Sunday, 8 February 2015

Music, Instinct and Shower Singing

                Humming to myself in the shower, as I do, I approached a phrase in which I would have a choice to make. Perhaps it was the muscle memory of my vocal chords or my brain’s well worn circuitry wanting me to follow a certain path that went A D A B. Instead I went A F C# B (don’t actually check this. The notes are merely an illustrative device) and in doing so I realized that what I’d considered to be an original tune was connected to a branch of the great and ancient tree that is popular (not poplar, that’s another thing) music.

                I was operating within the parameters we, speaking broadly in terms of western music (sorry), all know. I hummed the alternative note, leading the tune down a different path but still the progression hinted quite obviously to what I “should have done”. If I hadn’t veered off I would have hummed the universally recognised by now phrase, “oh I believe in yesterday.”

                I couldn’t figure out if it was my natural instinct was telling me to alter my course, or a bit of thran experimentalist like the one that tells me to order the sea urchin instead of the California wrap. Was Robert Frost leaning over my shoulder and if so, wasn’t he a Beatles fan?

                Why didn’t I want to break in to Yesterday? It’s a great song, one of the best. Perhaps I didn’t want Paul McCartney in there with me in my private moment. If Frost was there whispering poems in my ear it might have gotten a bit crowded. Or maybe, and admittedly more likely, I was being precious about this tune and just wanted to own it.

                I’d made a nice little descending, slightly gloomy legato that sounded great in the shower and felt new to me. The "Cute Beatle" might have felt the same feeling on that momentous morning when he sat down with at his piano (I know he played it on guitar back in black and white days but he wrote it on piano) and matched the song’s words to it's melody. It occurred to me as I towelled off my pectorals, that some songs are more like discoveries than creations. This is not to dismiss Macca’s rights to the song, or Jackson’s, whoever won that bidding war, but it’s almost as if Yesterday was so beautiful and simple and above all obvious, that if Sir Paul hadn’t, then someone else would have eventually sat down and tickled that one out of the ivories. Ok maybe not the lyrics.

                As I decided on which cologne suited my particular persona this day I considered other similar tunes to fit my theory. There were others indeed, much to my delight. Immediately, Für Elise sprang to mind, at least the opening notes, e-d# etc… (again, don’t check). I was playing that before I knew what it was, a 3 year old hipster, predating the current wave of bearded omega males by a good 25 years. Or was I? I was doing what every sane person does when they pass a piano on the street, a tinkle, just to see if it works.

                Another example occurs to me now. I remember walking to swimming lessons whistling the chorus of Alanis (then just Alanis) Morrissette’s, Too Hot. This was at least a year before it hit the charts and shattered everyone’s preconceptions of music. When I saw her on MuchMusic with her bright red lips, leather jacket and Lycra cycle shorts, I couldn’t be mad. She, like McCartney was a cutie-pie. That tune was there to be discovered and Alanis beat me to it. I was after all, still preoccupied with getting that maroon badge to sew on my towel. Indeed Canada’s sweetheart had moved her pawn to A4 and cried “King me!” Regardless of her confusion, her subsequent breakdown followed by a Phoenix style return pushed Canadian music's stool into the annals of history. The tectonic rumble, the likes of which happen only occasionally (in those days) was felt the world over when she released Jagged Little Pill. I was there.

                Bands like Nirvana also did this. All Apologies, released amongst a bunch of stuff you can’t hum in the shower, really is one of those earworms you can happily spend the day with. Sitting on the dock of the Bay, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, the list goes on.

                It would seem that today's music scene (this was written in 2015 for those of you reading in the future) is geared primarily around being hummable and repeating a formula. The top bands (I refuse to name them in case it somehow increases their click count) seem totally conscious of their potential to “sell out”. The modern songwriter’s intuition for catchy isn’t being used to make great songs which produce a pulmonary shudder. Instead, these ostensibly innocuous anthems, permeating the mainstream with their tastefully chosen synthesised sounds and earthy ukulele hooks, are used to sell cars to recruitment consultants with deep pockets. Or at least that is what I am currently enraged by.

                As I sip my protein shake and consider my kale chips I wonder if Beethoven would have let Für Elise be used to sell cheesburgers or Volkswagons. Surly not?

Oh and just to complete the idea, click on this little vid.