Quantcast
 Everett True

She led a troubled life, apparently. Doesn’t everyone?

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

I’ve always been indifferent to Whitney. I certainly never hated her, though. She’s not Thatcher.

Some folk say her voice was wonderful, unable to fault technically. I’m not a fan of prog rock. I couldn’t ever give a fuck about technical stuff when it comes to creating music, frankly. Far as I’m concerned, 99.9 per cent of the time she was as close to – and simultaneously as far off from – the mark as this:

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, do yourself a favour and listen to the original right now.

This one I like:

It would be odd if I didn’t, considering my fondness for Madonna songs of the time.

Like many other people I never forgave her for this:

As I say, though, I’m mostly indifferent. Her world and my world rarely collided. I didn’t like the way people who valued her seemed to value proficiency and musicianship over imagination, same way I’ve never been fond of drum solos. (I write “seemed”. I’m prepared to believe people might value her for other reasons.) Still. I always found Mariah Carey more objectionable. She spawned American Idol. I appreciate there’s also an argument to be had that Whitney spawned Mariah.

She also had this one as well. Unforgivable:

This was Michael Jackson bad. (When Michael was bad he was very very bad and when he was good he was genius.)

Mariah redeemed herself with an astonishing Christmas song. Whitney never quite did that … right?

Unforgivable, I say? Wait. Here are a couple of comments left on Facebook today:

Laura Moreau: 

Here’s something for her. Everett, if you want an actual fan of Whitney to write about her, I’d be honored: Couldn’t sleep. Oh God, Whitney. I spent last night surrounded by people who love you, singing your songs. So many perfect songs. Your Voice was the first one I remember feeling absolute wonder about: a person can DO That? Your power, awesome range, clarity, finesse, and still, through all that polish, the grit cut. Your heart, cut, and there for all to feel. Your Voice is the standard for me, the one I measure other voices against. But somehow today, all I hear in my head and teary heart is Billie singing ‘You Ain’t Gonna Bother Me No More’. My very soul goes out to you and your family, especially your daughter. Rest In Peace, Whitney. I simply cannot believe you are gone.

White Hotel:

Her voice was a completely indecent joy. Her tone alone, the way it pulled at her, pulled out of her, left her sweating. She was never the most polished performer, anyone who saw her live could tell you; she let her voice be the monster it was and she let it take her over. I’d sit up late, night after night, jet lagged or insomniac, hunting down version after version of ‘All The Man I Need’, just to see her contain that monster, and then let it go.

Hmm. I find it very hard to get past the production – and bloody saxophone!  – on this one, but I begin to appreciate what White Hotel is talking about. If this song had a different polish and was from the 60s, or 70s, there’s every chance I’d like it. A whole lot.

This is the Internet. I’m going to steal. The following is taken from Neil Kulkarni’s page on Facebook.

Neil Kulkarni: 

I shan’t pretend I was a fan – but this record was fucking astonishing, and hinted at a possible way for Whitney to make records that suited HER rather than her persona. Very sad to hear we won’t ever get to hear them. RIP Whitney.

Neil Kulkarni:

This record was congruent with a lot of Timbaland productions that were similiarly precise and fierce, and the lyrics to this are just great: really suggested that she’d found a way to sing songs she could get her teeth into, songs that were grown up and that she didn’t have to still be ‘america’s sweetheart’ to perform. Sadly unfollowed really in the subsequent decade, and now, s’too late. S’a shitty business.

She wrote this herself as well, and that’s why it seems to have that little bit of grit: amazing Rodney Jerkins production as well.

Lucy Cage:

Just too heartbreaking that her story is over, book closed, no possibility of better endings. Same as with Amy W last year. I hate the narrative of apparent inevitability that will get spun out from now on.

Neil Kulkarni:

If a woman is photographed drunk at any point, the narrative becomes one of inevitability, then smug satisfaction that things have played out accordingly.

Related posts: Hello from Olympia, WA – 6: Why I Cried when Whitney Died

49 Responses to She led a troubled life, apparently. Doesn’t everyone?

  1. Joseph Kyle February 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    I agree with your sentiments, Everett. Didn’t dislike her, didn’t like her, kind of indifferent. I kinda like Lisa Carver’s take on it, it sort of sums it up best:

    Nobody asked, but I’m going to tell you anyway my take on Whitney Houston. She was not a good singer. Singers should make you feel the story, the feeling. With Whitney all you could notice was her voice and what she did with it. “Saving All My Love For You” was about somebody waiting for her married with children lover to come over so she could show him what he was missing in his committed relationship, since she had all that time to get her nails done and her engines revved. Yet she sang it with the same clear, perfect, loud and then quiet, just perfectly messed around with voice as she did Dolly Parton’s incredibly sweet and simple “I Will Always Love You,” which was about being faithful and generous to someone even while rancorously breaking ties with them. The stories of the song should receive the treatment that best tells it rather than what best showcases someone’s vocal range. Also, she was a lousy dresser and dancer. I found her personality funny and heartfelt, but then again, I do enjoy the white trash sensibility, and that’s what crack will do to anyone with a soul. People think that when you have money and talent, that is supposed to magically take care of the addiction. Actually I think the opposite is true. Those things allow you to feel like you still have control of your life, that you’re managing your life, and the proof is not ALL your money and fame and abilities are depleted. I wish she had gotten better — not because I ever wanted to hear her sing again, but because I think she was an honest, gutsy person who could have helped other people, and enjoyed herself doing it.

  2. Everett True February 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    That’s a great comment from Lisa.

  3. kay February 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm

  4. darragh February 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    I found this local blog post about the whole thing quite interesting – http://www.myauralfixation.com/2012/02/rip-newsgasm.html

  5. Golightly February 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    I’d call this mean.

  6. Everett True February 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    There’s some wry commentary on the Australian reaction to Whitney’s death from Mess+Noise, which can be found over here.

  7. zel February 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    I don’t call it mean. I call it quietly respectful. And oddly, cos I don’t agree with Everett on a lot of things, it’s what I might have said myself.

    I’m sad for her family.

  8. Princess Stomper February 13, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    It’s rare that I entirely agree with ET, but I totally agree with this. And also with zel – it’s sad when almost anybody dies, because of the people they leave behind who love them.

  9. white hotel February 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    grr. I love Lisa, but she’s talking nonsense here. To someone with her no-wave ears, Whitney’s emotional range is like a dog whistle. It’s just BEYOND. Trying to make small points with a tone like that is like trying to make Everest accessible by pony and trap.

