The Death of the Electric Guitar? An intro into the Philosophy of Rock and Roll.

The Death of the electric Guitar and the Philosophy of Music.

The Washington Post has this article: The Slow Secret Death of the Electric Guitar and Why You Should Care.

Here’s an old geezer’s take on the situation: Music is too easy to make now days.

Let me qualify.

Think about media in general, how it developed, the eras, the movie star and rock stars, the classic movies, the great movies and songs, the guitar heroes. To my mind, it is difficult to think of those things without also reflecting on our time of mass media and access. Access is the key I think. there is too much access to sustain the old version of the Rock Star.

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Sure we will still have stars that people love; my daughter wants to marry Panic! at the Disco lead man Brendon Urie. But he’s no Guitar Hero. He is definitely a Singing Hero, and in a very conventional mode is a rock star by definition. And, if we take Panic! as an example of guitar players, I don’t think their guitarist Kenneth Harris is a guitar hero; he’s just the guitarist of Panic at the Disco. Sure he can play pretty well, but a Hero? I think not.

But think historically about how all this excitement came about ; Limited access. It was not that we (the audience) were not permitted access, it is that there was only a small number of groups, music and events. Rock and Roll was all we had, and there was only a tiny bit of it. You could only see, say Aerosmith, maybe once a year. you got maybe 10 songs from them, and then with all the other music that appealed to rebellious youth, there likewise was only a small menu to choose from.

This is to say, that compared to now we had a small menu. One could say that the later punk and Indy rock move that came out of the 80’s was in response to such limited access; you could go see 5 bands, probably 3 you loved, at the same place for $12. Guitar was still central, but they were not guitar heros. Probably the closest thing to a punk rock hero was Captain Sensible. His leads were phenomenal, his playing of the energy of Rick Nielson of Cheap Trick, and his stage presence was just the kind of rock star mentality that had already left the rock and roll of prior years to be ‘Classic’. Captain Sensible was really the last of a certain kind of rock and roll guitar attitude; of a dying breed; he was only one great lead guitarist of a genre of guitarists that was huge, but who had nearly no really good lead guitarists. It was no longer about the lead guitarists anyways, it was about energy.

Even if we consider the Heavy Metal/glam bands of the late 80’s, we have to admit that what they were lacking in Hero-ness, they made up for with regular and repeatable shows, Glam look and relatively shallow lyrics. We start finding that people were no longer interested in being transported musically, we find that people just wanted to ‘rock’. Here I am going to qualify talent as the extent that one leaves open the possibility of mistake to chance, and yet does not make the mistake. Id say that the guitar hero came out of the intimacy that comes to be involved through limited access, a sense of common contingency and implicit improvisational understanding. The ideas of a repeatable and regular sense of music was not the soil the guitar hero grew out of; the repeatable sense what that of not knowing just what you might get.

The guitar hero emerged also because the pool of musicians and groups who played any particular type of music was also limited. When we consider what is occurring now, we might see that it is not that there was very talented musicians who made great music as much as there was only relatively few musicians making music. We only had to select from a tiny amount of song; of course those who were able to make it to our ears were people who had a certain special manner. We couple the sense of an intimate disaster, that at any moment in the playing of the song it might fall apart or hit us with some unexpected intimate meaning, meaning that came from a sparse and distant proximity of the maker of the music as well as the music itself, the lyrics and the live playing, we have a pretty good explanation going.

I see risk is the basic factor involved. Kids and music lovers did not have the sense that music was a kind of security. Music was a way to inhabit the unknown, to embrace the inherent insecurity of existence, to leave the regular sense of everyday living. The guitar hero embodied an actual kind of heroic sense that seem lost now days. No one now wants to get lost nor risk not ever being able to find their way back, and our music reflects that.

People want their music to reflect the security they do not feel in their lives. They do not want to get lost; the future is so uncertain that they want their music to deliver a regular and certain performance every time, be it in in a recording or a live performance. My 14 year old daughter had been to a few concerts; she was ecstatic, happy and amazed and flaunting that the group sounded exactly like the album. I would have never expressed anything like that when I was 14. I enjoyed that the albums sounded nothing like the shows; to me they were two aspects of the good music and a good band.

