I’m not a country music fan, and watching this, I think I finally get why. It’s a theory I’ve been working on relating to musicals. Please don’t throw tomatoes at me. I’m already imagining how many people are sitting here reading this and steaming. And I mean, it’s totally okay if you like country music or musicals. It’s just… if it’s okay for you to like them, it’s okay for me to not like them. I’ve just always wondered why. I love storytelling. And I love music of ALL types. (There is some country I love. Nickel Creek’s album Why Should the Fire Die is… gah, it’s so gorgeous. And I love Robert Ellis’s song Chemical Plant. And there are others. It’s just that they’re few and far between.)
I think the reason is that I do love storytelling, and music, but I don’ like exact and complete stories told in music. For me, music is more like poetry than anything, and yes, country music and musicals are both poetic, but the part of poetry I personally love is that it’s widely open to interpretation. Or, the poems I like are. And I just don’t like my music to tell me every exact detail and plot point in a story. I want to interpret things my own way. That’s why I listen to rock, or stuff rooted in rock, or what predated rock.
In the Nashville episode, Dave Grohl laughs about how it’s nice to hear that some form of music is rooted in happiness, because rock music is rooted in misery. He makes a joke out of it, but I suppose it’s true in a way. Rock musicians are into that stuff. I had a friend who said that all rock songs were about one of two things- sex or heroin. *laughs* There’s a lot of misery tangled up in those things.
I don’t particularly care if rock music is rooted in misery- and that’s something you could argue, probably. I just like seeing the roots. I like seeing the roots in all art. I like seeing what makes people create what they create, from individual songs to an entire genre. And as much as I’m not a country music fan, I was so fascinated by the evolution of the country music industry that Dave explores in this episode. It’s a culture and an industry that is so very, very different than the rock culture and industry. It works in an entirely different way. It’s truly a system, a machine, whereas, as much as I’m sure rock gods have wanted to turn rock into a system that churns out hit after hit, rock keeps resisting hard enough that it never comes to that. Rock, for me, is built on, maybe not misery so much as not fitting in. That’s the heart of rock music, after it grew out of the blues. It’s about being someone you’re not supposed to be. It’s about being different. It’s about making your own way.
The truly fantastic and interesting thing about this episode, though, was how connected to the country music scene it made me feel. And how there are people in the country music industry who are also resisting that kind of… smoothing of the rough spots, if you will. Who also want to be something they’re not supposed to be, who want to make their own way. And this wasn’t just the newer generation of musicians, or the older, but both. Over and over, the people who seem to get remembered are the ones who wanted to create something for the sake of creating. Who wanted to make something that was a part of them. Who saw someone who inspired them to be something incredible and unique. That, for me, is what all music, of any genre is about. It’s what art is about, in whatever form it takes.
What Do I Do / God As My Witness- Austin
I was really psyched for this episode, but it didn’t… do as much for me as the previous ones. It’s still awesome! Just… in a slightly smaller way.
Mostly it focused on Austin City Limits, which… I grew up watching that show, so this was pretty awesome. My parents used to have this old VHS they recorded of when Leonard Cohen was on the show. He stands up on that stage and he talks about how he wrote Take This Waltz as a tribute of sorts to his favorite poet, Frederico Garcia Lorca. And this song is just… magical. Amazing. And that was my introduction to Leonard Cohen as a little kid- Austin City Limits. And since then I’ve watch about a billion and one bands on the show. So it was very cool to hear the history of that.
Austin has its history, too. Sort of… the history of blues melting into rock. I’m so fascinated by rock history. It’s so new. It just happened. The people who witnessed the birth of rock are still around, or knew the people who were. I find that completely fascinating. I mean, you must not really realize you’re witnessing history, when you’re there. But you’ve got to know you’re in the middle of something great, right? But when people like Dave Grohl come around and want to interview you later, and talk about that… you’re just talking about your friends. You’re talking about your life, your past. I just think that’s so interesting. And… you know, it gives you the feels. It gives me the feels.
Anyway. I’m rambling. I think the thing I really got out of this show was that history, though- and the fact that rock as a genre is still so new, in the grand scheme of things. That history is the recent past. The history of Austin’s music scene, the way it was a small town of misfits and people who just wanted to do their own things 50 years ago, and is now a nearly booming music hub, with SXSW basically a massive festival not just of music, but of entertainment and industry, is… awesome and frightening at the same time. Things change so fast. And I think for a lot of people that’s sort of a bummer, because you’re losing what made a place or a genre special for you. It is a bummer. But the fact that this genre and the people in it went from so small to so huge, and pretty much changed the way an entire city is looked at, is really incredible, too.
Outside- Los Angeles
This was the L.A. episode, but really it wasn’t about L.A., it was about Palm Springs. And really it wasn’t about Palm Springs, it was about the desert.
I live in Phoenix, AZ. And Phoenix is in the Sonoran Desert. Palm Springs and Indio (which is where Coachella is held) and I think L.A. although don’t quote me on that, are in the Colorado Desert, which is part of the Sonoran Desert. And I’m the kind of person who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to drive from Phoenix to L.A. or San Diego or… umm, a lot of other places to see a band play a show, so I’ve been through those deserts around Palm Springs a lot of times.
You’re probably wondering why I’m yammering on about the desert when this is ostensibly a blog about a show about music. But for people who live in the desert, whether you love it or hate it or are actively trying to pretend you don’t live in the desert, the desert is everything. It is all encompassing. I’ve seen people write about how the desert is magical and that always just irks me a bit, because it’s decidedly not magical- what it is, is constantly and in every way, with a utter disregard for your existence, attempting to kill you. So, I mean… maybe there is a certain magic in living somewhere like that, and I’m not being sarcastic. For sure, this desert is like nowhere else.
So when Dave Grohl starts talking about a studio that’s really a house in the middle of the desert- and god, Palm Springs and Indio are the middle of fucking nowhere- and bands are talking about how playing outside in the desert, in the middle of the night, influenced their sound, I was so thrilled. It’s really hard to talk to people about this desert and what it’s like because it’s just… It can’t really be described. And there’s the desert people see when they, like, come to vacation here, and then there’s the desert people live with every day, and they’re two different things. The desert is harsh and it’s gritty and a lot of times everything just looks run down and worn and dirty, because everything is run down and worn and dirty. But it’s got this… amazing, honest, sheen of just… sheer beauty and uniqueness laid over it, so even while you’re hating it, you’re sort of falling in love with it, too.
Los Angeles is kind of similar in a lot of ways, now that I think about it.
Phoenix doesn’t have a music scene. None, zero, nothing. I can think of two total bands to come out of here in the last… 30 years? Who are actually anybody. I think it’s because people come to Arizona to get away from other people. So we all walk around in these sort of bubbles, and we like it that way. But it makes finding people and getting together to make music sort of difficult. Obviously, L.A. isn’t the same. Tons of bands come out of there. But hearing about bands who came out of the desert, who were influenced by the desert itself, hearing about a studio that was, when you looked at it, so very much like my desert, created by people who reminded me of so many of the musicians I know, was really amazing.
And this story of music coming out of the desert, and at roughly the same time, generations of kids hearing music in L.A. and feeling like they could be anyone, do anything, they wanted, just because they loved doing it, is really inspiring to me. Hearing Joan Jett talk about how difficult it was, how much they faced, but also the truly incredible music they made and how that went on to influence so, so many people… And to think that so many of the bands who influenced my teens and twenties were recording in this place… It made it feel like it was a little bit my story too.