    ‘I Will Always Love You’ is a beautiful, careful song with a complex point to make. At the time she recorded it, Whitney was persuaded to deliver almost the entire thing in her top throat tone, a decision which meant she spent the next 3 years in a permanent professional endurance test. She was nervous about being the first African-American actress to open a major romantic drama, she wanted the song to help sell the film, and she knew that making it a showcase of her incomparable tone would do that. These are the kind of worries, to be fair, that most of us never ever have to think about, and again, pretty much outside of the average person’s emotional range. See that performance for what it is: a defiant display of power in the face of the kind of fear most of us can’t imagine. And when you’ve done that, SHUT UP.

  10. white hotel February 14, 2012 at 8:06 am

    ET, try this one. It’s her: sweating, flip top head, mad eyes, teeth snapping down at the end of the phrase, like her own voice was a mountain she had to climb every time. So beautiful!

  11. Lisa February 14, 2012 at 8:51 am

    White Hotel, haha, you’re right. I have no-wave ears. Where did you go? Come be my FaceBook buddy. I disagree with you completely, of course. She makes each word of “I Will Always Love You” LOSE ALL MEANING. She replaces the story of the song with the story of her voice. But I like to think of you hearing how you hear.

  12. LloydB February 14, 2012 at 9:07 am

    I totally agree with Lisa. And maybe I have “no-wave” ears also but I think Tina Turner manages to achieve with conviction what Whitney and Maria pretend to.

  13. max de vitor February 14, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    It’s not the way she sings (…or sang),…but the way You listen to !
    A certain voice could “evoke” ‘n'”provoke”.
    It’s not if U like or “dislike” that voice …but it’s about the fact that voice “touched you inside” !
    All the subjects here r writing about it….all “touched” inside, in different ways, yes…. but certainly ‘unequivocally “touched” !!!
    Otherwise there would be just apathetic indifference…and not all these posts.

  14. lule February 14, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    so you’re saying anyone who sings in time and on point is a bad singer? She sings both technically well and puts emotion and fun into her songs. Its that stupid hipster mentality of anything thats too straight laced and clean=bad.

  15. Martin February 15, 2012 at 4:06 am

    I completely agree with @lule:

    An assertion like “As I say, though, I’m mostly indifferent. Her world and my world rarely collided. I didn’t like the way people who valued her seemed to value proficiency and musicianship over imagination” needs clarification. There is a certain mentality shining through such comments, as if any aspiration for technical perfection and virtuosity forbid imagination or individuality. Of course, you don’t explicitly exclude those for Whitney Houston, but still, the statement seems a bit dismissive without even considering if something the like applies to her. It reminds me of teenagers hating classical music because of a similar attitude against mastery, without even being interested in what the specific point of view of classical musicians is, for that matter. Or else, someone should have told Miles Davis who was frackin proud of his technical and theoretical (he was a Strawinski aficionado!) skills according to his auto-biography. And still, his world was improvisation – he created entire LPs out of improvisations – the alleged, or at least implied trade-off simply doesn’t exist.

    I’d rather put it the other way round: lots of musicians (and perhaps even more so their fans) with fantastic ideas but lacking formal training presume to some sort of hyperbole, claiming that somehow a solid base is a straightjacket, or something. Exactly how this should be true escapes me and I have absolutely no idea why it is so often stated as somehow self-evident. What I see often, though, is musicians with perfectly recorded songs who simply aren’t able to deliver live, simply because their technical skills don’t fit their ideas, and that’s really a shame. (Freddie Mercury, live, during the difficult parts, anybody? – let’s be honest: more often than not it was screaming around missing the high notes; that is if he didn’t switch to a lower register before, anyway. An intriguing voice, but lacking the technique to use it accordingly – to interpret his own ideas, for god’s sake – how is this anything else than speaking for a proper training, proficiency and musicianship?)

    Whitney, on the contrary, delivered flawlessly at the very least (before her decline). But even more her breathtaking skills allowed her to perform what she had in mind, where others’ performances are dictated by their technical deficits, and gave her the freedom to push the music in any direction she wanted to. And that’s the simple reason why people love her voice, not because they admire some robotic idea of perfection. This dismissive allusion to proficiency is a caricature of what the whole thing really is about, telling more about silly preconceptions how “creative” music has to work than anything about what musicians like Whitney did.

    That said, I’m sorry if it seems as if I singled you out for this. In fact, I don’t even think that it’s really what you meant. But coming across similar assertions recently I felt I had to say that once…

  16. Daniel February 15, 2012 at 4:59 am

    @lule

    It’s not about being on pitch, that makes it miss with some people. Personally, I feel like I’m listening to a technician instead of an artist. Part of the performance is inhabiting a character or a moment in time. When she lost her pitch control and range, what was left?

  17. Everett True February 15, 2012 at 10:40 am

    …and gave her the freedom to push the music in any direction she wanted to…

    But she didn’t take advantage of that freedom, did she?

    And where I have ever said that I don’t value proficiency? Of course it’s great to be a mistress of your tools: but what still counts, really, is what use you put them to.

  18. Erika February 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    I’m obviously in the minority. I thought she *was* emotionally expressive with her voice. I didn’t like EVERYTHING she did, but I thought she did a good job vocally interpreting the stories in the songs, and I loved the power in her voice.

    I have gotten chills listening to Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You.” Just listened again… I still like it. Do I like the production? NO. (80s corporate rock) Do I like the song? YES. but….

    (Isn’t “I will always love you” really what you think about 3 days before you change your tune to “DIE FUCKING DIE AND ROT IN HELL, YOU MISERABLE ASSHOLE”…?)

    Do I like Whitney’s interpretation of the song? YES. Of course, I like hearing Dolly sing it in her sweet vulnerable country way, but Whitney took it to such a different place, a more powerful sounding place. I like that too.

    I liked The Wailers’ “I Shot The Sheriff” way WAY better than Clapton’s, but for some reason, radio wants to play Clapton not Marley, and Whitney not Dolly.

    So it goes.

  19. Princess Stomper February 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I don’t think proficiency needs to be an either-or thing. Whitney gave me chills on I Wanna Dance With Somebody – but left me utterly cold with everything else. Hell, even Mariah’s Vision of Love sent shivers down my spine – but I hated everything else she did.

    Perhaps I like the earlier material best because it feels a lot less self-conscious? I guess it feels like, in those early tunes, the voice serves the song rather than vice versa. When the song is in the foreground, having an amazing talent seems like a thrilling, unexpected extra. There’s something vulgar about having it pushed way out in front, when the song is just notes strung together to show off the voice.

