Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Music, Comedy, and Criticism

I love watching these Classic Album and rock history shows on VH1, and one statement by Eric Clapton really floored me. I immediately filed it with some other comments I've heard over the years that shed some light at what it means to be great at music.

As a musician, I've always been sensitive to criticism but I figured it's because I'm not that good. I can't believe how proficient the greats really are. In fact, for years I assumed amazing records that I really loved were just that one magic take. I didn't understand that the Beatles could bang out those harmonies at the drop of a high-hat cymbal. I still find it hard to believe when I read about their actual output from the logs at recording studios like Abbey Road. They could crank out 2 or 3 classics in a day.

It was also quite a shock to realize that Ray Charles was putting out an album quality performance basically every night. Prince, too. So I began to collect little anecdotes that showed these people were normal humans after all. One was reading that Paul McCartney panicked just before "Revolver" came out because he thought the whole thing was out of tune. Another time the great soul singer James Ingram finished recording and asked Qunicy Jones if it had been in tune, and Quincy said, "I don't know - it sounded good." That actually freed me in a sense - I knew the process was like that for me, but I didn't think it was like that for James Ingram and Quincy Jones.

Contrast all this with comedy - something that is easy for me - so easy that I never realized I had a marketable skill till around 14 years ago. If someone says they don't like one of my jokes, it's no big thing. I feel like saying, "And?" I guess I am proud of some of them but it's not that super-sensitive deal like with music.

When somebody said I sucked as a singer, I never forgot it. And back in the day? Oh, my God. I might be resentful for years. And what makes it even worse is that I do suck as a singer. I know it's true.

Well, guess what? I'm onto my new project and it's going to take some serious recording. Fortunately, it's mainly instrumentals. I've recorded more seriously in the last week than in the previous year, and it's like watching another personality come out of the deep freeze. If I play it back for my wife, no matter what she says about it, I sort of take it the wrong way. I'm right back at square one maturity-wise.

Meanwhile, I had a joke on national TV two nights ago that sank an entire monologue. It was so lame that it made the audience insecure in their ability to judge humor. I would say it took maybe 80% of the energy from a raucous Spring Break crowd and put it right into the garbage can.

Did that bother me? Oh, sure. I'm not going to say that it didn't bother me, but not the way it should have. It was just another day on the job - more like a "Whoops!" moment. In contrast, when my wife said the song I was working on yesterday was a "nice little tune" I became sort of defensive and weird about it. Isn't that strange?

So where is this leading? Okay, I always assumed rock gods like Eric Clapton would be different. Maybe not immune to criticism, but certainly more likely to shake it off. I mean he knows he's Eric Clapton, right? What can be so bad?

Okay, on the show last night they discussed how Rolling Stone magazine had a really harsh review of Cream. It's even been mentioned as a factor in Cream breaking up. It said that Clapton was a "master of the blues cliche" which is just ridiculous. So how did he handle it? Clapton said when he read the review he fainted. I'm not kidding. He said he stood up and got all dizzy and fainted. Eric Clapton said this. THE Eric Clapton.

Okay, I'm good to go. I might act a little sensitive to criticism sometimes, when it comes to music, but I never fainted over it. Time to wrap this up. I've got some guitar to record.


At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, don't feel so bad. Every time I begin to play my plectrum banjo, our dog runs upstairs and our cat scratches frantically at the front door - her way of begging to go outside. My wife and kids leave the house and won't come back until they've verified that the banjo has been locked back up in its case.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

One time I was singing in my room in college and another person in the dorm came to check on me thinking I was calling for help - and in a way I was.


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