There is a struggle within all who create to constantly be presenting their best work. I learned this lesson years ago after talking with a musician whom I respect a great deal. I met him after a show once and when I asked him why he didn't play a certain song off of an album that at that time was 3 years old already he replied, "I've retired that song for better ones."
I thought to myself silently at the time, "I don't feel like these are better songs." As the weeks past though, I thought about his response over and over. It was something that would just pop into my head at the strangest times. "I've retired that song for better ones." Who decided that these songs were better than the old ones that I had cherished, learned every word to, created my own harmonies to and set my life to? Was that a decision that was made by the artist doing the creating, or by the audience doing the listening? I felt like Veruca Salt asking Willy Wonka with my tounge out, "Snozzberrys? Who ever heard of a snozzberry?".
After thinking about it for sometime, I believe that the relationship between creator and consumer is much more complex than most think. That is why I wanted to talk to Jace on the most recent episode of the podcast about our history with the band AFI.
I think that something very special came of our conversation. Musical tastes change. So often however, we equate our tastes to whether or not something is "good". How do we quantify "good" within the arts? Is it simply a matter of musical prowess and ability to play an instrument well? Is it based on the popularity of a song or an album? Does all "good" music fit into a certain genre, tempo, form or key?
To a certain extent, some of these elements do help us judge music. It frustrates me however, when our own personal musical tastes get in the way of being able to appreciate, discover and talk about music. That's not to say that musical tastes are bad or that it is wrong to enjoy the music that we do, but I think that it is important to find a way to understand music that we aren't naturally drawn to.
Nothing illustrates the divide between musical tastes and "good" music quite like the 20th century 12-tone composer Schoenberg. I don't think there is a figure in the classical music world who is more controversial. Certainly, when I was studying his music in university, it seemed like every class someone would tell the professor how his music sounded like noise and was garbage.
Do I like Schoenberg's music? Not really. Can I appreciate what he was trying to do? Absolutely. He took an art form with very set expectations, forms and rules and presented a completely new way of composing. After using the same musical language for close to 1000 years, he was successful in creating his own language. That language has been adapted and is used in many popular tunes today. You can check out some of Schoenberg's music here.
So what does this have to do with AFI? I don't particularly enjoy the direction that their music has taken over the last 10 years but I can appreciate the changes that they have made to their sound. I can understand how their sound has evolved and ultimately allows them to express ideas that their older sound probably didn't lend itself to. Just because I don't like it, doesn't mean it's not "good". The more I have realized this concept in my own musical tastes, the more I have enjoyed music as a whole.
I believe that the best musicians consider their newest music to be their best. We all know those bands that had 2 hits in the 80's and now are destined to a life a dive bars and casinos playing the same songs over and over. When I think about AFI in that way, I am actually pretty happy that they have moved on to a different sound with different instruments that merely hearkens back to their more hardcore days.
AFI is a different band from when I used to listen to them and perhaps more importantly, I am a different person than my 17 year old self. I don't see myself listening to much of AFI's music anymore but I can appreciate it. And if I ever find myself nostalgic I can always watch old concert clips on YouTube like this one. In all honesty, it would be pretty weird to see the AFI today playing a show like this; awesome but weird.
So what do you think? Leave a comment on this post, or tweet me @knownothingpod. Do you think that audience determines what songs should be played or should the musicians present what they feel is their best music? If you haven't checked out Ep.03 of The KnowNothing Podcast be sure to give it a listen. Jace Forsyth and I have a great conversation about our experience of listening to AFI after taking a 10 year hiatus. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, SoundCloud and many other podcast apps. Also be sure to rate and review the podcast on your favorite app. It really does help us out and we love the feedback. Connect with us to hear our next podcast which is scheduled to come out on January 15.