  20. white hotel February 15, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    This is the thing, though: the people who don’t like her (either because she’s ‘a technician’ or because they associate her with a production style they can’t stand) then go on to talk about her vocal performance as ‘soulless’ (sorry, white boy, you just don’t get to say that about a black woman who grew up in the gospel tradition) or undifferentiated, when it’s quite clear she had an enormous tonal range. Sure, there’s pressure behind every tone, even her lightest head tone (‘I Wanna Dance’, ‘How Will I Know’), but that’s not some sort of emotional caps lock, that’s just what she had to wOrk with. Growing up with Cissy Houston and Dionne Warwick, singing to congregations instead of a hairbrush, will do that to you.

  21. white hotel February 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Lisa (and hi, and how are you doing?, and I’ve been working super hard, and I will totally come be yr FB buddy) – I’m so surprised to see you say this about Whitney when you’ve Mariah’s vibrato and her use of whistle register, which are way more emotionally alienating techniques and often so misread… These women are dinosaurs, no?

  22. white hotel February 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    I mean… we know what a Mariah song sounds like sung flatly; it sounds like ‘Stillness Is The Move’. People preferring that, well I’m a bit lost with you, honestly.

  23. Martin February 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    @ Everett True

    “And where I have ever said that I don’t value proficiency?” Nowhere. As I said, I’m sorry if it seems as I sort of singled you out on this, on the contrary, you quite explicitly say the contrary. So, my apologies, I felt like I had to say that as I stumbled across this kind of BS a lot – and you know, somewhere the trolls must get rid of their Very Important Thoughts, I am no exception.

    As you suggest yourself pertaining to the live performance of “All the man I live”, I really do think that she took advantage of the freedom. And I’m not so much talking about her range, but about the detailing and coloring of her intonation (she could not only sing “loud and then quiet”) that, as far as I can tell, is not at all detached from the meaning of the words she’s singing. That, again, is only possible because of her technical skills. There is really no difference between liking her voice and liking her interpretation, it’s two faces of the same coin. However, I also think that her studio recordings are sterile. Maybe that’s due to the pop genre (?), but then again, nobody forced her to do that.

    Apart from that I tend to believe that if one pretends to judge a musician one should not conflate one’s dislike for a genre with one’s grasp of the musician. I think Lisa Carver made that mistake in her above statement, but I can only guess. Take her characterisation of “Saving All My Love For You”: I re-read the lyrics several times, how did Carver come up with the “since she had all that time to get her nails done and her engines revved.” part? Is it in the video? WTF? It’s a complete distortion of what the lyrics mean: a desparate love between a woman and a married man. Call it hideous. Call it kitsch. Call it primitve. But what the heck is Carver talking about? And following that, her stance on Parton’s “I will always love you”, as if for some reason one couldn’t read it as the love song Houston took it as (and I don’t even like it!). Of course, completely distorting the meaning of the first song and deliberately linking the second to Parton’s take, as if the lyrics wouldn’t allow another interpretation (go, read!) affords her the pseudo-conclusion that these two are of a completely different topic, following that Houston is indifferent in her performances. Also, accurately but reductively describing Houson’s singing style strikes me as a poor form of criticism (is describing Armstrong’s singing as ‘gravelly’ a negative criticism, for instance?) And that’s all the reasoning there is in the statement. Seriously, why did she even bother? And how is that ‘also she can’t dance, dress, or get her hair done, also, too, she’s ugly, her nose is to small, she walked like gollum and probably smelt from her mouth, but I somehow like that and she was a nice person’ part anything but offensive? This comment, telling that she really, really did not like anything of what Houston was doing professionally, should somehow channel the indifference towards Houston the commenter feels? Eh?? Funny kind of indifference, that.

    Sorry for my lenghty comments, you’ll tell me if I annoy you…

  24. Princess Stomper February 15, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    “sorry, white boy, you just don’t get to say that about a black woman who grew up in the gospel tradition”

    Isn’t that kind of like assuming that Carlton in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air would be a great basketball player because he’s black?

    That’s not to say that Whitney was incapable of “soul”, but her ethnicity and churchgoing habits don’t automatically qualify her.

  25. white hotel February 15, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    ‘ “sorry, white boy, you just don’t get to say that about a black woman who grew up in the gospel tradition”

    Isn’t that kind of like assuming that Carlton in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air would be a great basketball player because he’s black? ‘

    No.

    ‘That’s not to say that Whitney was incapable of “soul”, but her ethnicity and churchgoing habits don’t automatically qualify her.’

    No, it doesn’t. My point (I didn’t realise it was obscure) is that the very concept of soul music comes from gospel. Whitney is steeped in that tradition; LloydB, I’m guessing, not so much. People toss around the term ‘soul’ as though it means whatever gives them most authentic pleasure; it’s a racialised, Pentecostal, historically specific cultural-ctritical term that’s really badly discussed here.

  26. Rob February 15, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    @Martin: Slightly OT, but do you think Freddie Mercury would have delivered a better performance by standing glued to the spot and hitting all the high notes? Or by prancing around in commanding way and occasionally falling short of breath?

  27. Princess Stomper February 15, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    @ white hotel – I don’t think that the people disagreeing with you don’t “get” soul. More that we take the view of The Commitments, and think it’s an attitude thing.

  28. LloydB February 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Yep… i got not soul in my white boy asshole. And i’m certainly not the expert in gospel or rhythm and blues. But the context of the songs I’ve heard (and we’re talking prime – eighties to early nineties period) was schmaltzy ballads and pop music for high MTV rotation. They exist to compete with Billy Joel. If she had soul, she sold it, and her classic tracks absolutely reek of Reagan era conformism, and the 80s yuppie dream. White Hotel, are you sure you aren’t Bret Easton Ellis composing an addendum to American Psycho?

  29. white hotel February 15, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    @Princess S: I like your writing and I respect you, but you’re way off here. Soul is not an attitude – it’s a very specific term. It’s not an agree to differ thing; it matters that white musicians and critics misuse and appropriate soul. The gospel tradition uses ‘soul’ to convey the movement of soul through the voice – it’s the human equivalent of the holy spirit.

    LloydB: you’re radically misreading the Black music of that time, sorry. Your earlier comparison of Whitney to Phil Collins was cloth-eared at best, weasel at worst, kinda like your comparison between music critique and fictionalised psychopathy. Those artists are nothing alike, they’re not even comparable; you’re clearly not hearing anything but your own prejudices.

