Thinking About Music

Reflections from my social distancing headquarters

by Christian Decker


Last evening I finally took it upon myself to watch Whiplash, the 2014 Oscar winning film about an obsessed jazz drummer and his borderline psychotic music conductor. I realize I’m a little late to the film game here but I have a lot more free time now as it so happens. One of the biggest lines from the movie that sticks out to me is J.K. Simmons’ character’s line: “The two most harmful words in the English language are good job.” It’s a striking thing to think about and it plays in to the whole theme of perseverance in the movie that the main character goes through include all the abuse that he puts up with. What is it that drives musicians and artists and is there a line that should be drawn?

I suppose I started reflecting on this because music has always been such a massive part of my life. My parents are very musical people if not in the musician sense but there always has seemed to be some level of music being played at some point during the day or some concerts were going to see at some point during the year. To call myself a musician would be an overstatement, I’m painfully mediocre at guitar, but it pays to do some self-reflecting on what makes one a good musician.

Hard work has something to do with it. You don’t get better by just sitting around and wishing you were better. It takes practice, and lots of it, but from what I’ve been told it’s more important to be consistent than to spend 4 hours practicing on and off without a regular schedule. But at what point does practice become obsessive? Is it bad to be obsessive if it’s something that means so much to you. Not if it’s a person cause that’s just creepy. But with art the lines are a little blurred. I mean you should be able to take as much time as you need to put work into something that you believe in. But often I feel that this overzealous practicing and work can hurt you relationships with loved ones.

I’ve been kind of wondering how this plays in to some of the music we listen to nowadays. It really seems to me that we here these kinds of stories in genres of music that require super complicated skills in musicianship. You don’t really see mainstream pop artists agonizing themselves practicing scales. Sorry, but that just doesn’t happen, the instrumentation is not there. The super complex stuff that gets put into other genres often sounds really cool and impressive to me to the extent that I wish I could do that. Perhaps that’s why I don’t always enjoy the same things as some of my friend and acquaintances because a lot of it sounds so plain and boring, something that even I could come up with if I was given a good hour in a studio.

Who am I to say what is good and what is not though? Everyone identifies with music in their own way and whatever gets through to them should be celebrated. After all the super complicated stuff isn’t really celebrated by much of the general public. Who is gonna give a shit about how good you are if no one wants to listen to it anyway. I guess because I care about this stuff so much that it causes me to look at music in terms of how good you can get at your craft without sounding incredibly boring and overdone after awhile.

The overarching question surrounding music still looms. What is it that makes music so great? It’s something that we humans have tried to tackle for a long time now. We still respond emotionally to it and we still dance drunk to it. Ah, the duality of man. Perhaps the way the way we should look at music going forward is to just let it be. It means a lot to a lot of people and maybe we should give more credit where credit is due.

I guess I kinda rambled here a bit about what makes music music and how we should treat it and it doesn’t really matter to much to a lot of people considering how we’re in the midst of a pandemic and a semi-political crisis. Maybe it pays to be able to think about this going forward, to reflect on the nice things that we have available to us to listen to and to appreciate.

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