Passion or Pastiche? Actually, does it matter? (part 1)

I’ve been toying whether or not to do a post dedicated to Prince Rupert’s Drops, and it feels oddly appropriate that the title track of their new album should therefore lodge itself in my head for the duration whilst I consider it.

Now, the track in question is something I actually have a love/hate relationship with, in that I only really like the chorus. And this in turn is reflected around the whole of this and their debut album – there are some stunning tracks, but there are also some right clunkers. And I can’t really get out of my head the notion that they might not 100% mean it, maaaaan.

Let me turn to another of the neo-‘psych’ bands doing the rounds, one you may be more familiar with.

Goat bring me a lot of pleasure, especially the track ‘Gathering of the Ancient Tribes.’ And the vocalist? I love how her voice frequently borders derangement (totally a word, but not how I meant it). But again, as I listen to the album, the little nagging voice seems to harp on – passion or pastiche?

Why does it matter?

Why is it that I, and indeed many others, demand that anyone who releases music that I listen to is equal in their passion for music that I am? Do I make the same demands of artists who I don’t listen to? The answer is no. I don’t. Especially with pop bands, because I see that as a genre full of people whose primary motivation is fame and celebrity, and the music as a vehicle by which to accomplish this, but it also tends not to bother me if, say, Slipknot turn out to have been a marketing exercise because I don’t personally like their music or their chosen genre of expression.

Also, I work in a library, and have done for nearly 10 years. It was not an obvious place my ‘career’ was heading prior to, and I won’t be surprised if I move on somewhere else at some point; my life has been somewhat like that. The point is, I do it, I sometimes even enjoy it, but I’m not passionate about it even though I still expect to get paid for it. Should I give it up because of my lack of passion? What about football players? People who flip burgers for a living?

There’s a lot to be unpacked in the above, and to do it properly, we’re going to have to range away from music. And seeing as it’s me (you’ll get used to me), let’s go a bit weird.

Tell me, have you ever read The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen? The rest of this post will probably make more sense if you have; if not, try it anyway.

I mention that book principally because it is a master legominism. You know what a legominism is, don’t you?

Mentioned in the above book is the saga of Carlos Castaneda, and the books he wrote about the Yaqui sorceror Don Juan Matus, and how the story Carlos gives about the experience doesn’t seem to match whatever it was he was actually doing at the time, and that there are a lot of people who think he made the whole experience up.

I might controversially say that this sort of thing could be applied to the whole story of Jesus. There are people, not just atheists, who put the theory forward that dude simply didn’t exist, or if he did, he was a man who did some stuff, and then in the centuries after his life, stories got attached to him and eventually built a monolithic legend from which a religion could be built, a religion that had more than some things in common with (at least) one of its rival religions at the time, and also just so happened to be of some use to the dominant social control system of the time. After all, any sizeable society has never lacked for would be preachers. With a little imagination, we could quite easily imagine that in a couple of hundred years, a reasonably sized cult/religion could have sprung up around the Toltec Warrior teachings, though I’m feeling too stupid to give it a flashy name at the moment.

In fact, if you look all around the whole subject, you’ll probably find a certain ambiguity around pretty much all such stories surrounding any new movement, especially where their origin stories interesect with reality, or don’t, as the case may be. The waters from which the contemporary version of the New Age movement emerged, for example, are very murky indeed.

But – does this mean that we should discard absolutely everything associated with a story just because there are some things about it we don’t like because they don’t satisfy some criteria that we apply when judging things, criteria we might be slightly less zealous in applying to our own favourite stories? Or – if we’re going to discard the bathwater, shouldn’t we first check to make sure there isn’t also a baby in there? Particularly if you weren’t the one who ran the bath to begin with.

Just try this viewpoint on and see how it fits: whether Carlos Castaneda actually went to Mexico and studied with someone called Juan Matus is actually unimportant. It is irrelevant to the message. The same is true as to whether or not Jesus was a physical human being. Arguing either for or against the existence of the figures in question is an entirely different argument from whether or not the teachings are useful. So then the real question becomes: how good are the teachings? Are they useful tech? And that is a question you need to answer for yourself, to your own satisfaction.

It seems that, for whatever reason, instead of accepting that there can be some really useful ideas about how to live life, we need to believe that these ideas came from one person and that the accompanying story has to be spectacular. We don’t seem to be able to accept these things from prosaic sources, there has to be fireworks, sacrifice, hardships, and hopefully some sex and drugs too. Therefore, the teachings gather the best story that enable them to reach their widest audience. Whether or not the stories themselves are conscious entities purposely doing these things, or blind constructs simply following strategies that ensure their maximal propagation, or simply tricks of our own perception is again irrelevant, and I would argue unknowable.

So, to bring these entirely non-rational ramblings back to my starting words (even though I admit that the examples are not exactly commensurate), does it matter that some artists who are trying to capture my attention may not actually be quite what they say they are? Are we only able, nay allowed, to enjoy music if the person(s) who made it were living, breathing, sweating the stuff?

Well, let’s re-frame the question. Is the music good? Is it useful tech? And if the answer to either of these questions is a genuine and heartfelt YES (and again, only you can answer that question), then the accompanying story is therefore irrelevant. For those who say no, however, the stories then become a stick to beat the music with, which again misses the point in my view – if you don’t like the music, just say you don’t like the music. No excuses are needed. Nothing more is necessary.

Speaking as a Creator, I can vouch for the fact that when the really good stuff comes there is very little conscious effort involved. It feels more like channelling than going to work or doing an essay or writing a blog post. Assuming that the same is true for other artists, I could posit the following in relation to this argument: the intention of the artist may simply be to make music in order to enhance their chances of becoming famous; the intentions of the music, however, may be somewhat different and are simply using the most useful and/or available channel through which to realise their intentions. (I realise that I have just hypothesised Music as a being with intentions, and you probably shouldn’t take that bit too seriously but do at least entertain the metaphor, offer it a cup of tea and a sit down. The point is possibly elucidated better in the quote from Impro halfway down this post.)

Of course, then comes the graft of realising what was released in this manner, and it is probably then that the story around it gets written. Where I fall down is usually in writing an accompanying story; I simply don’t do it.

I get the impression that audiences don’t want to believe that the music simply happens because the musicians happened to be in the right frame of mind with the right conditions; such a scenario implies that anybody can do it (and indeed, so too with the mystical examples listed above, and I chose them deliberately because that is exactly their point!). For whatever reason, and I have a whole host of ideas as to why this might be but I’m not going into them now, we prefer that anything new has to be accompanied by a genius or a hero, and it should have a compelling story holding its hand. We need to give medals and awards and we need to populate pedestals, so much so that we often do all of this for the benefit of people who don’t even have the grace to give anything in return. But to reiterate, don’t get stuck in the rut of judging the stories – look at the content, the output. If it has the right effect on you, then it needs no further justification, from you or anybody else. If it doesn’t, then ignore it. It probably wasn’t meant for you anyway.

In part 2 of this, I will possibly contradict most of what I said above, but in the true spirit if TTATP, both posts will be useful…

However, the next post will be a resumption of normal service, and a band that I will be amazed if you haven’t heard of before. Which means you may not have heard of them before.





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