Friday, May 14, 2010

The Epistemology Of Stevie Nicks

The clouds
Never expect it
When it rains
But the sea
Changes color
But the sea
Does not change

Stevie Nicks, “Edge of Seventeen”

For today I wanted to have an elaboration of yesterday’s post. I wanted to have something about the nature of art and some measure for assessing value. Some way to speak to or about the complaint some people make about some art and entertainment being dubious. Yesterday’s post included a quote from an art critic who labeled Karen Kilimnik’s work as “feeble.”

I don’t have that post but I have a couple of Stevie Nicks stories that touch on this issue.

All my life, the best musicians I’ve known have been jazz musicians.

The second-best guitar player I’ve ever known had a collection of bootleg tapes of bad performances by famous musicians. He traded these with friends. It is a hobby shared by a lot of people in the entertainment business. One of his favorite tapes was Stevie Nicks recorded live singing something during one of the bad stretches in her life and without audio processing of any kind on her voice. It was pretty horrible. It sounded like some hoodlums had chained up an old drunk behind a car and were dragging her along an alley and she was screaming in pain as her bones cracked.

But no matter how many musicians I’ve heard laugh uproariously at this tape, every musician I talked to still did covers of one or two Stevie Nicks songs and every musician—although sometimes grudgingly and only in private—would admit that they still liked some of her songs and still enjoyed hearing her sing when she could keep her voice together.

I knew a woman who was an aspiring jazz singer. One evening she asked me if I ever heard of Stevie Nicks and I said I had heard of her. My friend said a lot of people at her shows had been requesting a Stevie Nicks song called “Rhiannon” and she asked me if I’d heard it. I said I had heard it. “My bass player taught it to me,” my friend said. “He did an arrangement for us. Do you know that song is just two fucking chords?” I nodded. I said, “Yeah, but it’s a good song.” My friend looked at me and just like in an espionage movie her eyes narrowed. “It’s just two fucking chords,” she said. “We rehearse songs that take us hours to get right. And people are requesting this stupid Stevie Nicks shit with two fucking chords. Are people fucking retards?” I said, “Well, you know, you can use more than two chords if you want to. When I play it I harmonize the whole bass run kind of.” “Yeah,” my friend said, “but the whole song is still just two fucking chords. What the fuck?” But she performed the song. And even though her band never took the trouble to make a cool arrangement of the song, every performance I saw the audience loved it. My friend never would admit—even grudgingly and in private—that a two-chord song could be a great song.

One time I played a song I wrote that mentioned Stevie Nicks for a young woman. The song included these lyrics:

      What if tomorrow morning
      Everyone in the world
      Dressed like Stevie Nicks
      That would be cool

The young woman had never heard of Stevie Nicks. And the aesthetic issues of dressing like Stevie Nicks had never made the transition from women of my generation to the younger set. I’d hoped to springboard from talking about dressing like Stevie to talking about writing songs like Stevie to get a feel for what the next generation would be thinking about two-chord songs but I never got the chance.

I bet that art critic who doesn’t like Karen Kilimnik doesn’t like Stevie Nicks, either. Maybe she never even heard of Stevie Nicks.

She’d still look cool if she dressed like Stevie Nicks.

That says something about the power of art. Even “feeble” [?] art.

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Dreams unwind
Love’s a state of mind


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