Fuzzy guitars and rage

Most of the people at my new job, which I’m going to call SmallAgency because we are, have vastly different taste in music than I do. Some of that is because I pretty much checked out of new music in the mid-1990s. Grunge wasn’t what I was interested in when it was current for a lot of reasons not the least of which was that it sounded way too punk for me.

Until recently I couldn’t articulate why I didn’t like punk music. I like loud. Anyone who grew up listening to any flavor of heavy metal likes loud. And it wasn’t that I couldn’t appreciate raging against the system because with systems as screwed up as the ones we’ve invented for ourselves we really only have two choices: fight or be crushed. My poor sleep-deprived brain finally churned up something interesting yesterday, though, and when I thought about it afterward it, like all revelations, seemed totally obvious.

I don’t like punk music for the same reason I don’t think Jackson Pollock is art: it’s something I could easily do.

Pretty much any endeavor, whether it be painting, writing, music, building furniture, can be made to look effortless by someone either talented enough or skilled and practiced enough in a given area. There is a reason why the axiom “practice makes perfect” exists. Temper that knowledge that anything can be made to look easy if done by a skilled enough practitioner with the knowledge that it really does take more than money to get to the Met and things I can’t do, like play music, appear exceedingly hard.

“Convergence” by Jackson Pollock. Just because a monkey throws poo at a wall and it makes a pattern doesn’t make it art.

To me punk music is the sonic equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting. There are no discernible notes or melody and at least two of the identified originators of the genre, The Ramones and The Sex Pistols have been quoted as taking pride in the fact that they couldn’t actually play their instruments when they started.

The thing is, I don’t like rap/hip-hop either, but it’s not something I could do. All that rhyming, and in better examples from the genre cleverness, take skills I don’t have. Skills I don’t have garner my respect. After all, if you can’t do it better, do you have a right to criticize? It’s the “how hard can that be?” mentality; if I can do it, so can anyone. Which leads me to this: if punk is something seemingly any idiot who picks up a guitar can do, theoretically even me with no musical talent, then how can I respect punk musicians?

This probably says more about how I value my own talents than it does about music or the place of creative achievement in the world. All I know is, Frank Zappa managed to make fuzzy guitars and rage sound like music.

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