Between our sound check and our show last night, in Denton, we had a couple hours to kill. We stopped at the amazing Recycled Books there in the town square. First of all it was bad judgment on my part to even enter the store. There is no place that will siphon money off of me faster than a book store that also sells records. While we were in the store I thought about asking Shinyribs if we could put a tip jar out later that night just to even out the damage that I knew I was about to do to my wallet. For you see there is nothing I love more than books and records. If someone pulled up in a Lamborghini and someone pulled up in a Pinto, albeit with a copy of The Queen is Dead and A Good Man is Hard to Find in the passenger seat, I know who I would be riding with; it wouldn’t be in the Lamborghini.
Anyway, I was able to summon up some monumental restrain out of my soul, for maybe the first and last time, and keep it down to two purchases. I got a book of interviews with Monty Python and the first Black Sabbath album. Other than the fact that both are from England and that both were ground breaking in their respective fields, there isn’t really a straight line that you can draw from one to the other. But I believe it is that exact kind of blending of arts and ideas that is important to staying creative and inspired.
One should be able to enjoy listening to synth pop, heavy metal, and folk music in the same day. One should be able to watch David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and a children’s movie and be able to pull something meaningful from both. Especially in this day and age of technology, when so much has already been done, the only chance in hell that you have is of possibly putting two things together that have never be paired off before. And the truth is I can find nothing more boring that being part of a subculture and living by a set of finite rules.
When pop music, or any art form, was new, it was probably Ok to sequester yourself in a certain genre as that genre was coming into formation. The first punk albums were revolutionary, but very quickly became formulaic. You might need someone with strong beliefs and rules to start a movement, but very quickly those rules become a prison.
It still blows my mind today when someone is in a country band, or a rockabilly band, or whatever. That would bore me to tears. You are basically just recreating a lesser version of something that has probably reached it’s high water mark in years past. Even the bands that are best at these kind of genre tributes seem to me to be more actors playing roles, than living breathing artists.
That’s not saying that whatever art form you choose, painting, music, film, doesn’t need some kind of guiding principle. I am in a rock n roll band and a country\soul band, but even those are starting points and marketing descriptions. In my rock band we might throw in an African gumboots riff, and in my country\soul band a stray Led Zeppelin riff might suddenly appear. If you really listen to the great bands, other than the ones that were the initial formers of a certain genre, they are usually way more weird and eclectic than they first appear. Johnny Marr was throwing in Chic riffs into the Smiths. The Rolling Stones, what many people see as the quintessential rock band, have done country, reggae, disco, and soul music. I think it is very important to have a definitive outlook and operating principle, otherwise your art can become bland and have no point of view, but don’t allow that to become so static that nothing new can ever enter the fold.
The great directors have almost always challenged themselves. Werner Herzog has done documentaries and feature films. David Lynch has directed Eraserhead and the Straight Story. Even though one of those is a horrific nightmare of a film and the other is a G rated Disney movie, you could easily say that both of them had moments that were Lynchian. Both of those directors have very clearly established identities and personalities, but within that frame they have a lot of room to move.
There are always those that are the exception to the rule. AC\DC is a prime example in music. Larry David’s brilliant comedies always have a certain thread and personality tying them together. However, even in what they are both doing they are originals. They are not simply recreating something from the past.
If I go out to a bar and I see a country band, unless it is the greatest country band in the world, if their fourth song sounds like their first, I usually am heading home for the night. I understand that having your thing makes it easier to market, and occasionally having your thing means you have done something original, but usually it means that you are unimaginative and boring.
There is usually always someone that is smart enough to pitch even the weirdest, most surreal, and most complex art to others. It can often be hard to find that person if you are an artist. But they are out there and those people are essential. Artists need people that can translate what they do to get others to seek it out for the first time, as very few artists are good at that sort of thing. However, usually this pitch is just a starting point, a way to simplify the complex thing that you have made, so that others can find an entry way. Anyone that has art that really CAN be described in a 30 second sales pitch is probably boring. A one note song in a symphonic world, full of mystery and wonder.