Arguing about music.

I have a buddy that I frequently argue with about music via instant messaging. He chooses to remain nameless for whatever reasons. Regardless, our arguements always tend to have somewhat the same undercurrent. Though we often discuss/debate specific artists, underlying that is always the fundamental difference in the way we see music. His contention is that regardless of popular opinion, there is a way to quantify what is ‘good’. A concrete definition of a ‘good’ song. You can not like a particular artist, but still concede that they’ve written a good song, or a well crafted piece of music. In addition his standpoint is that if there’s these artists – who are by this definition – the ‘best’ at their genre/type of music, it’s a waste of time to listen to anyone else who isn’t up to the same standard.

While I agree with him that you can not really like something but give it kudos for craftsmanship or quality of musicianship, I think that what is ‘good’ or the ‘best’ is an entirely listener-specific entity. One man’s ‘best’ is another man’s .99 bin special. Each person experiences music individually, and though sales and or critical acclaim can be a guide towards what may or may not be something you would dig, really it comes down to what moves you when you’re sitting in the dark with the headphones on. I’d even argue that the ‘best’ can vary from day to day depending on the headspace you’re in at the time. Obviously in many cases, my ‘best’ sure as hell ain’t his and vice-versa.

At the risk of boring you all (which I’m sure, some of you it will), here’s a chunk of a recent debate. I post it not for gratuitous attention, but because I find it an interesting arguement, one that really – to me – addresses one of the fundamental issues about music and how we experience/perceive it.

To preface this particular dispute, I was talking to him about the recent Constantines record as well as The Weakerthans, who – though I’ve only just discovered – actually put out some of their most well known work back in 2007 or so.

