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.