Just Shut Up

logo A local sports talk radio station has a segment they call "Just Shut Up," where discontented sports fans call in and give sports personalities grief for stupid comments made during the week. The star running back who wants a new contract despite being suspended for drugs, the baseball executive who claims there are no steroids in his sport, the radio or television announcer who mispronounces Sammy Sofa's name - all are fair game for the fed up callers. It's all in good fun - and I started thinking that maybe this is something we need in the music world, but not for people who say stupid things or who play wrong notes, but how about for those musicians who are the scourge of the musical experience - the ones who play their instruments like a high school senior boy in the back seat on prom night - hard and fast and without any regard to the other parties involved or the mood at hand.

guitar art You all know these "shredders" - presumably talented lead guitarists - who can't find employment due to their excessive egos and mindless, never-ending noodling. Nor are guitarists only to blame: bass players who run roughshod over the melody, keyboard players who forget that they are playing a "song" and without warning turn into Keith Emerson, drummers who can't play a straight beat but can sure play a mean solo at the drop of a high-hat, and of course those divas whose orgasmic singing (never mind the words) display just where their sentiments lie - with themselves of course. Good musicians execute their parts, bad ones murder them - and no punishment seems harsh enough for the tone deaf, egocentrical, imbeciles who blaze ahead never realizing the damage they are doing.

(My friend, the Heretic, tells of this exchange often heard inside the walls of Studio West in San Diego:
Producer/Engineer (to lead guitarist) - "You know that really cool stuff you're doing with all the fast riffs and that awesome killer wailing?"
Guitarist (proudly): "Yes!"
Producer/Engineer: "Don't do that.")

Are they impressing anyone other than themselves? Sure - there are probably a few shallow fools and brain dead groupies amazed by tight jeans and lightening quick riffs that never seem to end, but the majority of serious music listeners I think know better. This is not to say all soloing should go by the wayside - an appropriate solo at an appropriate time within the context is a beautiful thing. Nor would I wish to infringe on the important element of self expression exhibited in extemporaneous soloing, but let's keep it to a minimum, eh? And as for the "jam" bands currently touring, I will make no comment. They aren't my cup of tea, but seem to attract a devoted following.

In the 80's a number of artists spoke out about against solos completely. Joe Jackson said he didn't like jazz because he didn't like listening to someone solo for 20 minutes. I'm afraid, despite my sincere love of jazz I must concur. Others held up the Neil Young one note guitar solo from "Cinnamon Girl" as the exemplar of all solos. A great emotional solo, but I wouldn't give up hearing Fripp, Hendrix, Zappa or Holdsworth (and I'm sure you have your favorites) play their amazing stuff. But for a while, even continuing to today, guitar solos have become an endangered species among most pop and rock music. Perhaps this was going a bit far.

To me nothing gets the blood pumping more than an exciting guitar solo, and nothing spells amateur so much as a lead player who riffs through the whole song. Even a cat like Stevie Ray Vaughn - whose forte was the blues riff, spaced the chops out in service to the song. And that to me is where it's at - as a musician you are a slave to the song and must serve it in your proper capacity. So next time you see one of these half-assed, juvenile riff monsters mashing up your favorite local bands arrangement you know what to tell them.

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