Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Good Music?

Bad Music?

I don't believe in "good" or "bad" music anymore. Or at least I don't think of music in those terms anymore. There are musicians right here in Ashland where I live, who I find boring, mediocre, un-talented in every way except self-promotion and star-fucking, and yet they have large fan bases; and others who I think have real genius, talent, soul and originality and yet have hardly any following at all. Some music just works for some people and not for others.

Here are some musicians that I like in no particular order:


Bob Dylan
James Taylor
Greg Brown
Richard Thompson
Steely Dan
Donald Fagen
Frank Sinatra
John Martyn
Joe Jackson
The Beatles
The Rolling Stones
Loudon Wainwright lll
Leonard Cohen
Elvis Presley
Hank Williams
Hank Williams lll
Wayne Hancock
Jimi Hendrix
Pink Floyd
Stevie Wonder
Bill Withers
Bootsie Collins
George Clinton’s various bands
Miles Davis
John Coltrane
Thelonius Monk
The Who
Pete Townsend
The Police
Tom Petty
Pre “Graceland” Paul Simon
Earth, Wind and Fire
James Brown
Bruce Cockburn
Brian Eno
Neil Young
Peter Gabriel
Todd Rundgren
Marvin Gaye
Al Green
Talking Heads
David Bryne


Dusty Springfield
Marianne Faithful
Joni Mitchell
Blossom Dearie
Annie Lennox
Gillian Welch
Billie Holiday
Bonnie Raitt
Ella Fitzgerald
Linda Thompson
Eva Cassidy
Phoebe Snow
The Dixie Chicks
Aretha Franklin
Chaka Khan
Cyndi Lauper
Sheryl Crow

Here are some that I don’t like at all:


Phil Collins
Air Supply
Peter Cetera
Post “Off The Wall” Michael Jackson
Post 70’s Rod Stewart
Virtually all modern pop country singers
Virtually all rap and hip-hop artists
Backstreet Boys
Kenny G
David Gray
Dave Mathews
Justin Bieber
Anything music with “autotune” in it.
Billy Ray Cyrus


Indigo Girls
Judy Collins
Celine Dion
Tori Amos
Tracy Chapman
Yoko Ono
Christina Aguilera
Britney Spears
Sarah McLaughlin
Mariah Carey
Whitney Houston
Barbara Streisand
Miley Cyrus
Taylor Swift
Katy Perry
Natalie Merchant
Norah Jones
Joan Baez

Here are some that I have mixed feelings about:

Lynyrd Skynyrd—I like "Freebird" and "Sweet Home Alabama" and that's it.

The Doors—I like a few of their songs, mostly for the ambient vibe,, but Jim Morrison always struck me as kind of a big drunk jock asshole, with a real gift for throwing himself into the party, which I did like about him, even if his lyrics and poetry seemed kind of dumb...

I love Ani DeFranco's guitar work and exactly two songs: "Untouchable Face" and "Dilate", but the rest of it sounds like gimmicky squealing and hyperventilating.

Alanis Morissette’s first album and not much since.

Love Elton John’s early albums and not much since.

I like a few Led Zeppelin songs but not much more.

And there are many other artists with a song or two that I like but not much more.

I’m sure that very few people will have the exact same likes and dislikes as I do. Many millions of people would disagree strongly with just about everyone on these lists. So I can’t really think in terms of “good” or “bad” music anymore. It's just music. Some works for me and some doesn’t. How could I call something that moves millions of people “bad”? All I can truthfully say is: I just don’t like it.

Some things can be measured objectively, like whether a musician is in pitch or not, on beat or not, able to sing with volume or not, able to read music or not, able to play technically well or not. But what can’t be determined with any certainty is whether someone who sings off pitch, off the beat, with no ability to project volume and who can’t read music or play an instrument is making “good” music or “bad” music. I’m sure to some ears Billie Holiday is all of the above.

I think that when music “works” for me, it releases a charge, it releases some feeling in me that I didn’t even know was there. When it happens there is an undeniable “Yes” feeling. Even if the song is sad, I feel better for having heard it. If it’s something I write myself, I feel better for having written and sung it.

I do my best to keep framing my likes and dislikes in this way because I find it much more enjoyable, accurate and fruitful to do so. I used to consider what I liked to be “good” and what I didn’t like to be “bad”. I’d have endless and pointless arguments with people over what we considered “good” music. Now that I do my best to frame it as what works for me and what doesn’t, I find I am kinder and more charitable to the artists I don’t like, and I’m more appreciative of the artists that I do like. I’m also able to have real differences of opinion with people but rather than talk about what’s good or bad, an argument that can’t be won or lost, we talk about what we like and don’t like. The subject of the conversation is us and our relationship with the music, not so much the music itself. I get to know them and their taste and they get to know mine. Much more interesting than arguing who’s “better”, The Stones or The Beatles.