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People just want to have a good time; the experience of live music, the good time involved has nothing to do with intimacy anymore, people want a performance: The intimacy is found due to and within this preordained arrangement. The guitarist now relies upon the notion of a guitar hero without having to actually be able to risk improvisation or the unknown. Music is an expression of what is knowable, a celebration of what is substantial in its apparent obviousness. The music has been so well learned, the avenues and stylistic maneuvers of guitar leads and music structure have been so well studied and emulated, we already know what to expect when a riff is played, or a lyric sung, and we compare the talent and ‘hero’ quality of the guitarist to how well they ‘sound like so and so’, how well they pull off the ‘blues lick’, or the ‘heavy metal solo’, the ‘indie innocence’, the youth angst.  The audience is prepared beforehand as to what to expect of not only the performance, but the actual notes themselves, the actual lines of music and how should fit together. People want heroes only in name, and the musicians are only too happy to give them that figure.
But we should also note that it is not that suddenly this generation somehow does not enjoy “good music”. We should see that this has always been the case, but there was only a limited amount of people ‘showing’ other people how they should respond to music, but most people at all times do not have a ‘deep’ appreciation of music technique, or have any reflction on what is ‘really’ occurring in any perfofrmance. They just listen to music and go to concerts. They speak to lingo of the day as to what is appreciated by others and what amounts to a good concert or good guitar playing. Most people don’t know if someone is really improvising or just playing sheet music, and they don’t care. 

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Lastly, the sheer access to technology and the simplicity of making music has allowed for a glut in the music market. Anyone can make ‘quality’ sounding music now days; they don’t have to goto an expensive studio and they don’t have to ‘get signed’. Those are basically anachronistic means to fill a performative space for entertainment that does the work for having and supplying ‘elevator music’ that is not stigmatized as such. Popular music is not ‘the best’, it is just marketed within a context of money, image and quality. There is no risk in that playing; the risk is absorbed in the actually being able to ‘make a living’ at music. The risk is in the making of a career, not the involvement in music. The risk is in what skills you can learn, what resources you can activate on your behalf, more than what talent the guitarist finds its substance within. But this is not new, it’s only now becoming obvious such that what we say about a band does not really mean much more than ‘in comparison to…’

As well, technology makes it super easy to make good sounding and musically sounding music. Anyone can write lyrics and put it to music; the quality of lyrics and music is reduced to methodological regularity of how music is supposed to be put together. And it does indeed sound good, we can no longer argue about what is good music and bad music: It is all good music. No room for heroes in this kind of world; a music maker does not even have to know how to play guitar to ‘play guitar’ in a rock band, computers will do it for you — and you’ll  look cool regardless. 

I understand that the music business has their approach to the why of things, but unfortunately, theirs also has more to do with, again, career and sales and making money, than it does with talent or attitude. And the business end is the most up front about it. There are simply more quality guitar makers and music makers that there ever has been, we have free access with virtually no limitation on what kind of music we can get, or how we might understand it. Guitars will still sell, it’s just that people will have to work a little harder to make the sale, so their name will become more involved with ‘what is better’ even though it’s probably no better, or worse. 

Do You Love Me: Music Philosophical Theory. 

I’m beginning with a typical theme of this music theory, this philosophy of music, with Nick Cave and the bad seeds song

Do You Love Me, part 1“.

Beginning in this way we notice all the facets involved of many philosophers. The first that comes to mind is Alain Badiou and the idea that the philosopher is concerned with one thing. Theodor Adorno’s Negative dialectics come to mind also. Soren Kierkegaard and his teleological suspension of ethical and his piece on Don Giovanni, as well as most of his books. Derrida also comes to mind, in particular the book I’m reading now, “Of Spirit”. And at that even Heidegger’s Dasien. We might even also see that it is not difficult to consider some of the Speculative Realists and Graham Harman’s object ontology. In fact there is a whole library of western philosophers’ ideas that can be applied to just this one song in a way to where the application removes the possibility of doubt that there may be a linkage of philosophy to art.