    If you’d asked ‘can we really separate artists like Whitney and Michael Jackson from the reactionary effect of the white production ethic and sales context they were expected to conform to?’ I might respond less harshly, but honestly you’re just coming off like an uninformed dick here. ‘Reagan-era conformism’ doesn’t mean anything unless you define it, and since you won’t engage with an analysis of the music, I’m struggling a bit with knowing what you might mean.

  30. Daniel February 16, 2012 at 1:58 am

    I wish Patrick Bateman reviewed music. I’ve noted a number of his clones at P4k, but they don’t drop gems like this:

    “Whitney sings with a grandeur that approaches the sublime. [The Greatest Love of All] universal message crosses all boundaries and instills one with the hope that it’s not too late for us to better ourselves, to act kinder. Since it’s impossible in the world we live in to empathize with others, we can always empathize with ourselves.”

  31. Martin February 16, 2012 at 2:36 am

    @ Rob

    No, I certainly don’t think that. Actually, perhaps I should have been more clear, I am not a purist who winces at every wrong note. But there is a limit to that, especially if voice matters, and it matters to a different extent depending on genre and even individual songs. As a Madonna fan without reserve, I hope she lip-syncs and does the kind of show only she can pull off at the moment when performing a song like ‘music’. When performing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” (or “Love profusion”, which I really like, but I seem to be the only one) on the contrary, I hope she stands “glued to the spot” to be able to deliver that sibilant-clear stable voice of hers that renders her interpretation of that song quite enjoyable (and there certainly is a reason why she took singing lessons at the time).

    Freddie Mercury. Hitting a high note, or any note for that matter, is not a feature in and of itself, but there are notes that are important. For example, the pitch on “fighting” in “We are the champions” certainly does matter, for quite obvious reasons, but show me one live version, where he hits it, if not obviously accidentally – or where he even attempts to hit it. In one version he’s playing the piano, so the moving around on stage is not the reason why he constantly fails (and he falls short of breath all the time, he has no control over his breathing; I don’t consider that as especially important, but it’s certainly not a feature). More importantly, during the difficult parts his voice completely lacks the power which usually propels the songs, it all becomes a forced screaming instead. If you decide to galvanize a melody by pushing it against the upper limits of your voice range, you should be sure that this limit under real conditions (that is, outside the studio) isn’t three steps beneath what you composed (e.g. “Another one bites the dust”, towards the end, live versions), except you want the live performance to spell utter distaster when it comes to those parts. The point is that the whole thing breaks down – not a single note, but the whole melody. I quite believe in some sort of stage magic. But I don’t think that there is some nexus emanating from a stage that trascends whatever the musicians fail to do and opens a door to a metaphysical space where you can grasp the underlying idea directly. There is something like quality in a performance, and stage performers are responsible for it: if a musician tries an ambitious melody and fails, he fails. Period. And believe it or not, I actually like most Queen live performances, and Freddie Mercury had a great voice – but he lacked command over it, and where this mattered, he inevitably screwed up.

    Back to Houston: she has some songs, like them or hate them, where melody is everything. There she stands glued to the spot for a reason: it is the best starting point for performing this kind of song. If something is wrong with that, one should be a bit specific and point it out, complaining that it’s a boring sight is besides the point. What I have seen here in the comments is an attempt to show that she was not a good singer, by adding a simply invented and embarrassing element to a song and then saying something like:”Look how silly Houston did that thing I invented out of thin air and she never did!” Or basically saying that Houston is not a good singer because she isn’t up to an alleged reference that is presented as an ideal without pointing to an actual argument. Or comparing something she never did to something someone else did and complaining it didn’t match. For some reason, that passes as “a great comment”. I’d say if you need to decorate your vague distaste for somebody by ridiculing her and inventing stuff, your argument isn’t really strong. And don’t tell me Carver felt ‘indifferent’ – if she really didn’t bother, why did she bother, especially if nobody asked her? That’s a thinly diguised “haters gonna hate” affair (“prancing around in commanding way”, really?) pertaining to somebody who had perfect command over her voice (before you-know-what…). That is not to say that one may not critisize Houston, but critisizing and badmouthing her (under the pretense that it’s just because she was a nice person, really, at least after all that CRAP with which she HARASSED us relentlessly) is not the same thing.

  32. lulu February 16, 2012 at 3:58 am

    is it me or does this website hate anyone who isn’t white, middle class and female?
    Just look at the way you push up Dolly Parton against Whitney? Seriously leave Whitney alone, she had an amazing voice and sass to boot.

  33. Wallace Wylie February 16, 2012 at 5:31 am

    I actually don’t mind early Whitney Houston, but a lot of these defences of her read as people trying to prove that it is an ACTUAL INDISPUTABLE FACT that she was good and if you don’t think she was good there is something wrong with the way you think. That is bullshit. Nobody is indisputably good.

  34. Wallace Wylie February 16, 2012 at 5:34 am

    Also, soul may have begun as a specific term, it isn’t now. When Public Enemy said “I know you got soul” they weren’t referring to any church traditions. It is actually a highly complex word that has been cheapened by many but its uses are far wider than those talked about above.

  35. Martin February 16, 2012 at 6:01 am

    @ Wallace Wylie

    I don’t know whom you are referring to, but I tried to be specific. If you discern any assertion where I generalize or imply that something subjective is “indisputable” I’d be grateful if you let me know. Also, I did not – at least not consciously – say that something is wrong with somebody’s thinking if they don’t think Houston was good. But I tried to point to some general tropes and a specific comment here that I really think are not valid. If you think I have been unfair or that I completely misrepresented an argument, again, please let me know.

  36. Princess Stomper February 16, 2012 at 6:37 am

    I think singing is a lot like acting. You’re communicating an experience, and when people talk about “soul”, it’s whether the experience described in the lyrics (or, perhaps, melody) is believably conveyed to the audience. I don’t think you have to be the protagonist in the lyrics – that would make cover versions impossible – but it’s about putting something of yourself, your essence, your soul, into the voice just as the actor becomes the character for the role. When I talk about a soulless vocal performance, it’s the equivalent of wooden acting – it doesn’t mean fluffing your lines or doing anything wrong technically, but about not conveying some human element to the audience.

    As I said before, though, her early stuff did hit the nail that way.

  37. Everett True February 16, 2012 at 9:13 am

    is it me or does this website hate anyone who isn’t white, middle class and female?
    Just look at the way you push up Dolly Parton against Whitney?

