“Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent.” – Miles Davis
For some reason, this quote by Miles Davis has been swirling around in my head lately. About once every couple of months I engage in a conversation with someone about whether or not art should be judged purely at face value or if it’s appropriate to consider details about the artist’s life when assessing a piece of music (or art).
It’s a difficult question to answer, if not impossible, since pretty much any piece of music that we find appealing, naturally fills us with at least a fleeting desire to learn more about it. But once we do, how we hear that music is never really the same.
Going back to the quote, it seems as though Davis is saying that the effect of knowing personal details about an artist might not have as much influence on how we hear their music as we think. By stressing the importance of the “attitude” of the person playing or creating the music one could deduce that by just paying attention to it you have already engaged with the artist on an intimate level.
There is something both fascinating (and maybe terrifying) about this idea that if you happen to fancy a Wagner Opera you are communing with one of Hitler’s favorite composers. Or you may love Julien Baker’s music and have no idea that she got her start playing music at her local church. Of course, I’m not saying that just by appreciating a piece of music you are condoning everything about the artist’s lifestyle that made it. But the lines are clearly up for debate.
Perhaps, a more interesting question is if the accessibility of so much sampled, digital and automated material for musicians is possibly creating an obstacle for being able to express one’s individuality? Of course, there are still a lot of options for manipulating it. But when it’s mostly keystrokes and mouse clicks, how much personal mojo is truly possible? Is it easier or harder to express one’s individuality with more (for lack of a better term) analog tools?
Below is a playlist of songs that have resonated with me in the past month. I hope they bring more joy and flow to your life. Happy Women’s History Month! Thanks for listening, MMM
Included are songs by Nan Turner, Julien Baker, Arlo Parks, Goat Girl, Cassandra Jenkins, PJ Harvey, Dry Cleaning, Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Brainiac, J Dilla, Duval Timothy, Twin Shadow, Matt Sweeny, Bonny Prince Billy, FM Einheit, Lee Ranaldo, Sonic Youth, John Coltrane, David Byrne.
(Subscribe to get a new playlist every 1st Monday of the month. Click on my user link or search: Major Matt’s 1st Monday on Spotify to cruise past playlists and discover more music.)