Saturday, July 10, 2021

Under the Infuences

I just watched a documentary about Oasis and the making of their album (What's the Story) Morning Glory, which, by the way, absolutely holds up. It is a great album, apparently recorded in ten days, during which Noel Gallagher also wrote about half of the songs. 

I happen to think that he is one of the best songwriters of the past thirty years. As such, it was kind of funny to hear him talk about how most of his songs are directly inspired by the works of other artists. 

Of course, I tend to think that this is what a great artist does. They take the familiar and make it their own. Noel Gallagher took a handful of chords and forged them into masterpieces. Truly. Whether you like him or not, the guy knows how to craft a song.

I'm sure that this isn't a popular opinion, but while I can name five or six great Beatles songs (and my parents played them all the time when I was a kid, so I am perhaps overly familiar with their work), I could easily come up with a dozen Oasis songs that are just as good as any of them. 

Yellow Submarine? Give me a break. I Want to Hold Your Hand? The main contribution of the Beatles to the genealogy of popular music was that they appropriated black music and watered it down for white suburbanites in the 1960s. This was back when they had matching haircuts and were playing with their instruments way up on their chests. 

Later on, their more experimental stuff was directly inspired by Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, who once melted a bunch of quaaludes on his head under the stage lights and then went on to play the same note for pretty much the rest of the set. Not long after that, David Gilmour officially replaced him as the lead singer/guitarist, which steadily changed the direction of the band, as he brought his own influences into the mix.

I mean no disrespect to the Beatles, as they too did what great artists do. For that matter, Pink Floyd even gets its name from two blues musicians who inspired Syd Barrett. As artists, they all offered their own distinct contributions to an ongoing conversation about what it means to be human. This is why arts are sometimes referred to as the humanities (and why they're so important to civilization).

In my opinion, the one thing that we each have that is ours and ours alone is the perspective through which we see the world. An artist shows us what we thought we already knew, but from a perspective that is unfamiliar. Otherwise it is a cliche, and we can all do better than that. Everyone has a unique perspective, and therefore everyone has it in them to be an artist. They just need to master a skill through which to properly express it. 

When people who have never heard my music ask me what it sounds like, I never know what to say. Every once in a while, somebody will point out that a song of mine sounds like it could have been written by some other band that we both know, at which point I can sometimes hear it, at least a little bit. 

For example, I've been told that Be Civilized could just as easily be a Pearl Jam song, or that the Weezer influence comes through pretty clearly in Make Some Noise! (Summer of '99), the title of which is a deliberate reference to a Bryan Adams song, or that my quiet/loud/quiet dynamic that I've got in a lot of my songs is a nod to the Pixies.

I don't dispute any of this. I'm sure that a person could go through all of my songs and link them up with artists that may have inspired each track. Then maybe I'd know what to tell people when they ask me who I sound like. I'm sure there's some Oasis in there, too.

To quote Noel Gallagher, "Well, there are only twelve notes, aren't there?"

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