Buddy of buKit: ok, song one Weakerthans…on their myspace…it’s a little too bee-bop for me…
buKit: Yeah. Not really ‘I’m fixin’ to open a vein’ enough for you.
Buddy of buKit: ‘Tis true…this sound is so prominent these days…
buKit: Is that new stuff you’re listening to?
Buddy of buKit: Some of it is good some of it just sounds all the same…
buKit: Yeah, but the Weakerthans were big  a few years ago
Bob: Don’t talk to me about new stuff…
buKit: BEFORE that sound
Bob: There’s lots of stuff I listen to that’s new
Well THAT sound’s been around for about 5 years…
Ok yeah, I can’t do it…it’s the guy’s voice…and the music is way too bee boppy…
buKit: Screw you man. you’re impossible.
I’m swearing off telling you about bands. ‘Tis a drag.
Go listen to Bob van Waits. [note: Bob’s a big endorser of Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and Tom Waits. -buKit]
This Weakerthans album (Left and Leaving) is great.
Bob: haha
And I’m not impossible…I have a discerning taste in music…Don’t get me going on this again…opinion doesn’t come into play for me…Prince…I don’t listen to…but I can’t deny that he’s super-talented and has some killer tunes…
Weakerthans?…Not horrible…but there’s a lot of other bands that blow them out of the water…so why listen to them???
buKit: Bah. Double BAH.
Bob: And there’s a million bands that sound just like this…so why not try to find and listen to the best???
I agree we’ll never agree…
Go listen to your Matthew Good and Matthew Sweet.
buKit: I wash my hands of you. You can’t be helped.
Bob: haha
buKit: Yeah, this Weakerthans is good. You’re living in denial.
Bob: Come on now…I think I have my ear a bit closer to the ground than you….every single song is bee-boppy and the dude’s voice is so annoying…
buKit: Why do you have your ear closer to the ground?
Bob: I think I have you beat you in the music exposure department…
buKit: Constanines record was picked as best of 2008 – you’d never heard it.
Bob: You’re going to trust a “best of” list as opposed to your own ears??…You’re not helping your argument by saying things Like that…
buKit: No, I’m just saying your ear is to your ass…
Bob: I have listened to the Constantines before…No new tracks…but their last album I have heard…
buKit: You say you wouldn’t listen to stuff that isn’t ‘the best’…this is the perpetual arguement we have. There IS no ‘best’. ‘Best’ depends on the listener’s preferences.
Bob: Not true…sorry….like I said, I can say something is good but not like it…the Weakerthans is sub par…
buKit: That’s a copout…
Bob: 50 other bands that are better…so again…why listen to sub par…?
buKit: I can say Dylan’s good. Just cause he’s been around forever and everyone else thinks he’s good. Doesn’t mean I know shit about music.
Because, even if it is ‘sub par’, it’s different, and while it may lack in some areas, it may excell in others.
There’s no ‘best’ r & b band. No ‘best’ blues band, etc…etc…
Based on what you’re saying, for every genre of music, you should be able to tell me the ‘best’ artist in that genre, regardless of whether you like it or not, correct?
Bob: You can’t say there’s one best…but there’s always a few that do it way better than everyone else…
Pick a genre…
buKit: So who’s the best teeny bopper/top 40 band?
Bob: You’re talking current??…
buKit: I’m talking Aguiliera, Backstreet, Nsync…
Bob: Of course you’d pick that genre and try to stump me…Christina Aguilera kicks ass if you ask me…
buKit: See, even genres get broken into ‘time’…you mean ‘of all time’? current? 80’s?
Bob: I think Justin Timberlake is super-talented…
buKit: You maybe can tell me what good folk is but I’d argue you don’t know jack about bubblegum pop.
Justin? Jesus man, I don’t think he even writes his own tunes.
Bob: Well you’re trying to stump for the purpose of stumping me….I don’t like that kind of music so I’m not as knowledgable about it as say rock music…
buKit: He’s a fucking ENTERTAINER not a musician.
Bob: Well you’re asking me to tell you who I think is good in the teeny bopper genre…..you’re asking a lot there…there’s not much substance to any of those people
None of them write their own songs…not in that genre anyway
That genre is about entertainment…it’s not about MUSIC.
The Weakerthans are about music…
Justin Timberlake is about making shitloads of dough, but he’s kick ass in the entertainment dept.
I just don’t understand why one as knowledgable as yourself…and who’s obviously into music wouldn’t dig a little deeper…
buKit: That’s the point. Someone who listens to that teenbopper shit would have a much better handle on what’s good and not within that genre. There are acts that do their own stuff and are probably better, in context of the genre – than the rest of ’em.
Go deeper?
Deeper than what?
Bob: The Weakerthans for one…
buKit: I don’t like the teenybopper shit, so I don’t listen to it. Just ’cause I don’t listen to it means its not good?
Bob: Green day??…Why do you like Green Day?…
buKit: I like Green Day cause it get’s me pumped. I like the production. I like the riffs, the lyrics, the imagery.
Bob: Why not listen to The Clash then…
buKit: I’m not saying they’re virtuosos, but I like it. To ME it’s GOOD.
Bob: Yes, and you’re entitled to that…
buKit: The Clash doesn’t sound anything like Green Day.
Bob: That’s awesome that you listen to them and love them…
buKit: For one, The Clash sounds like they recorded in a garage.
Bob: But that’s not what I’m talking about….I’m talking about the big picture…In the big picture Green Day is a spec of dust…
buKit: If I want to go old school punk and the DIY sound, sure. The Clash is the thing. If I want to hear a Marshall loud enough I feel like I can see the tubes heating up through the speaker, The Clash don’t do it for me.
Bob: So you like the sound…where I like the song…
I don’t give two fucks what it sounds like…is the song good…that’s what I’m after…
The song…the writing…the lyrics…the song structure…
The song the song the song
buKit: Sometimes I like either/or. Depends on my mood. Sometimes I don’t feel like listening to Townes about to put the gun in his mouth. Brings me down. Sometimes it’s alright.
What you’re saying is Green Day has no good SONGS and I think that’s bullshit. They do, just not songs you want to hear.
Bob: Hey I do think Green Day has some decent songs…I didn’t say they didn’t
buKit: I mean, what are you using to judge a song? What makes it good. Does it have to be in G? Does it have to make you cry? Does it have to have a socio-political reference in it? Does it have to have at least 5 chords? What I’m saying is there’s no definitive way to quantify a good song. You can’t say it has to have A, B, C, D etc. and just check ’em off.
Bob: Umm…use your ears…??…That might be a good start…you say it’s all subjective. But in every other field there are professionals…are there not?…so I’m a professional judge of music….
One lawyer is better than another lawyer…or is that subjective too…
buKit: Holy shit.
Bob: One lawyer loses all his cases and one lawyer wins them all…is one bette than the other?…you say no…
Well I have to disagree
buKit: Did you just say you’re a professional jusge of music? What the hell makes you a professional? Just cause you listen to a lot?
Bob: Yes…that’s exactly it…in other fields that would be called “experience”…
I have more “experience” listening to songs than the Average Joe…
buKit: Oh Christ. And what about the other people that have listened to more than you that you disagree with. What are they? Who’s the ‘Average Joe’?
How much music does he listen to?
How much do you?
Bob: I have yet to come across anyone that listens to more music than I…
buKit: Am I a Joe?
Well jesus man. If you’re such a ‘music pro’, why isn’t eveyone lined up at the door to hear the good word?
Bob: Well, for the very reason you’re giving me flak…
Can’t I be more qualified to judge something than someone else?…
Forget about music for a second…
buKit: No one listens to more music than you, but you admited you don’t know jack about the bubblegum pop. If you were truly all about being an all knowing music pro, wouldn’t you have to at least give it cursory listens?
Bob: If I looked at 50,000 sculptures…and you looked at only 50…don’t you think i would be more qualified to judge a sculpting contest than yourself?
I have given bubble gum curiosity listens…
buKit: Yes, and I see where you’re going with that. But even if you looked at 50,000 sculptures, there’s still someone that looked at 3x that.
Bob: And I occasionaly still do listen to things I would not normally listen to
I’m not saying I’m the be all and end all…not what I’m saying at all…this all stemmed from the Weakerthans…and I’m saying why listen to them when you can listen to something that’s better…?
buKit: And I dare say with the internet and access to music with iPods and crap now, the ‘Average Joe’ listens to a shitload more music than he used to.
Bob: I’ve heard better than the Weakerthans…that’s it…
buKit: So have I. But I still like ’em. I like what they’re doing. I just don’t take this ‘all or nothing’ approach that you do.
Bob: Ahh…true the Average Joe does listen to more music….but less quality music…
The market is saturated with so much music now that you have to be weary to settle…and this is the whole point ot this convesation
buKit: Nah. I think the point is that you argue that there’s a concrete way to way to specify what’s GOOD. And I say that every person you ask will give you a different answer.
Bob: I don’t disagree with that…everyone will give you a different answer…
buKit: Oh, and apparently you think you know what’s good….
Bob: I’m not saying I’ve heard everything….but is the person that listens to Timberlake more qualified than me to say what’s good or what’s not??…I think not
buKit: He is in the realm that Timberlake plays in…

After that it pretty much deteriorated into me trying to convince him to let me post this. There. Posted.

One Reply to “Arguing about music.”

  1. Don’t know if this means you have too much time on your hands 🙂
    Must be challenging to argue that long on chat with dial-up!

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