Frank Gutch Jr: Do We Know How to Listen Anymore?

I covered a bit of this in one of my early blogs (Indie Musicology), but I have recently had an epiphany and it can be credited to none other than Charles Schulz, the cartoonist.  Schulz has always danced around the music theme with Linus, his little piano the source of more than a few chuckles, but lately there have been a number of Schulz comics posted on the Net which strike close to home. One shows Linus making a statement which could be the real source of the music industry’s crumbling foundations:  that we have forgotten how to listen.  

I had downloaded the comic a number of days ago when one of my favorite people (thank you, Susan) made a statement that at first blindsided me and then opened up a whole avenue I had been down before but had not truly explored.  She stated that at one point in her life, she and her roommate had had no television and had had to rely on the stereo for entertainment.  They played records all day long and into the night.  They scraped together pennies and nickels to buy records, both albums and 45s.  They lived for the music for it was all they really had.  Two girls consumed by music, much as I had been, but who later moved on while I spun my wheels in a record industry bent on (but back then, who knew?) self-destruction.  Is that what has happened?  Has everyone else moved on?

There are a lot of theories being bandied about as to why the music industry is failing and why music has become relegated by the media to also-ran status and presented as the old man at the New Year’s Eve parties.  Some say the industry blew it while others point to the new computer-driven world.  Still others blame the quality of the music (hence, the chorus of “There ain’t any good music anymore”s echoing through the cyber-halls) and a few (mostly Tea Partiers) blame Obama.  Why not?  He’s getting blamed for everything else, right?

The truth of the matter, and I am reluctant to state this outright, is that we may have forgotten how to listen.  This is a world of soundbytes, after all, and even television has followed Hollywood into the almost strobe light world of the present.  In ads, programs, in the news (as if there is any news in  the news anymore),  everything is quick and to the point, the key word being quick.

In the blog cited above, I made mention that pundits have capped an artist’s ability to capture a potential audience at seven seconds.  Seven seconds to make an impact, to put something in the ear which makes a person want to listen further.  If that is true, the game has changed so much that I don’t even recognize it.  What can you put in seven seconds?  Seven strokes on a cowbell?  One long metal chord?  A tenth of a Robert Plant or Gerry Roslie scream?  Not much, that’s for sure.

Do kids these days even understand what it was like for those of us who grew up on radio and the transistor radio?  Do they know how intensely we listened to The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper or Led Zeppelin II?  I’m beginning to think maybe not.  In a world dominated by slap-your-face songs presented in slap-your-face videos, does music stand a chance?  Do kids need the interactive or at least video-ized version to relate?  And what if they do connect with a song?  Does it last, or is it destined for the digital woodpile the second another song comes along?

My memories, like my friend Susan’s, revolve around the shared experience of the music.  My friends and I would sit for hours absorbing anything and everything vinyl.  We would put music on while we washed dishes or smoked dope or flipped frisbee.  We put together road trip tapes, alternating tracks, then took long trips into the mountains just to hear them.  We planned evenings around which bands were playing the clubs.  I mean, we listened!  I would hate to think those days are over.  But maybe they kind of are.

I say kind of because I believe that music will always have its backers.  At one time, music was on top of the heap and maybe it isn’t number one anymore, but it still has clout.  If it didn’t, Steve Jobs would not have forced iTunes down our throats.  If it didn’t, there would be no more Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza or any of the other music fests which crowd the summer schedules.

The way I see it, the problem is not that music is dying.  The problem is perception.  We’re all comparing music to what it was at its peak.  That’s what we do these days.  We compare.  Not every year or every month or every week, but every day.  It is part of the “byte” mentality.  I’m not sure I like it.  I don’t think Linus would, either.

The Impending Death of the CD…..

