One of my favorite quotes is, “Writing about Music is like Dancing about Architecture.” Don’t ask me who said it first; I have seen it attributed to everyone from David Byrne to Frank Zappa, from Elvis Costello to Martin Mull. What is most important is that whoever first stated it knew one thing: they got it. They understood music. It reveals a perception of both the power and mystery of it. Music is a solid vapor. As soon as you realize the moment, it’s gone. That is what draws me back time and again. It is the great enigma that I cannot explain, yet I want to keep continually talking about it, and writing about it, if only to help me understand better than what my soul already recognizes as truth whenever I hear it.
To that end I begin this column here at NEXT TEN WORDS. I want to explore, and I want to tell you what I find. I have spent my entire life listening and studying it, but hopefully without the arrogance to think you will always ‑ or should always ‑ agree with me. I want to hear what you have to say. Music is about communication. I am certain that you’ll get mad at what I have to say from time to time. That’s fine by me. Music is about emotion. I hope that in some very small way, this column makes you think or listen to something just a little differently than maybe you did before. Maybe it will make you smile. I really hope so. We could all use a little more of that in the world. In the end, I want to share my struggles as I dance within, and around, the architecture and hope that you turn a pirouette with me from time to time.
Before we start, I need to let you know a few absolute truths I believe about music:
- The first song you hear in the morning will stay with you all day long. Make good choices, people.
- Mistakes are so much more interesting in a live performance than flawlessly executed perfection. Want to see how great an artist is? Listen to them work themselves out of a corner in real time. Miles Davis said it best, “If you make a mistake, repeat it. Then it’s not a mistake anymore. It’s a part.” This works for life as well. As usual, Miles is always right.
- The time between when Jimi Hendrix died and when Huey Lewis and the News guitarist Chris Hayes quoted “Purple Haze” during the fade-out in the song “I Want A New Drug” (13 years) is infinitely longer than the period between “I Want A New Drug” and today (34 years). I don’t know how it works, but time is funny like that.
- Pop is NOT a dirty word. Remember, in his time, Mozart was the Pop Music of the day.
- There is no doubt in my mind that Jim Morrison is still alive and writing poetry somewhere in rural France. In case you were wondering, he hated Oliver Stone’s movie too.
- A person should listen to every genre of music out there. There is always something to learn and discover.
- Freddie Mercury was the greatest frontman there ever was.
- The Faces are the definition of the quintessential Rock Band. You will find everything there.
- My favorite album of all time is Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. Billy Joel himself told me I was wrong outside of the KQRS Studios in 1989. He explained that the debut albums by The Doors and Hendrix were “so much better than this. It has mistakes all over it.” Billy Joel couldn’t convince me I am wrong and neither can you.
- Sammy Davis Jr. was the most complete all-around performer in the Rat Pack. Even Frank will tell you that. Have a listen to “Night Song” and try to avoid getting goosebumps.
- NEVER EVER mess with Taylor Swift. It doesn’t matter if you are the poor high school schlub she tore a new one in “Picture to Burn” from her first album, or if you’re Katy Perry who got hit with “Bad Blood” on her last. If you have any kind of relationship that doesn’t quite work out with her, you’re gonna get nailed. On the plus side, you will be remembered in a Top 10 hit. (Taylor, I looooove you. I’m just trying to be funny here. Please don’t hurt me. Seriously.)
- You will learn more about music in one week road tripping in the Mississippi Delta than you will ever learn spending five years in school.
- Carlos Santana’s guitar sounds like sunshine.
- If he had kept using the moniker Elston Gunn instead of the later Bob Dylan, Robert Zimmerman would have won a Nobel Prize for literature much sooner than he did. He wouldn’t have gotten his mural on Hennepin Avenue however. Life is full of trade-offs.
- The Cantina Band in Star Wars was channeling straight jazz.
- Roger Whittaker possesses probably the smoothest voice anyone could ever hope to hear.
- Everyone should use turn signals consistently when they drive. This has nothing whatsoever to do with music; I just think it’s important.
- Johnny Cash. Period.
- If you want to learn about another human being, check out their album collection. Same thing about another nation or culture. Listen to their music. You will understand them a lot better as a result.
- As great as it is, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album is not quite as good as John Coltrane’s Blue Train. This is my version of Sophie’s Choice.
- Not EVERY album sounds better on vinyl. That is just something bearded hipsters wearing un-tucked flannel shirts buttoned to the top will tell you. Have you ever listened to Radiohead’s Kid A on vinyl? Yeah, neither have I. Do you know why? Because it would suck.
- Keith Richards will outlive all of us.
- Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” is what perfection sounds like.
- Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” is one of the best songs for artists to cover. It is perfect and works in any genre.
- Hip-Hop is the poetry of now. It can be artful, funny, and devastatingly powerful. Listen to Tribe Called Quest and tell me I’m wrong.
- It is a flat-out travesty that Todd Rundgren is not yet in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- There is nothing better than discovering your next favorite album.
- It is completely acceptable to wear an Iron Maiden T-Shirt to a Neil Diamond concert. Oddly enough, there is no way you should ever wear a Neil Diamond T-shirt to an Iron Maiden concert. Not sure why that is. Some things are unexplainable.
- That being said, a Neil Diamond-fronted Iron Maiden playing his songs would be amazing.
- There is no such thing as “Bad Music.” It either works or it doesn’t. The real question should be, “Is it honest?” It may take some more effort, or patience, but the key is to always listen and search for what is to be found. The only exception is Nickelback. That is just flat-out bad music.
- Music draws people together and makes the world a better place.
- Music is what the voice of God sounds like.
While not comprehensive, this gives us good place to start. Get on your dancing shoes, let’s have some fun.
This article was edited by Rachel Wohrlin.
Daniel G. Moir is a freelance writer, musician, part-time DJ and baseball enthusiast. Mostly, though, he is among the most passionate music fans and aficionados of our times. He can be contacted at @DMoir5150.
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