So as I was driving into the dayjob this afternoon, I was amused by the station ID on the somewhat lame local hard rock station that informed me that I wouldn't hear any of that four-decade old crap here! Followed by the opening strains of Aerosmith's "Dream On." The thirty year old crap, apparently, still gets airplay...
Anyway, indulging in a little channel surfing, I was rewarded with Squeeze (Tempted) on the crappy 80's station, Led Zeppelin (Rock And Roll) on Jack FM, and Led Zeppelin (Black Dog) on the "Classic Rock" station. One more button to press, and there I heard a guitar riff I didn't recognize. Half a bar, and I thought, "This is a new ZZ Top song."It was "Pincushion,"
(which isn't a new song, by any means, but I'd never heard it before) and as soon as I heard the vocals I knew my guess had been correct. And it struck me, you know, I recognized the style from a couple of bends on an electric guitar.
Now, I'm not a musician. I don't even play one on TV. But it struck me, suddenly, how cool it was that not only could I immediately identify the style of a band I don't particularly follow, but that I relaxed a little when I heard it, because I was reasonably sure I was in competent hands, and I was going to hear something that suited my mood just then.
Which got me thinking about how that applies to my own art. And how much of that legendary million words of shit is the process of developing that voice, that style, that confidence and command of one's instrument.
Anybody who's ever listened to a friend's garage band or a Cinderella album knows exactly what I mean by this, and so too does anybody who's ever real slush. Those songs and those stories have a tendency to blend together, kind of anonymously, without giving the sense of a clear voice rising out of the noise. They're perfectly competent, but they're not realized
. In other words, they don't stand out.
On the other hand, better-than-competent musicianship or writing is indelible. One may not care for it (witness my flipping past the two Led Zeppelin songs before settling on the ZZ Top--I don't think I'm going to get a lot of argument when I say that Jimmy Page is probably a better guitarist than Billy Gibbons, but I just wasn't in the mood for Led Zeppelin at the time) but it's identifiable. Vocalists call this finding your voice.
And one can put on masks over that, once it's found--one can pull stylistic tricks and show off and pastiche other artists (Jimmy Buffett does a deadly Elvis Presley)--but it's that basic emergent command of one's instrument that causes the listener or the reader to stop and go "Oh."
Which is why, oddly enough, the flaws of a writer's style are as important to his success as the triumphs. BBecause limitations are part of that identifiable identity, too.
And it's also why "good enough" isn't good enough for a professional artist, and the goal is excellence.
It's not enough not to do anything wrong. You have to own your art.