I have asked myself why do we find philosophers referring to art in their philosophy? We have Heidegger involved with Friedrich Hölderlin; Kierkegarrd considers Mozart; Quentin Meillassoux takes apart Stephane Mallarme; Harman got into H.P. Lovecraft; there are plenty others. But what strikes me is that noone (no one? That I have noticed, anyways; I could be very wrong (can someone help me out??)) has been considering art that is happening at the time of the philosophy. What I mean is, it appears to me that all these philosophers only consider artists of their (relative) past. Why are all these philosophers bringing past forms into relevancy of our time? Are there no current and living artists that may represent the significance that seems to only occur in old dead artists?

Now, as I said in the other post; I am am not talking about some cultural philosophical analysis the likes to reify themes of social justice or ideological evangelism of recursive ontologies. Slovaj Zizek is great in this regard; his is ideological recursively in its most immediate incarnation; his is the mark of the closed distance, he is the example of his own ‘filling’ of his own parallax gap. We could write a whole book on what is occurring with Zizek, but then by then end of it, never get further than anything Zizek has already said himself; suffice it to say that when we begin to understand my work, let alone his work, then we might also begin to have a baring upon what is occurring for a number of philosophers, if not philosophy itself in general. This brings to mind certain authors, and as well (again) the issue I treat most everywhere in my work: I am not sure we need to plaster over an issue with thick, viscous jargon and dense conceptual acrobatics in order to find out what is occurring. Though an idea might be entertaining in its conceptual gymnastics and the dexterity and or flexibility of thought that is required to understand them might be fun to consider and talk about (like a rollercoaster), often enough it is the assumption of depth in what appears as complex that amounts to true nonsense and really gets us nowhere besides spinning in a theoretical circus. When we begin, as well as when we are proceeding, we should always keep in mind the question as to if we are actually contributing to something significant or if we are merely creating self-aggrandizing conceptual pleasentries for social mobility circles. Are we getting anywhere or are we risking nothing.

Blah; enough of my proselytizing. Back to the point.

When we speak of a ‘first’ philosophy, we must keep in mind the meaning that I suggested in my post “Being Decay”, and see that we have settled in the land of what has been typically called ‘Continental’ philosophy, but likewise that arena from which we find a further divergence, that is, in so much a what is ‘continental’ perhaps has become merely another conventional philosophy; whatever its significance was, we might be able to notice that the destitution of spirit (see my earlier notes on Derrida’s book) marks a collapse of continental arena; more precisely, the move of what could be the point of the continental designation is into what is ‘destitution’, or of ‘desolation’. It is this desolation that the Postmoderns mark by their attempt to ‘pull it back’ from the nothingness, the void that it fell into. This is the irony of the post-Postmoderns such as Laruelle and Badiou, as well as Zizek. This is to say that the idea of democratic multi-vocality is itself a voice of the destitute spirit.

Our concern is that never (it seems) do or are modern philosophers considering an art that is actively present, meaning here, by contrast and therefore the spirit that is indeed destitute, that spirit that is indeed living on desolation row, instead of attempting to deny the fact of its existence. The reason why philosophy, as a philosophy that concerns ‘spirit’ ((with or without parentheses)) of any sort, is destitute is because the spirit by which it proposes to be concerned in indeed lacking. We might then reconsider what I mean when I say that conventional philosophy deals with everything from a distance, but proposes it within a condition of intimacy and why I say that what is theoretical occurs at a distance, but further that this is not always the case, but is only the case in a particular condition of Being, i.e. that ‘spirit’ of Being-there that is destitute of spirit in as much as it exists through a denial of this situation. We shall elaborate on this facet later.

To wit; Nick Cave is still alive and playing concerts! But we will also notice that his situation evidences the transition (the conversion? Harman?) that had already occurred, what we notice as Postmodern, which is an apology for Modern, that still had a plausible purchase upon authenticity in its attempt to rescue the the wayward spirit, and the post-Postmodern, which is an apology for the Postmodern not being able to rescue it. In other words, we find that the German Idealists (in a very general, as well as very specific sense, as well as the French and others) ironically were correct about somethings while being entirely incorrect of those same things. We begin to understand what Kant was talking about, what he was addressing, and we see how the closing of the distance that appeared in the Modern found its closure now in the explanation wherein the destitution of spirit marks, but not in some sort of anti-spiritual atheist biological evolutionist continuance of ‘Being there’ ontology, but rather exactly in the Being-there having no substance, but entirely consituted in material; what we view as historical does indeed function within a presumption of the material of substance. Yet we find the closing marks that point of divergence because the closing that is the meaningful nothingness, the coming upon the nihilistic universe, did not end anything. We find, inevitably, if we can be honest, that it is not that somehow ‘nothing’ is at the base of all things, but indeed, that the rational route by which it founds substance in nothing is the destitute spirit, but further, that the only manner, the only possibility through which such destitution can be noticed is by the spirit that is not destitute, which is to say now, not real.

