Is technical talent truly inspiring?
I watched a live performance of Shadowplay by Joy Division from 1978 on Youtube the other day. The performance was raw, the playing was amateur and the vocals were out of key and..
it was still amazing.
I proceeded to read the comments below and was pleasantly surprised that 90% of the comments were also praising the performance. Only one person mentioned the lack of technical skill and everybody jumped down his throat.
Then of course everyone was dogging the Cover version of this song by The Killers basically calling them a bunch of hacks. Now technically speaking, The Killers version could easily be considered better. It was sonically recorded and mixed better, the instruments were well played and the vocals were on key.. but nobody cared. Now I’m not here to say The Killers are shit, but rather I want to explore why bands like Joy Division, Bauhaus and The Cure are practically worshipped despite their lack of what some would call musicianship.
Why are bands like these so well respected despite(or perhaps even because of) a lack of technical talent? What is that magic formula? Why is it that we excuse their lack of technical talent and in fact rate them much higher than bands that clearly have better musicianship?
Some of you reading this will simply say these bands are completely over-rated or popular for being popular in the underground. I’m going to have to say that I believe there is more to it and I would like to explore this a bit deeper.
Being a proud non-musician myself, I enjoy the idea of mucking about on an instrument like a curious child. If I already felt I knew everything there was to know, I probably wouldn’t be very interested in making music. I suppose what I do mocks people that slave over their instrument of choice, but I don’t think that is the whole picture. I, in fact, have slaved over music, but the things I am interested in are how to convey a vibe.
Sometimes pure talent shows little humanity.
Often times talent is something you hide behind. Nakedness and vulnerability can evoke much more emotion. I personally think it takes bravery to stand up on a stage with little but a handful of chords and some ideas that you want to get across.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when you need talent to convey a complex idea and those are amazing moments, but those moments are not driven by the desire to “show off” talent but rather to get across your message as accurately as possible.
There is also something to be said about having pent up emotion and being a bit frustrated that you can’t express it accurately. I think I can hear this in bands like Nirvana and Joy Division. Those bands were very vulnerable and spoke for so many who were afraid to speak for themselves. Those who were afraid of their own normality. We can see ourselves in those who show themselves, warts and all.
It might be safe to say that those who are true fans of music don’t base what is good on pure talent but rather on how the music hits them whether it be Mozart, The Who or Velvet Underground. I think it’s likely that “musicians” might get off on complexity for complexities sake because having the skill to learn it can be an ego boost in the same way as mastering a difficult video game. However, music is in a completely different field altogether. Some of the best music defies logic. Sometimes the words are nonsense and the simple parts that construct the song is laughable yet we still find something intriguing about it.
I like to think that there is more that goes into music than just the instruments and vocals. I think there is something that gets recorded between the notes that weaves through the empty gaps. A sort of “ghost in the machine”. I believe emotion and intention comes through the music and those subtleties are picked up by those who really “listen” and “feel” the music.
Although all of my examples in this blog are talking about live bands, I think the same “ghosts” can come through in electronic music as well. All instruments whether played by hand or programmed are soul-less until the soul is injected into it.
I am beginning to get into another tangent, so I will simply leave you with this Joy Division video. I hope it intrigues you to reconfirm or re-evaluate your attitude towards music and the shallow definitions of talent.
Happy Music Making