Monday, July 25, 2016

Desperately Parched for Surprise

I'm watching the DNC, and every politician is giving The Speech.

Not a speech. It's always the same speech. The same cadences. The same tone. The same pacing. You don't need to speak English to get the full idea. Even with the sound turned off, you know The Speech. I don't know why I'm watching this. I know every single thing before it happens. Why is this worth my time?

Whenever I point my phone's camera, I need to resist the impulse to take The Photo. Just as we're taught through sheer blinding repetition about The Speech, we all know what The Photo is. I don't want to take The Photo! I want something spontaneous and true!

So it drives me batty that people are so happy to give The Speech and take The Photo. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who minds!

It's why I travel. In New York City, everyone is making The Lasagna or The Salad or The Rolls. There are variations, sure, but there's a certain glue. Only minute surprise is possible. But in Cincinnati, the glue's totally different. A different stultifying sameness can feel fresh for a moment. I have a chance of being surprised.

The speech everyone is giving - the original egg to all these chickens - is based on some archetypal speech in our collective memories that never actually happened. It's a subconscious blurry memory composed of bits and snatches and memes. It's like an early childhood memory you can no longer truly remember because you remember only the remembering. We've come to agree that that's The Speech via the same mechanism that helps birds flock.

It's a soul-killer, and it's dauntingly unavoidable, in the end. Even the most creative people feel this tug (we actually feel it worse; it's one of the reasons we drink so much, do drugs, etc..).

But I have one question: for god's sake, do we really need to relish it so much? Do singers need to feel like they're just nailing it every time they execute one of the soulful-ish vocal tricks we've all heard a gazillion times? Do they need to feel like they've gone super extra deep when they take the exact same-lengthed pause everybody takes when they want to seem like they're going super extra deep? You know...The Pause?

Can't we push back at this just a little? Even if we can't invent and innovate our way around it, even if we're trapped - cursed to be 99.99% unsurprising - can't we at least recognize this phenomenon for the cage that it is? Can we stop dreaming of giving The Speech, or taking The Photo, or singing The Soulful Vocal Trick, or making The Pause ourselves? Can embodying that canned pose be less than the crowning glory of our deepest fantasies? Can freshness and spontaneity at least be appreciated, if not strenuously pursued and fully embraced?

Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing. That's why most singers are so awful.

See also "Charlie's Jam Session"

Follow-up posting here.

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