like it we can completely shut down without even knowing it, and thus never really hear the thing which we then go on to tell anyone who will listen, “totally sucks”. Music is more than just what the artist has done. It is fitting that we already refer to these as PIECES of music. Music in the broader sense is the reaction for which pieces of music are the potential catalysts. All pieces of music can work in this way, can create a MUSICAL REACTION, if the listener knows how to use them.

This is why we have to go out and listen to BAD music. I can’t tell you how to appreciate the Shins – Yo Matty B Raps – Muddy Waters – Skrillex – Culture Club – Duke Ellington – Bach – Metallica – Arthur Russell – Melt Banana – XTC – etc – mainly because that would take forever and I don’t have time for that. **BTW All of those artists I just listed are ones that people have told me, “totally suck”… except Bach. I think everyone just kind of gets Bach. Shrug. But to appreciate anything else you have to do the work. You have to assimilate it in your own unique way. Or don’t. Be miserable. I’m just trying to help you.

Anyway, the reason I wanted to write this post was really to encourage musicians to listen to BAD music. Even if you are trying to listen as actively and objectively as you can and its just a matter of taste, seek out and listen to stuff you do not like. If you want to be creative you can’t afford to become mired in your own stylistic bubble. Think of it this way, you will develop a better appreciation for the music that you do like by studying music that has NONE of those elements. There are even totally new elements about the music that you like which you will only become aware of by identifying their absence in the music you don’t like.

Last thing I will say about this is that I have observed in myself over the years that there is a certain kind of neuroses at play when I experience a strong negative reaction to a piece of music. This reaction happens because there is more to ourselves and our personalities than we are presently aware. BAD music resonates with us at some point beyond our self image, and that can be truly unsettling. We call it BAD music because, however much we like or dislike ourselves, we all have a certain aversion to change and upheaval which BAD music demands from us. BAD music speaks not to who we are now but to who we will become if we allow ourselves to listen to it. That is why we have to seek it out and try to understand it.

OK. Next time I will write about picks or strings or something. I promise.

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