THE REAL GIG: A MUSICIAN'S GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE(10/30/2015)



ZEALOTS, PRESERVATIONISTS, AND FUTURISTS


Lately I’ve been getting sucked into a show called “Barnwood Builders”. These guys find old, run down barns and cabins and take them apart. They then catalog the raw materials and use them to build new homes. It’s a cool show to watch. These guys are crazy passionate about what they do.

Basically, they are preserving history by destroying it. Or disassembling it. Or reassembling it. Depends on your outlook.

As I see it, the people who own these old barns have a few choices. Either: 1) Leave the barn as it is and lament a time passed. It will eventually decay and fall down with few people caring or 2) Restore the barn where it stands. Basically preserving history in place.  This has merit but you are limited by how many people might be interested in checking out that history exactly how and where it happened. Or 3) Tear the barn down and create something new that can be enjoyed for many generations to come.

But this is a music blog…… why are we talking about old barns?

 Read on.

I co-host an open jam every Wednesday at a place called Tony’s Wine Cellar. My co-host Eddie Appnel and I came up through the Northeast PA music scene together in the 1990’s. We have a lot of mutual respect for each other as songwriters and our respective bands have played many shows together over the years.  But this open jam is our first foray into gigging in the same “group.”

The thing that is great about open jams is the cross section of people you meet. Professional musicians mix with the semi-pro and amateurs every week. It’s real loose. Pro guys can try out new material. Someone who has never sang before in public can get up and do a tune without judgement.

Everybody gets a shot…. Well, everyone we can fit in in 3 hours.

It’s very organic, but what I hope is happening is that some of the younger crowd is getting a little taste of how the older guys do their thing. …. AND some of the older players are being introduced to a few fresh approaches, styles, and songs that they wouldn’t normally be exposed to.

It’s been a really fun and successful experiment.

But, all the chaos aside, I have noticed that the musicians fall into basically 3 categories:

Zealots, Preservationists, and Futurists.

First off, the zealots. Thankfully, this is the smallest group. They would probably call themselves “purists”. But I like zealot. To the zealot, music is a religion. Their religion might be The Beatles or 80s hair metal or old school country. Whatever it is, the zealot sees the rules as having already been written long ago. Righteous music is a static thing that has already been chiseled into stone tablets by (insert favorite rock god here). From that vantage point they decide whether or not what you are doing has the right to exist…….or not.

For example, an 80’s hair metal zealot may demand that you have a front man with a hairy chest, leather pants, and bunch of chains. He needs to hit crazy high notes, drink Jack Daniels and swear a lot. Then…….. verily, verily, thou art badass.

Now I think that Robert Smith of The Cure and Elvis Costello are both badass. But I doubt either stuffs a sock down their pants. The hair zealot and I may have words if I push the issue.

Secondly, the preservationists. This group is related to the zealots, but they are a lot less opinionated and typically have a much more positive attitude. Preservationists’ favorite saying is “That’s not how it goes”. Preservationists are the guys in hard working cover and tribute bands that will go home and learn other people’s songs note for note. They will sit at home for hours trying to duplicate the mistake that Jerry Garcia made in the first solo of “Truckin’” that is on some bootleg from 1981.

They are museums that sing and play.

Certainly I admire the diligence of this group. And the market for this ascetic is huge. Their first commandment is “Thou Shalt Not Mess With Greatness.” There is no separation between the song and the original recording. Reworking a classic song makes them twitch. Music is to be duplicated, not interpreted.

Lastly, the futurists. The futurists are the most open. They rework the classics. They jam and invent. They draw from the old and create the new. They evolve. There are no sacred cows. They are defined only by taste and a desire to invent with whatever crosses their path.

I may have painted these groups to be more adversarial than they really are. Everyone usually mixes pretty well in a social setting. But underneath it all, these philosophies loom large.

Get the barn analogy now?

What I like to see is the intermingle. A jamming futurist can benefit from listening to why the zealot is so damn hard core about his thing. A person that only writes his own material can learn a thing or two from the attention to detail of the preservationist. The preservationist can take a step back and realize that the people who made the music he is preserving were/are probably futurists.

It all works.

Some old bakeries use starter dough from the previous batch dating back 100 years or more. One batch starts the next year after year. You always start with what came before you. The gene pool lives on this way. Such is the way with music too.

You can buy heirloom seeds dating back to colonial times.

Related but not the same.

In some ways, I’m a little bit of all three categories. I’m old school but not very nostalgic. I like coffee flavored coffee and straight up bourbon. No need for apples or cinnamon or pumpkin spice in there. Leave it as is.

But when it comes to creating, I try and be a futurist. There is lots of tradition in what I do but I try and use it in new ways. When I sit down to create something it’s open season. I might use Keith Richards, a book on economics, and even a TV show about tearing down old barns all at the same time.  It’s all been done before and it’s all being done again. Everybody’s talking about the same thing anyway. Just in a different language and from a different perspective.

Game on. I'll cast my lot with the futurists.

The house I live in has a long history and I don’t even know all of it. I wasn’t here first.  I just decorate the rooms and fill them with love.
 
 

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