Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One Person, One Song, One World?

The Magnetic Fields--"Acoustic Guitar" (mp3)
Hot Chip--"My Piano" (mp3)

If you've ever gone into a music store, not the CD kind, the musical instrument kind, then you know how annoying it is to hear wannabe guitarists, for example, playing snippets of classic songs when they try out the axes. It's been awhile since I've gone shopping for guitars (I think it coincides with when my first child was born), but "back in the day," it was mandatory that you would hear, with varying levels of proficiency, the opening to "Stairway To Heaven," the fingerpicked progression of "Dust In The Wind," the one string, single-note-at-a-time version of "Smoke On The Water" or "Sunshine of Your Love," or, in the later 80's, the early alt-rock opening of "Driver 8." Today, who knows?

Well, trust me, it's even more annoying to be the person who can only play parts of songs. In my now 33 years of playing guitar, I've had entire years where I only played parts of songs, sometimes only parts of my own songs. And when you get into that kind of rut, you lose the purpose of why you learned the guitar in the first place. It isn't to show off the fact that you know parts of the great songs of rock. A lot of people can do that. The purpose is to play music for other people and for yourself.

But, then you've got no-talent-ass-clowns like Kid Rock out there, trafficking in Lynyrd Skynrd riffs in order to scare up a hit. I don't even know what bullshit his song is slinging, something about summer. All I can remember is the repetition of "Sweet Home Alabama" over and over.

In this age of rampant sampling, rehashing, and outright stealing, it's probably only a matter of time before someone presents a concert of riffs, or, maybe even more likely, sells copyrighted riffs online. You can pay an arm and a leg to sample "Kashmir," or, for only a fraction of the cost, you can buy one of my soon-to-be classic patented riffs!

So what I'm advocating is this: it is a worthwhile societal goal that every person (or most) should be able to play one complete song on an instrument of his or her choice or destiny. Any person at any age can learn to play an instrument. Any person can master, for example, Neil Young's "Helpless" on the guitar or the spiritual "Michael, Row The Boat Ashore" on the piano or "Dear Prudence" on the ukelele or "Three Blind Mice" on the recorder.

That is my proposed benchmark for humanity. Everybody who can learns to play one song. Heck, I smell another Coke commercial.

But it needs to be the whole song: learn the chords, learn the words, and play the thing from beginning to end. And learn it well enough that you can play the whole thing in front of someone else, maybe your spouse or your children or your sibling.

What would this do for us as a society? Well, think about it. There are several potential benefits. First, I would argue that music is already one of the common denominators on this planet. But it's one thing to listen to it; it's another to share it. Second, think about what you're not doing if you're practicing music. You're not watching one of the two hundred reality shows currently clogging the airwaves. Koreans claim that eating kimchi makes you smarter; I claim that playing music makes you smarter. And third, songs are like Cheetos. Who would learn just one? We could become a society of musicians.

But then John McCain would claim that Barack Obama is the biggest rock star in the world, and that would piss off Bono, because he thinks he's the biggest rock star in the world, and that might either a) cause Bono to renounce his philanthropic ways or b) write one song, the absolutely definitive song, for the entire world, and then we'd all learn it and all play it and then we'd get sick of it and stop playing music.

But at least Kid Rock would have a ridiculously well-known song to base his next hit single on.

The Magnetic Field's 69 Love Songs is one of the great pop opuses (opi?) of the 20th century. You can experience the genius in the song above which name-checks Steve Earle, Charo, and G.W.A.R. all in the same sentence! And, like up-and-comers Hot Chip, it's available at Itunes.


Pete Doherty said...

Bono already wrote "One," but I've never met anyone who said, "I really want to learn to play guitar so I can play 'One' by U2!" Does he have another anthem in him? Simply put, he does not.

John said...

Dude, I'm afraid that if I take time to learn a song on the gee-tar it'll take away from the time I spend reading your blog.

Bob said...

Bono only had one anthem in him??? I fear that hordes of U2 fans would storm your house chanting "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" or "Pride (In The Name of Love)." It's a good thing they don't know who you are, Adam.