We begin to get the picture that philosophers sit in their library chair and ponder deep and significant elements of philosophical lore through long hours of reading and study of other literary folk who (it seems) must be dead. We cannot but ask: What risk was wagered? If it was anything less than death then we have to question just what was come upon by such novel considerations. Strangely enough, Heidegger can be seen in the attempt to buck the trend of ‘academic safety in distance’ in as much as he does indeed talk about “the work of art”. I admit, though, that I myself do not go out an look for philosophy-art, but somehow I feel that there should be at least some who are engaging philosophy and art that are contemporaneous with one another. Here is one artist/blogger I have come across. The impression I get from much of our current (state of conventional) philosophy is that same age-old image of the scholar who never encounters anything real (dangerous), while proposing great treaties on the nature of reality; they surround themselves with the ideological, epistemological, ontological, walls built of discourse, isolation, but painted with the veneer of life of the Everyone, of the masses, the common human being, of social commentary. But this is what the academic institution is for, what it does, and why it does: It supports the real ideological paradigm and supplies the rationale for why it is supplying the only route for what can possibly be true. We the call this type of philosophy conventional, but likewise we call it, unapologetically, real.

But what of the actual experience of life? What of the engagement with all things legal and illegal outside the safety of the theoretical world? Here we have a distinct possibility that brought about the Continental-Analytic distinction, what it used to mean. Heidegger, for all his insecurity posed as confidence, at least took a stand, however questionable it may have been. We have to ask as we read, for example, “Being and Time”, what the fk is he talking about? This has got to be the question that leads us into the Continental tradition, and the same one as well that finds it having dissolved in its attempt to be real. This is Heidegger’s (WW2) mistake, as well as all those German idealists; the irony of Heidegger is the truth of the falsity, the forensic analysis of ‘spirit’ that does not understand that its method is destructive; the ‘question’ is the imperative of historical manifestation, which is at once the move toward this ‘spirit/world Being-there’ that is destroyed upon its implementation (what struggle are we talking about here?). It does a disservice to the meaning of them to attempt to bring their ideas into our reality as if it still has relevance as a living philosophy. Even then it was already dead; it just had to come to a re-cognition; that this was indeed the case.

When we begin to see that this closure is not one upon some ‘universal’ or ‘common human’ spirit, then we can begin to see that what has been theorized within a horizon of a closing of distance, of the ‘shrinking’ of the distance between theory and its object, has reached its apogee in the present, now, and we can start to understand what I might mean by a theory of Rock and Roll, or a philosophy of Rock, or even music theory.

A sort of side note: We must have compassion and a certain sympathy, indeed an empathy, for Badou, when, as of late I am told, he appears to have come upon ‘love and happiness’ after a life-long philosophical journey. For it is possible to view him, his work and perhaps his history, as a result of being caught in the ‘mistake’ of the academy, of finding his theory through a closing distance. Indeed; what else could Badou mean but that we, as philosophers, are concerned with one thing? And what else could Hegel have meant by his voluminous statement?

With all this in mind, consider the lyrics to part 1 of “Do You Love Me”:

“Do You Love Me?”

I found her on a night of fire and noise
Wild bells rang in a wild sky
I knew from that moment on
I’d love her till the day that I died
And I kissed away a thousand tears
My lady of the Various Sorrows
Some begged, some borrowed, some stolen
Some kept safe for tomorrow
On an endless night, silver star spangled
The bells from the chapel went jingle-jangle
.
She was given to me to put things right
And I stacked all my accomplishments beside her
Still I seemed so obselete and small
I found God and all His devils insider her
In my bed she cast the blizzard out
A mock sun blazed upon her head
So completely filled with light she was
Her shadow fanged and hairy and mad
Our love-lines grew hopelessly tangled
And the bells from the chapel went jingle-jangle
.
She had a heartful of love and devotion
She had a mindful of tyranny and terror
Well, I try, I do, I really try
But I just err, baby, I do, I error
So come and find me, my darling one
I’m down to the grounds, the very dregs
Ah, here she comes, blocking the sun
Blood running down the inside of her legs
The moon in the sky is battered and mangled
And the bells from the chapel go jingle-jangle
.
All things move toward their end
I knew before I met her that I would lose her
I swear I made every effort to be good to her
I swear I made every effort not to abuse her
Crazy bracelets on her wrists and her ankles
And the bells from the chapel went jingle-jangle

