Okay, so a couple nights ago the movie “Almost Famous” came on, and while I have seen this movie several times before, and the fact that there really was nothing else on, I decided to watch it again. It should really come as no surprise to many who have taken the to stop by here at Noise Made Me Do It, that I really like this movie; because it covers the era of Rock and Roll that I am a big fan of – the late 1960’s, early 1970’s (Classic Rock as it is known by most). As such, the soundtrack for “Almost Famous” has a lot of classic hits on it, from the likes of Elton John, and one of my all time favorites, Led Zeppelin, as well as many others.
For those who may not be familiar with this movie, it is about a teenage boy who gets the opportunity to write an article for Rolling Stone magazine. He chooses to cover, and interview a band called Still Water, which is struggling to gain popularity, he ends up going on tour with the band, and learns life lessons along the way. I know my purposefully brief synopsis really doesn’t do the movie justice. but my intent isn’t really meant to give a movie review here. Instead I got to thinking about a common theme that runs through that movie, which is the struggle between artistic integrity, and being successful.
Many of us probably have friends who are, or were fans of a certain band, or artist, and then when that band makes it “big,” then that friend writes that band or artist off as a sell-out. I have one of those friends, who loved Smashing Pumpkins, and then “Siamese Dream” happened, which brought Smashing Pumpkins to popular attention, and as far as my friend was concerned, Smashing Pumpkins had sold-out. Hell, Moby was even accused by some in the music industry for being a sell-out with the release of his 1999 album “Play,” and then licensing every song on it to film, television, and advertising.
So, what is the goal of a musician? Is it creative art; or is it fortune and fame?
I ask that question because in the movie “Almost Famous” the enigmatic guitarist of Still Water tells the young aspiring music journalist, that the music is everything. However in the biography of The Doors, “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” there is a recount by keyboardist Ray Manzarek when he hears some of Jim Morrison’s lyrics, and says, “let’s form and band and make a million dollars.”
I think many of us have this romantic view of the late 60’s, early 70’s rock bands were all about the music, like the guitarist in “Almost Famous” says, however in the bio of The Doors, we get an actual recount, and confession from one of that era’s biggest bands, that money was a definite impetus in their endeavors…hmm.
So, which was it, and more importantly, which is it?
Let’s fast forward to the modern era. Sure there are still bands, and musicians out there where they hold themselves and their music to a bit of a higher standard; however it strikes me that there are so many more who may be talented singers, but are lacking in, shall we say, “originality.” That is to say they are more performers/entertainers, than they are artists. Sure they are very talented, but much of their material is written by someone else, and given to them to perform.
Art: the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
Music: an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.
Entertainment: amusement or diversion provided especially by performers.
Take for example the whole Psy, “Gangnam Style” thing. It is entertaining, it is certainly music, but is it art? Probably not. Then I saw the headline, “Is this the next Gangnam?” You click that link, and unless you are a complete music snob, you see another catchy, and entertaining musical performance called “One Pound Fish,” but again is it art? Again, I doubt it. Then there is the recount by Ke$ha, where she says that she was “forced” to sing the song “Die Young.” Okay, so here we have a VERY popular performer telling us that she is singing something that she didn’t really have anything to do with the creation of; so is she an artist, or an entertainer? Then there is someone like Justin Bieber, who actually is a talented musician, but I am often left wondering if his popularity is a product of other’s providing him with the “hits,” rather than he creating them himself? Kind of like, and I know this is going to torque a lot of people off, but kind of like Elvis Presley. I am an Elvis fan by the way, so save your hate mail. What do you call someone who has musical talents, and singing abilities, but relies on others to provide them with material? The fact that they can play an instrument(s) certainly makes them a musician, and the fact that they can sing makes them a singer, and the fact that that people are willing to pay to see or hear them perform makes them entertainers, but are they artists? Hmm … kind of tricky there, but to me an artist is one who does the creating of their chosen medium.
Ultimately though, beauty is in the eye, and in this case, the ear of the beholder; and life is way too short to be overly critical of every little thing, just because you might think it lacks artistic merit. Music of all types is, after all, entertainment, which according to the above definition is meant to be amusement, or diversion. Life would be patently awful without the occasional, and adequate diversion and entertainment. Still, I do wonder, from time to time, is today’s music meant more to be entertainment, than it is meant to be artistic? If so, then the smallish music snob in me sighs, and then I hear a catchy tune, that makes me smile, and tap my feet, and that smallish music snob retreats back into its little cave, allowing me that brief moment of entertainment.