The Politics of Listening

I purchased Andrew Bird’s “Noble Beast” on Amazon MP3 a couple of days ago.  It is one of the most expertly crafted rock albums that I have heard.

Today I am listening to a live recording of a Spoon show.  Spoon is not a brilliant band by any means, but their second record, “Kill the Moonlight”, is also in my top 10 best albums from cover-to-cover that I have ever heard.  Seriously, it is great.  Listening to “Kill the Moonlight” gives me goosebumps.  There are so many moments of innovative brilliance on the record.  It is a shame that they have so far been unable to recapture that magic on subsequent albums.

I think many bands, relationships, painters, writers, etc. experience similar moments of temporary brilliance.  That is why all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books are not as good as Bluebeard.  His brilliance is not omnipresent in his art, but make no mistake about it – Vonnegut was brilliant.  He has a library of material that greatly exceeds the art of N’Sync.  He was a pro.  A lifelong devotee to his art.

The Rolling Stones have made a career out of playing “Satisfaction” and “Sympathy for the Devil” – both brilliant songs.  But the majority of their work doesn’t deserve a second look.  Same with U2, Radiohead, and Bruce Springsteen.  Their longevity is based more on moments of long-lost brilliance than it is on any sort of art.  If anything, these bands do a disservice to their art by not mixing it up more.

So where does that leave me?  I don’t know.  I don’t have a hit, so it’s hard to say.  Put my best song on the radio with a promotional machine behind it, and we’ll see where we stand.  Brilliant songs don’t need airplay to be brilliant, but without airplay, nobody will know they are brilliant.  And airplay is more politics than it is music.  It is marketing and hand-shaking.

I wish we lived in a truly capitalistic world where the best music, hair gel, and cell phones would be the ones with the biggest reach.  But we don’t.