What do Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Prince, and Steven Wilson have in common?
I’ll get back to that in a minute.
The question pops to mind because of Wilson, who recently released a single from his forthcoming album The Future Bites. The single is called “Eminent Sleaze.”
Thanks to his work with his band Porcupine Tree and his earliest solo efforts, Wilson has become one of the true saviors/deities of progressive rock. But Wilson’s more recent efforts have him veering closer and closer to pop music, a place prog rockers are loathe to visit. It’s beneath them.
So when this single was unveiled, the proggers were apoplectic. I knew it was coming, and decided to just sit back and enjoy the internet show. Engaging in any kind of even-handed debate was both useless and impossible. Wilson’s fans wanted their “old” Steven back. And they wanted him now.
Music fans can be VERY territorial.
They like what they like and whom they like playing it. Many fans have it in their heads that their favorite artists spend every waking moment thinking about playing the music their fans love and finding new ways to present similar sounds. Give the people what they want, right?
A jazz musician should stick to jazz, the fan figures. If progressive metal is what got an artist on the fan’s radar, then the thought of that artist doing anything else seems almost ludicrous. If you play country music, the fan figures, then that’s just what you DO. Or, said artist is exploring everything else within their “given” genre for inspiration.
Well, I have some news: when it comes to their favorite artists — or just about any artist for that matter — fans are flat-out wrong! Live in denial all you want. That’s just the way it is.
Why do musicians do what they do to begin with? Because they love music. And not just one particular style. Sure, they may have broken through as part of one genre or another, but a true musician’s influence comes from any number of musical places, some more palatable to their fans than others.
When I sought to interview singer/songwriter Deborah Holland for my book, it was because of her work with Stewart Copeland and Stanley Clarke in Animal Logic, a highly intelligent pop outfit. They were, for the most part, way too smart for commercial radio. So imagine my initial horror when she told me how much she loved the Black Eyes Peas. It wouldn’t compute. I had similar feelings with how Miles felt about “Time After Time,” a Cyndi Lauper tune. Or Prince digging Joni Mitchell (though I came to my senses on that one), or Steven Wilson idolizing ABBA. How is this possible?
It’s simple: musicians love music.
Even I have shocked a few people with my love for Pet Sounds, which I consider one of the greatest albums ever made. Yet I’m no real fan of The Beach Boys. But a brilliant record is a brilliant record. There’s no getting around that.
True musicians, I’ve found, don’t give a damn about genres. The only people interested in that limitation appear to be the fans. True musicians enjoy keeping their sound undefinable and open to possibilities. Some do it from year to year, others from album to album, and still others from song to song. They’re making music, period. Labels don’t matter.
And that is the answer to my initial question. Wilson asked a similar question at a show I attended before breaking into a very pop-driven tune called “Permanating.” He gently admonished the fans wailing and gnashing about the pop tune that Zappa played “Frank Zappa music,” and Prince played “Prince music.” To his mind, anything Wilson plays is “Steven Wilson music.”
And he’s right.
It’s the musician’s job to make music. That shouldn’t be confused with the just music you want to hear. So lighten up.
You just might enjoy yourself.
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell
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