Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Watching Michelangelo Grind Pigments

I don't care what the Dixie Chicks think about George Bush. But then again, I don't care what the Dixie Chicks think about much of anything, now that you mention it. Let's take it to the limit, and mention I don't care what the Dixie Chicks think about the Dixie Chicks themselves, or music in general.

My point is: people like them are no more likely to have a useful opinion than anybody you find in the phonebook; and if my experience with musicians is anything to go by, their opinion is much more likely to be worthless than that held by your average stevedore. People who have their M&Ms sorted aren't living in a anything like the real world. They think they were made wealthy because they are wonderful -- not odd, or weird, or unusual, or simply pushier than most -- and think that wonderfulness seeps into all matters.

I've singled out the Dixie Chicks for calumny only because they're most prominent in my mind right now for shooting their mouths off over things they know little about. You could insert almost any celebrity in there and say the same thing. But if you wade past their wild ideas about politics and how the average person should order their affairs, the part that really makes you laugh is how little they know about their own craft. I swear the reason they talk about genocide in Darfur at the drop of a hat--it's really bad, you know, and they're really against small children being chopped up with machetes willy-nilly-- is that they really have little to offer on the walk of life they inhabit, and try to play sleight of hand with opinions to throw you off the scent.

Steely Dan is a favorite around here, and has been for thirty years or more. And I'm very interested in hearing about how they assemble the music they make. And so this video finds me fascinated.

I'm a half-assed musician. I have no pretensions. I was as successful as I cared to be, and never aspired to be interviewed in Rolling Stone about how crummy Darfur is. I don't wish that I was the guys in the video playing in Steely Dan. I wish to be the guy watching this video.

Those fellows are professional musicians, like a sort of hired assassin, and have devoted their lives to learning their craft and cultivating relationships with influential musical people. They have talent, and they have cultivated that talent in a very organized and scholarly way. They deserve a certain amount of respect that some that are more famous for more trivial reasons do not. These are not a collection of haircuts. They do not appear on magazine covers naked to gain notoriety. They are musicians and scholars of a sort, not solely attention mongers.

Steely Dan is essentially Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the two fellows you see sitting at the mixing board, and a revolving bunch of studio musicians. I'd be hard pressed to point to two other people that did whatever the hell they felt like in popular music, as they did, and were successful over the long haul. Most pop artists minutely gauge the public's taste and pander to it. It apparently dawned on Becker and Fagen that they could never pander to anybody's taste anyway; might as well be strange -- and wonderful.

I have a feeling that in a few decades, no one will remember people like the Dixie Chicks or anyone else you could name in pop music much, or their opinions, but combos in lounges will still open up whatever wonderful version of music books they have in the future, and play Josie, or Green Earrings, or Peg, or Aja, or any one of a number of sublime and interesting songs that Steely Dan wrote.

And for a change, people who know what they are talking about, talk about what they know, with a camera pointed at them.


XWL said...

And for a change, people who know what they are talking about, talk about what they know, with a camera pointed at them.

If only that were the rule rather than the exception.

XWL said...

I almost forgot, Steely Dan rock.

(in a skillful, cerebral way)

P_J said...

Well, I was going to say both the things XWL did, but recent Blogger problems kept me from being able to leave comments (or is that Sippican's new filter? Hmmmmm).

Anyway, thanks for sharing the great video of talented people who 1) know what they're doing and 2) are able to interest others while doing it.

I dug out my "Decade" CD and enjoyed it yesterday afternoon.

Anonymous said...

The music of Steely Dan ages well, much like classical music. One hundred years from now I think it's possible that Becker & Fagen's fan base will be significantly larger than most of their contemporaries.

Thanks for posting that video. Funny, just the other day while listening to "Peg", I tried to decipher Michael McDonald's background vocal. Knowing how it was done does not take away the enjoyment of the song. The old saying about sausage-making does not apply here; grinding pigments indeed.

Enjoy your blog and discovered you from Althouse's place.

Deb in Madison

Mark Daniels said...

I've always loved Steely Dan. And Fagen's first solo LP was fantastic!


Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that you and I could be half brothers of a kind, and lending kudos to the Dan only reinforces that sentiment.

Thanks for opening up the comments to the unwashed. You have a very fine gift and deserve praise for sharing it here.

SippicanCottage said...

Thanks to everyone for your kind and thoughtful comments.