    Whoa. Here’s someone who’s really not done their research.

  38. Wallace Wylie February 16, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Martin. I was referring more to white hotel than you but I would take huge issue with this statement:

    “I don’t think that there is some nexus emanating from a stage that trascends whatever the musicians fail to do and opens a door to a metaphysical space where you can grasp the underlying idea directly. There is something like quality in a performance, and stage performers are responsible for it: if a musician tries an ambitious melody and fails, he fails. Period.”

    You do say I think, but then you slip into talking about things as if they are concrete facts. What if I am capable of enjoying a vocal performance where a singer fails to hit certain notes? What if I do grasp some underlying idea? Am I wrong? Do I need to be schooled in how to appreciate a vocal performance?

  39. Martin February 16, 2012 at 10:46 am

    @ Wallace Wylie

    First of all, schooling was never intended, so apparently I didn’t get my point across well, let me try again. If a singer attempts to sing a melody, but screws up, information gets lost. Sure, there are other, superimposed features as sound level, expressiveness etc., so not all is lost, but I’d argue that the melody transports an essential part of the information (depending on how much weight is assigned to the melody in the composition) – that’s why it’s there in the first place; if not, melody would be unimportant.

    What I wanted to say is that musicians who put a lot of thought in the development of melodies – and I’d argue that Queen belongs to them – do it for a reason. And it’s a pity if you listen to a live preformance where the singer strongly deviates from the original – not because he wants to give it an authentic and deliberate spin, but obviously because he isn’t capable. Obviously, because his voice is forced, he never reaches out for those high notes that are clearly there to be reached out for, he always switches to the octave beneath when it comes to higher-pitched passages, etc. As I said, single notes are not important, but if the intended (!) melody falls apart and isn’t delivered, there is a problem. That is, the singer is unable to realise his very own ideas. I’d argue that this amounts to a real loss of information. Not some wonky, technical information some geek insists on, but information the artist himself wanted to deliver, but couldn’t. But I concede that the point might be less clear-cut than I assume in my statment you quoted.

    More specifically, it was an answer to the question about what would have been gained if Freddie Mercury had performed like a Whitney Houston caricature of someone who doesn’t like her. That’s nonsense of course and the answer is: absolutely nothing, it would have been a catastrophy. I tried to point out, though, that if one’s abilities don’t amount to what one clearly intends to (but ultimately cannot) do, there is a loss.

    Anyway, I might underestimate the importance of perceiving part: as mentioned, there are other things superimposed that still come across, and the audience usually knows the song and has an imagination of its own; also, there is a band, etc. Taking this into account, my main point is, I guess, that a very strong case can be made for the kind of performances Houston did, independently from the question if you are a fan specifically of her/her songs/ her singing style etc. And criticisms like “She was not a good singer. Singers should make you feel the story, the feeling.” seem a bit esoteric to me. Especially the very strong conclusion “not a good singer” isn’t derived from any discernable reasoning with regard to Houston, but from a very general statement, leaving it to the reader to make a link between Houston and ‘heartless singing’. This is manipulation via free association, not spelling the argument out, but leading readers into connecting dots instead of demonstrating these connections. That’s why I hated this comment from line one, hated it, hated it, hated it. It’s manipulating in its opening assertions, takes cheap shots on topics that don’t matter (i.e., about Houston’s dressing habits), and the author doesn’t openly come out with the obvious and simple truth that she never spent a thought why exactly she disliked Houston’s music, and so she makes stuff up.

    Btw, Houston’s performances of “I will always love you” are underwhelming and seem a bit erratic to me, as if she didn’t really like it herself. Just an impression, I might be wrong – but does anybody know a version that comes even close to the performance of “all the man that I need” that is linked above?

  40. Victoria Birch February 16, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    @ Martin – I can’t disagree with the assertion Houston was a remarkably gifted technical singer but she was pretty woeful when it came to communicating a story’s emotional heft (beyond the dancing and good-times stuff). When I was a kid my parents split up (a third party was involved). I went looking for anything that would explain what the hell was happening and the only thing I could find was Whitney’s Saving All My Love… There was nothing in that song to challenge my view the respective third party was a vacuous, self-serving arse-witch of a woman. Whitney’s vocal is so watertight, so controlled – even at the points where she’s committing herself to a romantic cul-de-sac, there’s not an iota of emotion. There’s pitch-perfection, smooth tonal changes but nothing that suggests she could give a flying fig about whether she’s going to break-up a happy home/ send the wife into rehab/subject the kids to a fortnightly visitation schedule. That’s the problem with a technically gifted singer, their abilities can be deeply admired but it’s no guarantee they’ll nail the stuff that matters.

    Technical perfection is naturally incompatible with human emotion. Technical singing requires dedication and control; human emotion is invariably instinctive and uncontrollable. People relate to imperfection because we are imperfect. Duff notes and ham-fisted key changes matter far less to people than believing in what the singer is trying to say. In fact imperfections probably work to underline certain emotions. Voice cracks when reaching for a high note – the sound you make when you’re about to cry. Voice booms inappropriately/punches a note a bit too hard – suggests wanton joy or anger. You may think it amounts to a “loss of information”, but it has the ability to be far more powerful than fudging something that was never going to be more than aurally satisfying. Singing to the technical specifications of the song is not enough. It’s not enough to be admirable.

    Erma Franklin gets it right for me on Piece of my Heart. I can hear the anger and frustration and the physical effort it’s taking to hold her dignity together and yet (as far as my untrained ear can tell) she delivers everything the sheet music is asking of her. I also think Whitney manages it on It’s Not Right…. She delivers the emphasis on certain syllables like a slap. It sounds exactly like the voice of a woman kicking her man out of the door with a mix of fury, resignation and hope. That’s a song worth some emotional investment – which can’t be said for an awful lot of her back catalogue.

  41. white hotel February 16, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    Wallace:

    ‘a lot of these defences of her read as people trying to prove that it is an ACTUAL INDISPUTABLE FACT that she was good and if you don’t think she was good there is something wrong with the way you think. That is bullshit. Nobody is indisputably good.’

    Sigh. There’s nothing wrong with not liking Whitney, and I don’t believe in an objective aesthetic value judgment. But there IS something wrong with the kind of critique that’s been posted here – when it doesn’t actually engage with the music; when people have heard, maybe, 3 or 4 songs of hers, never seen her perform, or only have vague memories of her as something they didn’t like. Everyone has deaf spots in their listening; mine is around jazz and improv – it doesn’t take long before I start tuning out and wishing I were hearing songs. That doesn’t qualify me to talk about improv – it DISqualifies me from talking about improv!

