What matters more? The music or the person who sang it? Whose version of All Along the Watchtower comes to mind when you think of the classic – if confusing – lyrics? Jimi or Bob? Who played Wild Horses better? The Sundays or the Stones? Whose Hurt is it? Trent Reznor’s or Johnny Cash’s? There are entire last.fm playlists devoted to different recordings of Down to the River. Lady Gaga’s or Halestorm’s version of Bad Romance? CeLo Green or Sick Puppies doing Fuck You? The Eagles or Trisha Yearwood when it comes to Taking it to the Limit?
So what matters more?
See, we humans have this weird association with the art and creative world. We expect the masters to be copied but then when the masters are copied, the public decries that the student is never, ever as good as the teacher and all that was once pure and perfect has been obliterated and has been destroyed and civilization is about to end as well.
Until the next time.
And the next time.
And the next time.
This is not a phenomenon specific to music. When books are transformed into movies or TV shows, purists cry from the corner: that isn’t the story that was written! Well no, often, it is an adaptation, it is fan fiction, it is a commentary and sometimes, gasp, it is in fact, better. (I’m looking at you, Hobbit detractors.) When an author dies or retires from writing a series and the torch is passed, often the writer who takes over is even better than the original because they’ve devoted time and blood and passion to a world that someone else created. And sometimes, it really sucks. Sometimes, we look at a change, at an adaptation, and wonder what the hell they were thinking. (Madonna’s cover of American Pie comes to mind.)
But let me come back to music, specifically, the replacement of musicians within bands.
It’s funny, in a sad way, when you let yourself sit back and think. Because what is a band, really, but a group of people coming together and signing a contract to share revenue on a product they will work on together. Whether they are childhood friends who go from garage practices to arena stages or groups of people suggested to each other by labels and managers, at some point, they sign contracts to make sure that should they break up, everyone is covered. It’s kind of like signing a pre-nup and a marriage certificate on the same day. And, like in a marriage, they all work their asses off. And also, like a marriage, sometimes it comes to an end.
But that’s where it gets sticky.
Does a band use that moment to break up? What finanical and legal implications do they face? What obligations were outlined by the label and the band in their contracts? What does it mean for the family unit of the band when one person wants out but others want to work on it?
Sick Puppies fans have been faced with this harsh reality over the last few weeks. They have joined the legions of Queensryche, Drowning Pool, Three Days Grace, Flyleaf, Motley Crue, Van Halen, Journey, Iron Maiden, Audioslave, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Fleetwood Mac, and even Judas Priest fans that carried on with new lead singers or at least what became temporary replacements (think, when a couple gets divorced and then remarries …). Drowning Pool hasn’t lasted more than two records with the same lead singer. But they’re still touring.
So this becomes the question that a lot of music fans struggle with because music is unique to all of my previous examples. We as music fans are attracted to so many things – the lyrics wash over us and the rhythm section makes our blood pump and the melodies carry us to places where things are safe and secure and someone who is singing all around us understands our very core.
Are we as fans attracted to the song or the person doing the singing?
Of course, in the long run, that is a question that can only be answered by the individual. But very rarely will you run into people who only listen to one incarnation of a band, save for Van Halen fans. There is a definite split between the David Lee Roth types and the Sammy Hagar devotees but it’s also generational for a lot of us. My first Van Halen album (on cassette thankyouverymuch) was For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge so to me Van Halen isn’t Jump, it’s Right Now. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the David Lee Roth years, but that isn’t my Van Halen. And are they “covering” songs when they are doing one from a different incarnation of the band? Well, does a family stop being a family when someone leaves?
It’s a weird thought process to work through because a band is more than just someone with a guitar. A band is a unit of people trying to make sense of the world through music, but also trying to make a living while they do it. Bands are a business and that’s hard to remember when we’re rocking out to bass lines that make us tingle. And sometimes the band name is more important than those making the music; sometimes the band is the original members and no one else.
I’m 900 words into this and wondering what my point is and I think that my rambling proves that there really isn’t an easy answer. But I think it’s an interesting question to ask of ourselves not only as artists/writers/musicians but also as consumers of other artists/writers/musicians.
What matters more to us? The person creating the art or the art itself? Because you can’t separate them and trying to isn’t fair to us or them, but what matters more? I mean, it isn’t just talent and style we’re talking about here, but the soul of the song and how the band explores it.
Yeah, this one is going to fester.
I got nothing tonight, but I figured I should try to update more regularly.
It was my first day back at work following a week off to play “real writer.” I managed to get a lot of things taken care of over the week, most notably realizing that I had more done for this CBS application than previously thought. But I did get to spend some time down at the Art Access gallery today.
Art Access has a special place in my heart. My mother had a big hand in the gallery when I was a child. I feel like so many of my formative memories are back in that old location on Pierpont Avenue, the one where the guy killed like most of his family … right where my mother’s desk eventually sat. That location with the community garden, the art galleries up and down the building, the slightly uneven floors. My first exposure to nude art was in that gallery, a series of beautiful black and white photographs taken by a man with a disability. That was when I came to understand that the gallery was for artists with disabilities, a place for them to share and celebrate their work. I took my friend down there and remember how offended she was by the images of the bodies and she told me it was porn. (Granted, we’re all of … ten?) I told her what my mother had told me, that porn was about objectifying and this was about beauty. She didn’t get it.
Art Access, for those of you who do not know, is part of the Very Special Arts project. But, people in Utah thought “Very Special Arts” could be expanded in different ways, so they changed the name to Art Access. In doing so, the gallery became an intersection of celebration. A place where visual and written art was shared by people with disabilities, by women, by people of color, refugees, and the queer community. A place where these groups of people would not be turned away. Where they would be treated as equals.
Today, I took a group of consumers down to see the gallery. We’re doing a photography class where I work and when I mentioned the gallery, all of their eyes lit up. So we set it up, went down and they got to see art created by, well, people like them. For the first time in their lives, art, high art, was accessible. I walked around with one of the women, explaining oil paintings, and we looked closely at the artwork and the color and talked about mediums and textures and it was the first time I’d ever really connected to her on a human level. Art. Creativity. That which brings us all together.
Suddenly I was ten years old again, walking the walls of the gallery, staring at photographs and paintings. Watching the acting troupe who used the space put together stories of what it was like to be disabled. Actors in chairs, actors with CP, actors who were deaf, all interacting among paintings and photographs created by people like them.
I grew up in a family with disability, but I think my understanding of equality came not from the ADA fight being my formative years. It came from that gallery, those moments. I went back there today, as I will many times over the next couple of months. See, I’m lucky enough to be participating in a writing workshop sponsored by Art Access. They are reaching out to Utah’s Queer Community, asking for our voices, and bringing them together with visual art.
Stay tuned, my friends. Stay tuned.
Guess I had more going tonight than I thought.