And then, once we see this announcement, this proclamation of the situation in the present, of the present already occurred philosophically, later we find Nick speaking in more certain terms of the spirit in its very destitution, yet within a longing, such that the recourse of such spirit is to prostitute itself, for that is all the substance it has left, all the value it holds in its destitution. In this we caution against holding identities apart to say “this” instead of “that”, that ‘this’ interpretation is actually more real that ‘that’ one; of course, what is real determines is own real-truth, but as it is already determined in its offense, in its resentment (do I hear Nietzsche?). In desperation, people cry out for more institutional definition, so in the destitution of spirit do people look more and call out for what is ‘more real’; hence the recent popularity of (what we might call) the “New Realism” (including Speculative Realism).

 

Do You Love Me, part2

“Do You Love Me? (Part 2)”

Onward! And Onward! And Onward I go
Where no man before could be bothered to go
Till the soles of my shoes are shot full of holes
And it’s all downhill with a bullet
This ramblin’ and rovin’ has taken its course
I’m grazing with the dinosaurs and the dear old horses
And the city streets crack and a great hole forces
Me down with my soapbox, my pulpit
The the theatre ceiling is silver star-spangled
And the coins in my pocket go jingle-jangle
.
There’s a man in the theatre with girlish eyes
Who’s holding my childhood to ransom
On the screen there’s a death, there’s a rustle of cloth
And a sickly voice calling me handsome
There’s a man in the theatre with sly girlish eyes
On the screen there’s an ape, a gorilla
There’s a groan, there’s a cough, there’s a rustle of cloth
And a voice that stinks of death and vanilla
This is a secret, mauled and mangled
And the coins in my pocket go jingle-jangle
.
The walls of the ceiling are painted in blood
The lights go down, the red curtains come apart
The room is full of smoke and dialogue I know by heart
And the coins in my pocket jingle-jangle
As the great screen crackled and popped
The clock of my boyhood was wound down and stopped
And my handsome little body oddly propped
And my trousers right down to my ankles
Yes, it’s onward! And upward!
And I’m off to find love
Do you love me? If you do, I’m thankful
.
This city is an ogre squatting by the river
It gives life but it takes it away, my youth
There comes a time when you just cannot deliver
This is a fact. This is a stone cold truth.
Do you love me?
I love you, handsome
But do you love me?
Yes, I love you, you are handsome
Amongst the cogs and the wires, my youth
Vanilla breath and handsome apes with girlish eyes
Dreams that roam between truth and untruth
Memories that become monstrous lies
So onward! And Onward! And Onward I go!
Onward! And Upward! And I’m off to find love
With blue-black braclets on my wrists and ankles
And the coins in my pocket go jingle-jangle

 

But this is not the end of spirit. For the nothingness that we come upon is nothingness because it is not nothingness; it is a mark announcing that the route of reason that came upon its insubstantial basis is indeed incorrect in its estimations.

Secular is a real designation of a particular route, a real route, just as religious and spiritual is likewise real material categories. All designation of a particular meaningful paradigm (mythology) has been worked to its end. A pass is enacted that then allows for reality to move apparently unhindered. We find a similarity to the efforts of Bruno Latour, for an opening is needed since reality is found to rely upon invisible passes that shut out the truth of the situation; something has shaken loose, something that shows reality as a faulty estimation.

More in a bit.

Colonizing Rock and Roll (on the surface). 