    Oh, and btw, if you are talking to me, just talk to me. I’m not scared of discussing this stuff and I won’t feel got at. Promise 🙂

    ‘soul may have begun as a specific term, it isn’t now. When Public Enemy said “I know you got soul” they weren’t referring to any church traditions.’

    Nope. Sorry, no. In order to believe this, you’d have to ignore their sampling of preachers, and of activists who (in the Black Power tradition as well as the NAACP tradition) followed gospel preaching to the letter; you’d have to disregard the many interviews Chuck has given about the MC being the equivalent of the gospel preacher. Soul is a long, proud tradition of Black resistance – against slavery, against oppression. The role of the church in Black resistance shouldn’t be ignored like this.

    For anyone who might be wondering how this concept applies to Whitney, I recommend reading Tobi Vail’s excellent piece posted on the site today. It’s brilliant.

  42. Lucy Cage February 17, 2012 at 12:04 am

    “she was pretty woeful when it came to communicating a story’s emotional heft… Whitney’s vocal is so watertight, so controlled – even at the points where she’s committing herself to a romantic cul-de-sac, there’s not an iota of emotion. There’s pitch-perfection, smooth tonal changes… That’s the problem with a technically gifted singer, their abilities can be deeply admired but it’s no guarantee they’ll nail the stuff that matters.
    Technical perfection is naturally incompatible with human emotion”

    This just doesn’t ring true to me about Whitney Houston. I can appreciate that she didn’t resonate with you in your particular situation, but she very obviously did with thousands – millions – of others. I know popularity doesn’t equal quality (and don’t anyone else quote me Patrick Bateman!) but I would guess that there were plenty of girls/women who related deeply, personally, heartbreakingly, to “Saving All My Love”. They felt it. And when Diamanda Galas, who knows a thing or two about technique, range and the virtues of imperfection, mourns Whitney Houston (“Her incomparable voice, which influenced almost every R&B and pop singer worldwide, her stage presence, which no one can touch, and her beauty, tough and sweet, moved me”) then I feel I just have to listen harder.

    So I listened again to the vocal-only track of “How Will I Know” (can’t bear the production, the voice is what I want): she’s so very far from being a robot or an emotionless, pitch-perfect computer simulation. She’s flesh and blood, and that flesh is audible. Her voice has grain. It’s not Leonard Cohen grain, but it’s there all right. There’s enthusiasm and yearning in that grain, in the gasps and the fallings-off at the end of notes, in the fragile rasp at the edges of the beauty, in the breathiness of the phrasing, in the full-force power of her sustain. There’s throaty “Mmm”s and “Aah”s. There’s strain and tension in the way she reaches up to hit the highest notes – and gets there! It’s magnificent.

    Whitney Houston wasn’t really my bag: I’m a stranger to the tradition she came from; I didn’t know much about her, never owned a single one of her records but liked/danced to/sang along with those of her singles that made it through my narrow cultural filters… but it grates to hear definitive statements made about an artist whose work resonated with so many people. I don’t want to jump to the conclusion that they’re all misguided fools; rather, I wonder what it is that I’m missing.

  43. Wallace Wylie February 17, 2012 at 12:24 am

    white hotel

    I wouldn’t ever deny that soul has a strong connection to gospel. Quite the opposite. But to say that its usage must be limited to the narrow definitions that you listed I think is wrong. Its meaning is a lot more subtle and complex. One definition would definitely be a kind of idealised state of grace that exists when a person, under great strain, gives themselves over to an apparent higher power. Yet it has been secularised to more mean a quiet dignity in the face of oppression, or perhaps a state that brings hard earned wisdom once somebody has emerged on the other side of a painful learning experience. Or perhaps as you said a state of defiance in the face of insurmountable odds. I think your point that it has been de-racialised is important, but to think that it is only white people who use it as a short cut to mean ‘transmitting an authentic inner experience’ is wrong. I think this is how it is commonly used by people of all races in America. I do think it’s a tad dangerous to imply that all black people who use it must have a working knowledge of the word’s etymology. Maybe you weren’t trying to say that. I’m not trying to deny the Black church and its role in black communities and in the history of black people in America, I just think you’re wrong to insist that its usage must be kept limited to your strictly defined terms.

    As to the first part, when I re-read everything I see you are more taking aim at those who casually dismiss Whitney in vague, unappreciative terms and in that sense I think you are right. Her death also sparked the usual flurry of nasty jokes that basically involved a lot of people laughing at her because she came off as trashy at times in her life, as if making endless jokes about the death of a human being is not trashy. That’s a whole other story though.

  44. Martin February 17, 2012 at 1:14 am

    @ Victoria Birch

    Thanks for your specific critique, it’s nice to see that someone finally spent some time on thinking her opinion through. Still, I’m not convinced by your critique of “Saving All My Love”, even if I can see where you come from given your personal experience. As I understand the lyrics, the song about a desperate love between a woman and a married man that can finally be realised, though we don’t know if just for a night or definitely. At the virtual moment when Houston is singing, she’s waiting for the loved one to arrive:

    “I’ve got to get ready, just a few minutes more
    Gonna get that old feeling when you walk through that door
    Cause tonight is the night, for a feeling alright”

    The song is about a rather specific moment in a story – and I completely agree with you – that has a very ugly side. But that is not the topic of the song, it’s about the moment when a long-standing desire is fulfilled. There is no information if the fictional woman feels horrible about the whole thing, that’s material for another song. I don’t think it’s fair to critisize a song on the basis of what one thinks it really should be about. Besides, love is a complicated thing, and things like the breaking up of a family because of a love to a third party happen, with terrible consequences for the family. Your personal experience notwithstanding, I don’t think this is a reason why ‘that other woman’ should relentlessly feel unhappy about the love and from then on be treated as a whore who… “nails done” …. “engine revved”… (See Lisa Carvers comment). Whatever the circumstances and awfulness one can think about, the song belongs to the two who fell in love to each other and the prospect to finally meet. I think it should be judged as what it is. And this seems really backward:

    “There was nothing in that song to challenge my view the respective third party was a vacuous, self-serving arse-witch of a woman.”

    It’s the awful woman evil? Really? The third party woman has to prove something, because?… if not?… she might somehow just have said to have fallen in love for the only reason to destroy a family, or so? The notion that a woman has to vindicate her feelings on moral grounds and be particularaly pure in what she does ans feels, or else she risks to be regarded as a whore, well, I thought we are over that stuff for some time now. That said, Houston’s song seems all the more modern in this regard.

    And the thing about technical perfection as a strightjacket: I have already written about that in my first comment, so I won’t repeat it now. One should just keep in mind, if one really believes it, that one completely disregards centuries of “classical” music, from Orlande de Lassus to Penderecki. I’m quite aware that a lot of people are all to ready to do so, but then we don’t have a common basis to further discuss that point. Also, a lot of Jazz musicians, even as the concept of music is completely deifferent, were perfectionists: not just Miles Davis – but show me one note, where Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, or Ella Fitzgerald failed. That wasn’t a coincidence. On the other side, my point never was a normative one, I don’t regard perfection as an imperative. But where the lack of technical skills hampers the realization of the musician’s own intentions, I really think that’s a problem. If your voice cracks because of emotion when reaching for a high note, that surely transports much more that the high note itself would have. If your voice cracks because you are simply not able to sing the high note, not so much…

  45. Wallace Wylie February 17, 2012 at 2:08 am

    Martin.

    “One should just keep in mind, if one really believes it, that one completely disregards centuries of “classical” music, from Orlande de Lassus to Penderecki. I’m quite aware that a lot of people are all to ready to do so, but then we don’t have a common basis to further discuss that point.”

    I think there’s a difference between flat out rejecting the idea of technical perfection and not making it an ideal for your art. I think there has been a shift away from the classical ideals you talk about because classical composers wrote pieces that were technically perfect on paper and the performance was judged in terms of achieving what the composer was aiming for. Imperfections were a slight on the composer. The 20th century saw performance become more important than craft. The ability to record meant that performers could spend hours trying to capture the ‘spirit’ of a song and even though to many people who listen to out-takes the performances of many songs seem similar the performer themselves was obviously looking for the recording to capture something beyond technical perfection.

    (I wrote about this on my blog http://wallacewylie.blogspot.com/2010/10/singer-not-song-or-why-performance-is.html)

    You stated this earlier: “lots of musicians (and perhaps even more so their fans) with fantastic ideas but lacking formal training presume to some sort of hyperbole, claiming that somehow a solid base is a straightjacket, or something. Exactly how this should be true escapes me and I have absolutely no idea why it is so often stated as somehow self-evident.” Perhaps this quote from “Revolution In The Head” by Ian MacDonald could go some way towards countering that statement. It concerns The Beatles recording ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.

    “Devouring an unprecedented fifty-five hours of studio-time, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ extended the range of studio techniques developed on “Revolver”, opening up possibilities for pop which, given sufficient invention, could result in unprecedented sound-images. Such moods and textures had formally been the province of classical music, and when George Martin described the recording as ‘a complete tone poem – like a modern Debussy’, he did so with a certain justification. Genres apart, the main difference between a Debussy piece and a song like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ lies less in expressive aspiration than in range of colour and fluency of articulation. Here, The Beatles show that technical shortcomings, far from constraining the imagination, can let it expand into areas inaccessible to the trained mind. Heard for what it is – a sort of technologically evolved folk music – ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ shows expression of a high order. While there are countless contemporary composers capable of music vastly more sophisticated in form and technique, few if any are capable of displaying feeling and fantasy so direct, spontaneous, and original”.

  46. Martin February 17, 2012 at 4:20 am

    @ Wallace Wylie

    Yes, there is a difference, and I argued against somebody who did exactly that: flat out rejecting the idea of technical perfection. If she would have argued that technical perfection it not an ideal per se, I wouldn’t have bothered, that’s my stated opinion.

    For classical music and the ideal on the paper: that strikes me as a simplistic take. So called “Urtext editions” of compositions as well as (extremely difficult to carry out) reconstructions of original tempi etc. are a very recent development (advanced by people like Hanoncourt or Paul Badura-Skoda), and are certainly not “main stream” within contemporary classical performance practice, and even less so if you go back in history. Even today, e.g. Bach’s compositions are generally not played on original or reconstructed instruments: the technique, range and sound of those have changed tremendously over time, and of course a large, modern orchester doesn’t even come close to the orignal idea – and that’s not a critique. His “clavier” works where meant not for the modern “Klavier” (german for “piano”), but for cembalo or organ. That is, what he composed for instruments that produce sound by plucking or by pipes, is now usually played with an instrument where sound is produced by pushing a hammer against a cord. The completely different sound (and that alone is already something) inevitably changes the overal approach. E.g., as a matter of fact, you can’t vary the sound level of a cembalo while playing – of course you can do that with a piano, and interprets take advantage of this possibility. On the other hand, a cembalo has different registers, a modern piano does not, so you have to adapt to that fact. Punchline: modern approaches have nothing to do with some ideal that is written down. Also, modern recording techniques didn’t bypass classical music: Glenn Gould (hated and loved equally) cobbled together polyphonic pieces in the studio in a way that is not possible for a single performer on stage. On the other side, Keith Jarret recorded Bach’s well-tempered piano and did certainly not aspire to some “ideal on the paper”. Also note cooperations between people like Gulda and Zawinul or Chick Corea on the jazz as well as on the classical front. Is that main stream? I don’t think so, but it shows that not the underlying idea of classical music is limiting but some fossil traditions (that btw where in no way some idea Mozart or so adhered to, on the contrary, but traditions of a Europen bourgeousie and aristrocracy). I also think that you underestimate the importance of performances in classical music: the thousandfold recording of classical works and the constant reinterpration in live performances is nothing short of a process of permanent reinterpretation. Not in the way of a cover version, or complete re-composing, but then I would apreciate to account for the fundamental difference of concepts between a Beethoven symphony and a Beatles song, for example (it would be like comparing a novel with a poem, completely pointless). And wouldn’t you know, there are people out there who loathe the interpretation of a given symphony by Karajan, but love the one by Kleiber. There is no written-down ideal.

    To the MacDonald excerpt: Debussy was an impressionist. His shorter pieces (which are the only ones one could reasonably compare here) are stills, like “La cathédrale engloutie”, giving impressions of a moment – comparable to what Monet did in painting. It’s imperative that the interpret contains himself to transport this one impression – and of course an emotional outbreak would destroy the rather delicate set-up. For that reason, for his piano pieces, Benedetti-Michelangeli and Zimerman are references, two of the most pedantic perfection wonks you will be able to find. Here, technique counts, not for itself, but for the genre (“Genres apart,” what the…? Compare that to:’Genres apart, Jean-Michel Basquiat did a much better job in expressing his feelings than Ralph Goings, who did photorealistic painting’). Nobody needs to like the idea of musical impressionism, but that’s what it is – and virtually the contrary of music written for expressing oneself. So I really have no idea what MacDonald wants to argue when writing of things like “expression of high order” in the context of a comparison with Debussy, other that that he completely and willfully disregards the genre of impressionist music or that he has no idea what he is talking about. I mean, reading the corresponding Wikipedia article on Debussy sets the record straight on this. The paragraph seems to use Debussy as a dummy for some point he wants to make, instead of comparing two things by analysing them and accepting what they are, rather than what he personally prefers.

  47. LloydB February 17, 2012 at 8:20 am

    @ White Hotel

    Maybe you are coming from a difficult perspective but for me, as a child of the 80s I can’t separate the song from the music video that I first experienced the song in tandem with. Whether it is that they are working to fit in with the white conservative male fantasy or not, “I wanna dance with somebody” is the only music video/song that doesn’t entirely sublimate itself to the male yuppie provider, of love and security. That is an 80s, Reagan era thing. That’s what I meant. I think her music is trash and her videos are conservative propaganda.

    So that makes me a racist misogynist?

    I don’t like Steven Malkmus either… but the deification of crap like this makes me wanna listen to something horrible by Steve Albini… a white misanthrope.

  48. Wallace Wylie February 18, 2012 at 1:12 am

    Martin

    I was merely stating that classical pieces are literally written, as in written on paper, with many instructions. Many, many modern songs are not. They are written on an instrument and then brought to life in the studio. This amounts to literally changing the song as people see the original recorded version as being basically the same as sheet music. They see as being the song in its original form. This original song has less to do with technical perfection and more to do with capturing some kind of ‘authentic’ version of the song.

    As far as the Ian MacDonald quote goes, I think you completely misread it. The “expression of a high order” was not mean to be a reference to Debussy. It was merely meant to be saying that despite their technical shortcomings the recording of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ still showed expression of a high order. The Debussy comparison came in because classical music fan George Martin made it. MacDonald agreed but pointed out that they were indeed genres apart. Maybe if you had actually read it instead of blustering about acting like you are the only one capable of making comparisons to classical musicians you would have gotten that. George Martin himself is a huge classical music aficionado and he felt comfortable making the comparison. Ian MacDonald, as well as being a great writer in regards to pop and rock, was also a classical music obsessive who wrote on the subject at great length, including a book length study of Shostakovich. Apparently because you didn’t know what he was talking about then you immediately assume that he does not.

  49. Martin February 18, 2012 at 3:41 am

    @ Wallace Wylie

    OK, packing some hundreds of years of classical music in a box might be insufficient. It’s true that nowadays all is written down, but that’s not the case historically (“fill-ins” are standard with Händel, for example), instructions are almost completely lacking up to early Haydn, Mozart used them scarcely – and until Beethoven at least there was much space intended for variation and improvisation (a tradition that got completely lost, though; Gulda did it on occasions). That’s one of the reason for the Urtext conditions: not so much trying to be especially true to the composer’s intentions, but because the pieces had been massively overspecified with instructions. However, instructions became more fashinable as the music grew more abstract. E.g. interpreting anything of Webern should be really, really hard without instructions. I suppose that that has a simple reason: dodecaphony appeals very much to intellect in an almost mathematical sense. Which brings me to another point: I’d say that the expression of personal feelings is the most natural function of music, but there have been other ideas.

    I try to avoid to appeal to authorities, and I have no idea what MacDonald has done with regard to classical music, but I don’t know where any of his merits should render an argument better that strikes me as invalid. And I genuinely don’t see where I have been “blustering around” … “the only one” to do whatever by giving my opinion. Should I have added that I’m a humble person and that I know that there are others? I don’t know. Anyway, if I have said anything of what you blame me for, it must be in my text, so please quote it, so that I can clarify.

    As I obviously don’t understand, I’d be greatful to be explained how an assertion like “Here, The Beatles show that technical shortcomings, far from constraining the imagination, can let it expand into areas inaccessible to the trained mind.” is anything other than, well, an undemonstrated, and thusly irrelevant, assertion at best, or a non-sequitur at worst. How do The Beatles show that (especially the part with “the trained mind”)? Where is the benchmark as to what the trained mind can access? Perhaps I overlook the reasoning, perhaps the argument is right there and I can’t see it: in that case, please push my nose right into it. Also, how can Martin’s comparison be done “with a certain justification”, when indeed, as you put it, MacDonalds really meant that they were “genres apart”. As I understand it, either they were genres apart, then that’s that – or there is a justified comparison, then you shouldn’t blame me for insisting that such a comparison is pointless, until demonstrated otherwise (I didn’t find anything the like in the quotation, just an assertion). One can’t have it both ways (that’s what I meant with the Basquiat analogy). Also, when he writes “Genres apart, the main difference between a Debussy piece and a song like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ lies less in expressive aspiration…”, I read that as expressive aspiration as most likely a common point. If I’m mistaken, tell me why, I am under the impression that I deduce this rather directly. Yet, I’d like to see pointed out where the concepts of “expression” as applied to The Beatles and to Debussy have anything in common, save linguistically. Next, the part “countless contemporary composers capable of music vastly more sophisticated in form and technique, few if any are capable of displaying feeling and fantasy so direct, spontaneous, and original.” So, even assuming that there is no or a very weak comparison to Debussy, there clearly is one to unnamed other contemporary composers. Yet again, that comparison only holds if the those composers intended to compose music in order to display “feeling and fantasy”, etc. in the sense The Beatles did. So, who is he talking about whose aspiration was anything of the stated, as it could be understood with regard to The Beatles? Any guess?

    Yes, probably I shouldn’t have written those allusions to my speculations if MacDonald is ignorant or if he’s just disingenuous. It’s rude and contraproductive, as one should always try to fathom where one fails to understand rather than assume that the other one is an idiot; also, it adds nothing to the argument. But then, I really don’t get any of the reasoning in the quoted graf. I hope I was clear that this is not due to my mental handicaps, at least not only, but that I have specific reasons as to why I don’t think that there is any reasoing in it. If I’m wrong, and I mean that sincerely, I’m happy to be pointed out where I failed to grasp the specific arguments.

    And please, as obviously English is not my mother language and I have never lived in an English speaking country – give me a favorable reading: unfortunately, my skills are extremely limited even for a second language speaker, and where I might seem rough, it’s potentially just a consequence of my shortcomings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.