i was reading the music news this morning, and one article in particular jumped out at me.
in the interview with jonny greenwood of radiohead, he says “when we were at school, we hated and distrusted anything that was successful on a large scale. We just associated it with bands that did guitar solos with big hair. it’s already such a preening, self-regarding profession.”
(preening? seriously? when i think of the word ‘preening’ i actually think of jonny’s hair)
he follows that with “I’ve always hated guitar solos. There’s nothing worse than hearing someone cautiously going up and down the scales of their guitar. You can hear them thinking about what the next note should be, and then out it comes. It’s more interesting to write something that doesn’t outstay its welcome.”
lets be clear. jonny has played solos. ‘just’ has a great one. ‘Paranoid Android’ too. so his objection to solos must be specific to solos of a genre, likely one that preceeded him, and one that he feels he is not a part of.
so, when he complains about big haired people cautiously going up and down the scales, is he referring to cc deville from poison or robert smith from the cure? both have pretty big hair and like to play up and down the scales.
i’m going to go with the former, because what we’ve got here, if i may paraphrase strother martin’s warden from ‘cool hand luke’ , is a failure to accept anything that doesn’t fit into the cool kids’ bucket, also known as ‘ALTERNATIVE ROCK SNOBBERY’.
what is ‘ALTERNATIVE ROCK SNOBBERY’?
‘ARS’ (as i will refer to it going forward) is the younger sibling of the late 70’s ‘I HATE PINK FLOYD’ mindset, wherein the cool kids of that era declared that the music that had preceeded theirs was bloated notey garbage and that ONLY their amateurish chuck berry recidivism was of any value. ‘ARS’ posits that following the birth of ‘alternative’ music’, anything that preceeded it (particularly the 80’s, more often than not on the rockier side of the musical spectrum) too was to be derided and dismissed as nothing more than self important egocentric neanderthal shredding.
to be fair, jonny’s not the first person afflicted by ‘ARS’. i recall a chapter in dave navarro’s ‘don’t try this at home’, in which he documents a debate (i say debate as opposed to dialectic, since the author (navarro) is clearly pushing his own agenda, and not really looking for a common truth) with a friend over the merits of steve vai. his contention it seems is that vai’s instrumental music doesnt have the feel or soul of other styles of music. he casts him as a technician as opposed to a musician.
and what of that entire ‘nu-metal’ movement, in which guitars were omnipresent, but the guitar solo was set in the corner and avoided like herpes. metallica’s ‘some kind of monster’ captures an interesting counterpoint to that period of time in music history, in which guitarist kirk hammett calls the band on ‘st anger’s’ lack of guitar solos. he astutely points out that there shouldnt be a rule for or against guitar solos, but to say ‘no guitar solos’ ties the album to the era of its creation.
which brings us back to ‘ARS’.
i will admit, that given the choice between listening to every solo ever performed by jimmy page or listening to every solo ever performed by robert quine, i’d probably go with quine, but contrary to most afflicted by ‘ARS’ i wouldn’t a) disrespect page’s work and consequently b) disrespect the people who do listen to and enjoy page’s solos.
the problem however is that ‘ARS’ demands an almost fanatical need to reject and look down upon anything that doesnt fit into the ‘ARS’ mandated ‘bucket of cool’.
(in order to assist in your understanding of the ‘ARS’ ‘bucket of cool’ i have added a quick reference below:
pavement = cool
guitar solos = not cool
obscure references to french movies = cool
the stooges = cool
vintage equipment = cool
heavy metal t shirts worn ironically = cool
loverboy = not cool
heavy metal t shirts purchased at the actual concert attended = not cool
skid row = not cool
television = cool
metallica = not cool
the pixies = cool
fela kuti = cool
april wine = not cool
fender jaguars = cool
black flag (pre rollins era) = cool
black flag (rollins era) = not cool
ibanez destroyers = not cool
headbands = not cool
references to getting loaded and doing it = not cool
there are many more examples i could cite, but will leave it at this, as this is just a quick reference)
so, what is my point here?
to paraphrase d. boon, music is what you make it to be.
you don’t have to like everything that you hear.
not everyone is gonna like what you like.
and that is okay.
music can be widdly and stupid and crass.
music can be chaotic and genre defying and tasteful.
whatever it is, it is never better than anything else.
it just is.
now get off your high horse.
DISCLAIMER : i have been guilty of ‘ARS’ but i like april wine, so there.