artistic unknowns by Chris Matarazzo

The heartbeat of art: three approaches to creativity

No Gravatar

A friend recently satirized my music in a mock-review.  I won’t reprint it here, because, although it is funny if you know me personally, it would be kind a yawn, otherwise. One thing in it got me thinking, though. The “reviewer” mentioned the tedium of a “forty-minute drum solo” that he imagined my music would contain, owing to the fact that I am a drummer. Forty-minute drum solos — or drums solos at all — are the farthest thing from my mind, these days; however, it occurred to me that in drum solos, we might be able to see, pretty clearly, three distinct types of artistic approaches: 1) unsubstantial  crowd-pleasing popular art; 2) excellent, competent, yet still popularly accessible art and 3) experimental, outstandingly skilled art that leaves the general audience behind in its brilliance.

I’ve touched on these ideas before, but maybe from the vantage point of the drummer’s  throne, I can illustrate them and clarify my earlier points. Again, remember, I am using drums to exemplify all arts, not simply to discuss drumming.  All of this can apply to writing, dance, painting, sculpture, etc. You might not want to listen to these all the way through, but just check out enough to get the point.

In the first category of “unsubstantial crowd-pleasing popular art,” a flamboyant , quick-sticking and tom-pounding solo by the drummer of Linkin Park, Rob Bourdon. Now, to me — and to any mature drummer with reasonable “chops” — this solo is so un-creative and so rudimentary that it is nothing short of embarrassing. I have literally heard kids in my neighborhood practicing in their garages who could play this, or do even  better.  But, it sure makes a lot of noise and to those who are not drummers, it might sound impressive for all its bombastic thumpiness. (If you are an experienced drummer and you are impressed by this guy’s solo, you might consider retirement. Drumming is bad for your bones anyway.)

Next is Neil Peart, the acclaimed drummer/lyricist of the progressive rock band Rush. Neil’s solo is technically challenging, yet still accessible to the audience, drummers or not. It develops themes and it contains not only musicality, but a sense of humor.  He uses electronics for different timbres and effects, but no one can question his skill or whether the electronics were used to cover up a lack thereof. Neil seems to operate under the understanding that rhythm is intrinsic in all of us — our life is ever driven by the rhythmic pulse of the heart — and that it can be used to get to the artistic soul of everyone, whether they be plumbers, drummers, doctors or gardeners. It is fun to listen to, from a technical viewpoint or from the perspective of pure coolness.

Finally, the third category: brilliant and technical astounding, but detached from what any listener outside the drumming world might appreciate or enjoy, here is drumming giant (and, in this video, hair-giant) Terry Bozzio. Only the most refined ears will really appreciate what he is doing, and what he is doing is brilliant. This is another guy who has nothing to prove, having been made a legend by the drumming community.  He is a master, beyond question — but, did you make it past thee first three minutes?

A lot depends on whether you agree with me about these solos, I guess, but I will bet big money that many of you got a glazed look in your eyes at some time during Terry’s solo.  I do too, and, as a drummer, I appreciate what he is doing. But I certainly don’t enjoy it. (By the way, you might check out his solo “Cairo” for an example of the opposite. Terry really makes music with a solo drum kit in that one. It is even melodic. Wonderful work.)

I often tell my students that no one has a right to say Shakespeare stinks, because he just plain doth not. Time and scholarship have simply proven otherwise.  But everyone has the right to hate Shakespeare. There is a difference between taste and appreciation.

What we see with these solos is that there are those, like Bozzio, who do a job that is essential in any art: they push the limits. There are also those, like Bourdan, the Linkin Park drummer, who are certainly doing the best they can. Unfortunatly, the best he can do is quite mediocre but it is enough to rouse a sonically bombarded (and characteristically young) audience into hoots and yelps. In the middle is Neil Peart, who can do just about anything Bozzio can do, if not more, but who chooses to think of the audience and to find the balance in a solo which pleases both drummers and non-drummers.

Which is the right approach? There is no “right” in art. In my own work, though, I would rather the listener hear my music and say: “Hey, good song” and mention nothing about the drums; however, I would love it if somewhere out there a drummer should hear something I am doing and realize it is more complex than it might sound — that the drum part supports the song, but that it is still innovative in a pure drumming sense, as well.  Innovation, in my opinion, shouldn’t slap you in the face — it should blow seductively in your ear.

If we write, sculpt, paint, choreograph or compose for an audience of experts, the mechanics of the art itself might move forward. If, however, we create for the popular audience and infuse our work with understated innovations, then the art will move forward and reach the hearts and minds of many more people. Neither approach is “right” but I think one is better than the other for the longevity and vivacity of the art in question.

Legions of drummers owe their decision to study the instrument to Peart. A bunch certainly can claim Bozzio as an influence. I am sure many young drummers might be influenced by Rob Bourdon, but I’m almost certain that those among him with any talent will outgrow him before long.

Chris Matarazzo’s ARTISTIC UNKNOWNS appears every Tuesday.

Chris Matarazzo is a writer, composer, musician and teacher of literature and writing on the college and high school levels. His music can be heard on his recent release, Hats and Rabbits, which is currently available. Chris is also the composer of the score to the off-beat independent film Surrender Dorothy and he performs in the Philadelphia area with the King Richard Band. He's also a relatively prolific novelist, even if no one seems to care yet. His blog, also called Hats and Rabbits, is nice, too, if you get a chance...
Print This Post Print This Post

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment