I’ve spent decades writing about music. I backed away from that as a constant pursuit several years ago because the things people were willing to pay me to write about, in terms of bands/artists/records were mostly things that I had a hard time finding anything positive to say about. It can be fun to savage something truly awful, but at some point that just gets tiresome. As amusing as it might seem to be a professional curmudgeon, in actual practice it’s heartbreaking.
I got involved in playing music, in writing about music because I loved it. And if you love something it hurts your heart to see it go south.
I still love music though, and while I can’t find a lot to root for in contemporary pop or rock, it has occurred to me that there is a whole generation out there who never got to see or hear the things that are part of the musical wallpaper for me. The vast expanse of the interwebs makes sharing cool stuff eminently doable.
So, what’s a virtuoso, and why should you care? Try this:
Jeff Beck does things with an electric guitar that most other players find impossible. He squeezes notes out of parts of the instrument that other people don’t even realize have musical potential. He also does it while making it look easy. I’ve been a fan of the guy since I was 10 and have been trying to learn his tricks since I was 13 (both of these ages were quite a long time ago, by the way), and I can tell you with some authority – nothing he does is easy. Not even close.
And then there’s this:
There’s a whole other thing going on with the Damned, but it’s not as distant from someone like Jeff Beck as some would think. The thing that grabbed me about Beck, as opposed to Clapton and Page when I was a kid was that he was always dancing around at the edge of danger, always pretty close to going off the ledge. Clapton is revered for never playing a bad note, and Page, for all his fiery speed and casual slop is always right in the realm of the permissible with his playing, while Beck, at his best, is very close to going wrong.
Wrong is good. That’s what made early punk so vibrant, because passion was more, much more, important than playing things “right.” Energy and power were there to provide a chance to connect with the audience.
Again, I’ve seen Clapton and Page several times, and there’s an aloofness to their performances, almost as if the audience doesn’t matter, or is irrelevant to what they’re doing up there. Beck is never like that. He’s not going to banter with his audience, but he is, above all else, playing for and to them.
For me, that’s the test. The why of music – are you there for yourself or your audience?