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about that much-maligned format for music, the compact disc.  Remember the statement about comparing every day?  Here we go again.  Every time numbers are crunched, we get this wave of articles declaring the compact disc dead.  The media have been trying to kill it off for years even though the numbers barely supported a dip when the cries first arose.  Each year, though, the numbers evidently drop and each year/month/week there is some expert trying to drive a stake into the CD’s heart.  Well, they may be succeeding, but not because the format is dead.  They may be succeeding because we are beginning to listen to the Bush administration-like cries.  The compact disc, my friends, are the weapons of mass destruction all over again.  Is it a good format?  I like it but then again, I liked vinyl and we know what the so-called experts did with that format.

The important thing is that there are plenty of people out there who want physical product— who want that CD package or that album jacket to read and fondle when an album is playing.  Trust me when I say that they won’t kill it for a long time yet.  Also trust me when I say that if killing off a format can make someone money, they will eventually find a way.  Even if they have to brainwash us.  Ahem.  In case you haven’t noticed, that is what they are attempting to do now.  Hello?  Is this mike on?

One reason I think compact discs will hold on for awhile has to do with the Indies.  Touring is slowly becoming the Indie artists’ number one money-making source and without the CD, those artists will have less of an impact.  More than one fan has gone home from a show with a CD in hand and brought new fans to the next show.  Numbers don’t lie.  It works.  Right now, anything that works has to be taken seriously.

Notes:  Anyone out there know about a seventies band known as Gypsy?  Hell of a band out of Minneapolis and transplanted to Los Angeles.  Put out four outstanding albums, two on Metromedia and two on RCA.  A killer unique sound.  Had two outstanding songwriters in James C. Johnson (The Underdogs) and Enrico Rosenbaum.  Spent a few months in L.A. as the Whiskey’s house band.  Well, I have hopefully talked the bass player on the two RCA albums, Randy Cates, to talk about his days with the band.  It should be interesting.  Stay tuned…..  Shade‘s new EP will feature only Jane Gowan and Tim Vesely.  Listening now and will have words about it in the near future.  Their first album, Highway, is/was a sleeper.  Read my take here.  This one sounds like it may be too…..  The story of Steve Young is just about completed.  Titled Reluctant Son of the South, it will follow Young from his beginnings in Georgia and Alabama to Los Angeles where he tied up with Van Dyke Parks, Gram Parsons and others before heading out on his own as a wandering troubadour, if you will.  Don’t recognize the name?  And no, he’s not the quarterback.  He wrote Seven Bridges Road, which The Eagles recorded for their live album, and Lonesome, Orn’ry & Mean which Waylon turned into a hit.  It’s a great story.  I might toss in an excerpt or two soon to whet your whistle…..  Like Folk/Psych?  I dug out The WinterpillsTuxedo of Ashes EP the other night and was once again floored.  Leftover tracks from the cutting room floor?  I think not.  It’s a beauty…..  Once again, allow me to talk Research Turtles.  Few bands have impressed me as much in the past few years (though Bright Giant certainly dented my ears).  In January, they hope to release the second part of their Mankiller project (Mankiller, Pt. One is available as I type), this recorded with the new lineup which now includes drumming maniac Chad Townsend.  The band lives north of Led Zeppelin and south of The Beatles, sprinkled with a little sugary pop here and there.  I suggest you take a listen and watch for Part Two…..  Nick Holmes mentioned that he is in San Francisco and may head into the studio with some local musicians.  Anything Holmes does has me intrigued.  He is a hidden treasure…..  Bill Jackson, a folkie from down under, just released a beauty of an album titled Jerilderie.  It is his best yet.  His songwriting is stellar this time around (as usual, I should say) and the recording quality is superb.  Pats on the back to mate Pete Fidler who is a dobro player of the quality of Randy Kohrs and Pat Wictor, two of my personal favorites…..  Joe Phillips at Wildcat Records has announced a number of rare Randy Burns tracks have been found and readied for release.  Burns cut his teeth in The Village back in the days of Phil Ochs and is well worth hearing…..  Chicago’s BRAAM have been working on their next album.  You can follow their progress on their Soundcloud page…..

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: dbawis@rogers.com Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you’d like to read about, links you’d like to share, and let us hear what you have to say.

Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

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