We went out for dinner the other night and the restaurant owner sat us under this message on the wall.
“Imperfection is beauty
madness is genius
and it’s better to be
than absolutely boring”
I don’t normally photograph restaurant walls, but this was so topical for what I keep seeing and was already thinking to write about.
The post-manners idea that if things are perfect they are good is a dangerous one. Humans are a messy lot. We are meant to be. Nature likes what we consider a mess. On a larger scale that creates what life needs, more life. Life becomes more because it feels more.
The Token Man
Something that is perfect (by modern logic) is without anything that might cause us to feel. We think it is perfect because it avoids us feeling bad. Equally, it prevents us from feeling anything. This lets up project whatever we want onto that blank canvas. We stay emptily happy.
This explains the vapidity of music (and most other forms) as the “ideal” is not to express but to provide the perfect safe backdrop for the viewer to project their fantasy onto. Sounds idylic.
But like any utopia, it has some heavy costs as it is outside of the way nature works. This is “absolutely boring”. To make great art, we need to be prepared to be “absolutely ridiculous”. For life to work, we need to feel.
She’s Lost Control
I have been asked several times recently to Edit some music to perfection. This is an example from yesterday.
A fellow has a song that he wants “cinematic drums” added to as he feels like while it is fine it lacks the uplifting feel of insert ideated-upon song.
The fellow finally showed his actual song, as he kept sharing the song with the drums he wanted (and I must say it was not a great track – like cardboard). His song was what one might call a Waif-like song. It started small, rose a tiny bit and then fell. Not terrible but not at all the Moon Rocket profile had as his idea of perfect. He hadn’t reached out as a performer.
His idea was that, simply & safely, with the addition of the right drums (courtesy of an insultingly small amount of money), his song would transform. As if perfection were simply a few edits by a “master perfect-ifier” away.
This is a Moon Rocket song. It builds all the way through with every fiber of its being – no editing needed:
To get there, this fellow needed to do what any band does when they take songs on the road. That is create new arrangements and new performances where (like the song above) all the parts exuded the required outcomes.
I tried to explain to him, simply gluing some drum samples on it would kinda work but not actually achieve his expectations of a song that lifts and lifts. To do that would seem unethical so I said I felt I had to step away.
This morning I got a snotty message about how if he had told me something else I might have served him better but luckily he didn’t tell me whatever this thing was as he has found much better people who are going to do what he wants. (he got blocked for his rudeness)
I could indeed have edited his song based on cliches of perfection by chopping it into bits and adding drums and making it louder as it went, but it would have failed. Maybe the client would have been happy in-the-moment but seeing he had not taken my lead about new vocals (or indicated any more budget to cover the extra work) the Up bits at the end could not possibly work as while they would be more Blammin’ they would still sound Down seeing that is how the performance was delivered.
He honestly believes that he doesn’t need to put in any effort and that magic editing will save him any discomfort. He can only lose from this. Sad indeed. Sadder is that someone else will be abandoning their true craft to try to hack his song into fake perfection.
It is not like I could turn his frowning vocal upside down to make it sound like it was smiling. Editing does not work this way. I know we have the impression that we can take some ugly scrag of a wasted crack whore and Photoshop her into Sophia Loren but it is false. While some will buy into the blank backdrop, that edited Eliza Donothing will not command the power of a Sophia Loren. Sophia is valued today because looking at her has us feel things.
As a man, Sophia causes me to ask if I am a good enough man to deserve her. It is not just in the trouser department, it is in the sense that a woman like Sophia deserves all that a True Man is as a person: a gentleman, a success, a provider, a defender… I assume a woman seeing Sophia Loren has to ask if she is all she can be too.
Eliza Donothing has no challenge at all. She is easy to look at but totally without purpose or merit. While she may seem perfect in some abstract way, there is no reason to care. Men desire her passingly. Interchangeably. Women wish only that they could be that unfeeling. Not good in any way.
Life becomes more
because it feels more
If you are a musician and have gotten to this point and wonder what I am really saying to you, it is this:
You cannot create a Great song simply by trying to make it seem without flaw. Perfect. You cannot edit out what is there or edit in what is not there.
The Song Gods (see video) gave the song to you because you can deliver it as it needs to be.
If they wanted the song delivered exactly the way Trailer Swift would do it, they would have given it to her (or more likely her staff writers).
You can deliver your song:
- Raw, like it is the very first time Jackson Browne is singing a song he just penned the last lines of five minutes ago. It will not be perfectly grand and polished with strings, horns, choir, but it will be intense.
- Polished from a well-rehearsed and beautifully delivered studio performance. This should add power to the raw version, maybe it trades some immediacy but it should have the central core of feeling (real feeling, not faux emoting) whilst building the beauty through other parts like those strings, horns, and choir.
Neither is right nor wrong as such. Some songs work better in one form, some in another. Some start public life in one form then transform once people understand them better.
The thing is that if you cannot do one then do the other. If you cannot allow yourself to do either, you are afflicted with fear. Fear that if you are not some vapid ideal of perfect, someone (maybe even you) will feel something and call you insane.
As an artist, why is it wrong to be seen as a bit nutty. Artists are supposed to see things differently. To see through the cracks, to dare to say and do what the ordinary person cannot.
To step away from that, especially under the delusion of perfection, is to choose to fail as a musician.
I get that about now someone is saying:
But look at all that vapid drivel on Spotifry that is getting accolades?
Surely that is what I gotta be doing?
Your call of course. But ask this Q: if you have been doing it this way for that long and you are not rolling in accolades, is this really a viable path?
(Good comeback) If you cannot be delivering one thing (see above) then deliver the other. Chasing that idea of perfection has not worked so do your best Michael Jackson: grab yourself by the crotch, jerk upwards, and see being a nutter as the way forward. Be honest, be open, be real, be everything that all that whitewashed plasterboard on Spotifry is NOT.
There are people out there dying for real Rock. Serve them with the songs that the Song Gods are sending especially to you. Do your real job.