Monday, August 23, 2010

Pop-Country Grieves the Holy Spirit

I love art--visual art, that is. I can sit and look at paintings, appreciate their color, and even pick out my favorites. I have various pieces hanging in my room by Renoir, Van Gogh, and Hurtgen. Even though I love art, I myself know little to nothing about painting. And that being the case, I would never, ever presume to tell a master artist about what art is good and what art isn't.

Imagine I'm standing with one of these master artists and we're looking at two paintings side-by-side. I could look at one of the paintings and say, "Well, I like this one because it has a lot of blue in it and I like the color blue. Its pretty. It makes me think of the ocean. I really like to swim, hopefully one day I can go deep-sea fishing and catch a swordfish." And then the artist may respond, "Well, yes it does have blue and I agree, blue is a pretty color. I like that piece too. However, I like this piece beside it better because it is the superior work of art. See the artist's exceptional use of etc. etc. [insert fancy art term here] etc. and how they create etc. etc. with their use of etc. etc. etc." I may continue to hold to my opinion of enjoying the other piece of art more and that is totally fine. Really, it is. I have no qualms with that, whatsoever. However, when it comes to the artist's claim of which is the superior piece of work would I actually have the gall to argue with a sheepish, "Well you can't know that" or "Maybe for you, but that is just your opinion" all the while consciously or subconsciously exerting my ideas on art to the level of his own?

The answer is no. No, I absolutely would not. I would not proceed to argue with a bona fide artist about art because I am not an artist. It is quite possible that maybe--just maybe an artist that has the key to the Louvre knows more about art than me. They know more about technique, style, difficulty, and even further -- they know more about creativity in terms of what is original and what has already been done many times before.

I've never been very good at building things. In fact, most often when I attempt to be "handy" I usually end up making the situation worse. I don't know the things an architect knows and I don't understand the things a carpenter understands. I would never presume to tell a carpenter how to build a house; the correct techniques, methods, or processes in building a fine architectural structure. I could look at a house and say, "Wow this house looks awesome! Its so interesting and I like the blah blah blah." He may look through the house and laugh and say that the house wasn't structurally sound and actually had a plethora of problems including foundational, plumbing, and insulation issues.

Opinions are fine. They really are. We are all entitled to them even if we are ignorant of the subject. But that doesn't make the opinion any less ignorant than the person forming it. Furthermore, may I suggest that certain things are not necessarily opinion? Yes, actually, I may. And I will. I would never tell an architect how to build a solid house or a painter how to paint a great painting and to do so would be utter foolishness. You can listen to your Brittany Spears, your 3 Doors Down, your Toby Mac, your Nickelback, and your pop-country radio. But it will never hold the artistic value of such giants as Bob Dylan, Arcade Fire, David Gray, Josh Ritter or Ryan Adams. That is not simply my opinion.

I find it mildly offensive when people who have their musical decisions dictated by the radio and/or the mainstream flow and who have never so much as strummed a chord or written a line try to tell me about music or what makes a good song. Sure, even among artists and writers tastes may vary, (and everyone even has their guilty pleasures), but the sense and understanding of who holds more value as an artist or what holds more value as a piece of art does not. Would anyone ever dream of setting Freaky Friday against Romeo and Juliet or perhaps Maid in Manhatten to Hamlet?--only a fool, maybe. Likewise, only that same brand of fool would set Taylor Swift next to Johnny Cash or Nickelback next to the Killers or Kutless to Neil Young (I'm speaking both musically and lyrically.)

It may have some to do with taste but honestly, it has more to do with education. An education in music does not happen overnight. And at the threshold, its gates were, to me, originally distasteful and completely unappealing. However, I guarantee you that like myself and all the others, after entering fully nothing could ever drag you back to the other side.


  1. This is a good word Glen. There is a real difference between musicians who hone their craft and those that are just getting paid.

    Maybe we need more radio stations who refuse to play the lowest common denominator in favor of real art, but that's only part of the problem. People need to want to be educated.

  2. You've captured my total disgust with the radio in a much more civil and literate way that I usually say it!

    I completely agree with you.
    There has been something terribly, terribly wrong with the radio for many years now. What really breaks my musician's heart is how some people just accept the bilge coming through their speakers as the standard. We have to dig!
    Digging to find those musical gems created by artists such as yourself, Mark Mathis, Jeremy Current, John Mark, Austin Crane, and so on is essential these days.

    I feel like things are shifting and changing even now. I like to think that maybe people are becoming more and more aware of the emptiness of "mainstream" music. Some are seeking the independent and lesser known artists as s reprieve from the torturous onslaught of mainstream, over-marketed, done-to-death music.

    I hope I see the day when things flip and the radio stations start playing the lesser knowns. Groovy, mane. Just Groovy.

    Excellent post, Mr. Yoder!

  3. Cool Jason, though I would never consider setting myself on the same plane as any of those other artists you mentioned - not even close - but yes, they are musical gems. There can sometimes be some fun, easy listens in the mainstream but most of it that meets the listenable mark is more like a dessert or tasty, fun treat from time to time, not anything to live off of. And the people that do are starving their hearts and their minds of the soul food that good music can provide. Glad you're with me!

  4. I think a good example of this would be Butch Walker. Butch Walker is a big time music producer and he has his own music career. He has written work for huge mainstream artists such as Fergie. He also writes his own indie-based songs. Its not that he is incapable of creating the shallow songs that flood the radio, he just chooses not to create them for himself. I've heard a million people say "those songs are popular for a reason" implying they are popular because they are superior. But if these people want to listen to meaningless songs, then I say go for it. Their loss.

  5. My my, what wonderful minds there are out there. This comes from someone who doesn't have televisions or radios in my house, because with the internet, I can pick and chose what I watch and hear at any given moment. I will never be a slave to the media, and never would I ever compare pop country to REAL music, the kind that makes your heart bleed just a little, and heals it all up at the same time.