Some might say that rock ‘n’ roll is a product of the colonizing
Westbut I would think it be more proper to say that rock ‘n’ roll was a reaction to the normalizedregular predictableMundaneand rank-and-file of modern progress

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Like every random crass and chaotic act, is not difficult to see how rock ‘n’ roll it’s self has been colonized. We might even say that it is a symbol of the last bastion of freedom, where freedom itself in the process of having conflict with the self-awareness of freedom has finally relinquished it’s chaos for The denial of regularity. 

Now I don’t mean to pick on This Band in particular; I am sure the live action of their shows defies the constrained recorded version of their songs, and I’m sure though music and rock ‘n’ roll has indeed embraced it’s business side of things more confidently then the members of bands themselves have in the past, such rock ‘n’ roll bands hailing to their historical mentors of hard rock do most likely have a certain air of this rock ‘n’ roll attitude that people hold so dear. 

And I’m not particularly picking on a certain style of rock ‘n’ roll or even the straightforward traditional 345 piece rock ‘n’ roll band. 

It is more the modern media version of the music industry that seems to indicate best what is occurred. 

Again it is not so much that perhaps this band is not cool, good or not really rockin. It is more that it is so simple to do. And I don’t mean this like you don’t have to practice to get good, or even that it takes good songwriting skills. It’s that the it’s become formulaic, but more that any band can get together and spend the money and get in a studio and write up a review to put on the Internet and…ta da! It is that such music has become just as routine is having a House plant in your living room. It only matters what category you want to fit in, and a certain amount of people will probably like it, and you will probably be able to make a certain kind of living off being in a rock ‘n’ roll band. Perhaps I’m saying that the risk is been minimalized and so rock ‘n’ roll itself has become destitute of, perhaps,authenticity. 

But this is nothing new. Frank Zappa back in the late 60s early 70s was already proclaiming that rock is dead. And the Who ‘long live rock’! Even the punks who had sought to read juvenate rock ‘n’ roll, by the early 80s was proclaiming, on one hand the band Crass yelling punk is dead, and on the other hand, The Exploited also yelling that Punk’s not dead. I mean; whats really going on? 

It seems now that we have fully excepted that every artistic form will never achieve the freedom it likes to proclaim, this generation proceeds anyways under brackets, within parentheses, with tongue cemented to the side of once cheek, in denial while at the same time because of the full recognition of times past functioning in a type of ironic recognition. 

Just consider what is occurring when we are describing a band and it’s music. Are the descriptors really specifying anything original about this particular band? I mean isn’t every rock ‘n’ roll band ‘powerful’? Can’t we say that any singer who is halfway good ‘nuanced’? And I’m not even sure why a rock ‘n’ roll singer would want to be nuanced, especially when they’re playing hard rock, and especially if we want to call it ‘raw’. It seems that there originality is not even an issue because then they mention other famous Rock musicians. It’s as if they’re describing to me an apple at a grocery store, so I’ll be able to determine what kind of Apple I want: ‘this is hard rock with a strawberry finish and tangy body semi crispy’. I mean listen to the cuts, and read the review. Is there any necessary correlation between the two except that they happen to be associated with one webpage promotion? I’m sure I could easily find some other bands video and take exactly that same webpage promotion and plug that video into that webpage and it would have the same amount of meaning. That description that promotion does nothing to distinguish the band. Listen to the cut. I’m sure easily I could find another 50 bands that sound exactly the same as them. It literally in this modern music world is like going to the grocery store. (and I know this is nothing new; but instead speaks to my philosophical work so far is orientation up on objects). 

It literally is that there is no distinction between say hard rock and pop rock except the very name that were attaching to it, except that these folks might wear a particular style of leather jacket and these other folks put sharp studs in their sleeves, and these guys wear T-shirts with catchy logos on them and sneakers, and these guys do their hair funny. 

For me, and I am musician so take it as you will, The image that this band is trying to promote for themselves (and again I don’t mean to pick on just this band, because they’re not philosophers and they’re just doing what they think they should do to follow their rock ‘n’ roll dream just like everyone else  — but perhaps that’s what I have issue with [complaint; whine])seems to defy the very image that they’re trying to promote of themselves. It’s like the image they’re giving us is it the exact opposite of the image they have. 

I’m not a pessimist; though I may be a party pooper. But I already know the people don’t really care about this music theory. And they just want to hear music that sounds good to them; including myself. 

Actually I think the whole thing is pretty damn silly.