Pete's Blog

Another rant

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The folks at powerpop.blogspot asked their readers what they thought was the most negative trend or artist in the history of rock music. Here's my reply: It may be the technology itself that I blame, but somewhere along there people stopped singing, pushed the microphone deep into their faces, and decided the ensuing burps and mumbles were a compelling evocation of abashed intensity. This begs the question: why write lyrics if you're not going to deliver them? Say what you will about Dylan's singing, he has never had to print the lyrics on the inside of his albums. It's hard to say who begat this mush mouth - Suzanne Vega? Bruce Springsteen? Kurt Cobain? - but it's had a devastating effect on the young singers I hear and teach every day. The fact is nobody knows how to breathe anymore, and nobody (except country singers) understands that an audience will take your lyrics more seriously if you actually try to make them understood, that emotion comes from the physical effort of sustaining the notes, and that evoking emotion is WHAT PERFORMERS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO, GODDAMMMIT! People here will object, but I think the punk thing is the villain here, the idea that you were inauthentic if you could actually play. Interestingly enough, I found a similar complaint from an English classical-music critic of a hundred years ago. According to Donald Francis Tovey, English concert performers did not compare well to their European counterparts because they were in general more interested in showing how inspired they were than in actually playing the music. Sound familiar? PS. I agree with everything said about Bowie and Madonna. And as for the Low-era work, well, if you make albums steadily for forty years some of them are bound to be good.

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