Friday, April 14, 2006

Punk, Jazz, Beatnik, Mod

"Mozart was a punk, which people seem to forget. He was a naughty, naughty boy."--Shirley Manson (whose perfume is Guerlain Nahema) Photo by Ellen Von Unwerth.

It amuses me that I'm loving Punk music more and more these days. You see, as a classically trained musician who's far from a technical wiz on an instrument but one who has just enough proficiency that I can recognize good technique in others, so much of Punk just sounds wrong. It amuses me how Punk is Punk because of the lack of musical proficiency that makes the sound extra ruff cut unlike the polished gleam of corporate Pop (disclaimer: I know there are very proficient, clean-sounding punk bands out there, too). I have a good friend in the radio business (she's a producer-director-engineer and also a musician-singer in her own right who had once been signed to a major label) who says she got tired of listening to clean, well-performed, well-produced music a long time ago and she could now only tolerate bands than can hardly play at all but that sound interesting because of that fact. I guess after awhile, you just need to be surprised and challenged more than wowed by fancy moves, and listening to a band that's not so good is like being challenged--to see if I can follow them, for instance. Timing can be very interesting when you either don't have the chops or don't care to be in any pocket at all.

But what I'm learning is that the pocket isn't everything, that there's a different groove in the Punk genre which is not only valid but beautiful. I have no problem following where non-proficient musicians take their music now because I've also come to the point in my musical walk where I can deduce most of what's going on. It's not too far off from getting used to tritone substitutions and extension chords so that I never have to actually hear a V7 again, to hear it when it's merely implied. Granted it takes a lot more time and effort to learn to play altered chords than to strum 3 power chords in 4/4, but in the end, maybe good music is not so much about good and bad technique as much as it is an issue of taste. Just because a song is well-performed doesn't make it good, and even the best jazz is noise to someone who doesn't love the genre to begin with.

Minimalism/modernity is about tasteful editing but I think modernity in music can also be about complexity; think of how Coltrane said what he said with a whole lot of notes as opposed to sparse Miles Davis, and he still sounded totally mod. Where does Punk fit into a discussion about Jazz? Somewhere down the line in beatnik history, they were part of one movement, a shared attitude and outlook on life. Jazz said it with a lot and Punk broke it down but they were pretty much saying the same things. One important point was that there was no such thing as wrong notes. How freeing is that? There's still so much I have to unlearn.