Comment duly noted
We’ve commented on how we’re having some problems with the comments section. If you can’t post beneath the post, you have a choice of forgetting all about what you wanted to say, sending it to me by e-mail, posting it in The Pub or, in the case of my friend Geoffrey Armes, posting it on your own web site instead. That’s what he did in response to my quote from Dave Van Ronk‘s autobiography, The Mayor Of MacDougal Street.
I recently heard a friend say of someone who, like myself, is best known for interpreting material written by others, “Oh, she only does ‘covers.’” I had a sudden vision of a CD entitled Pavarotti Covers Puccini. Suffice it to say, Louis Armstrong did not do “covers” nor did Billy Holiday, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf or Aretha Franklin. While none of these people were primarily songwriters, their interpretations were a hell of a lot more original than a lot of the ‘original’ songs being written on the current scene. Any music worth its salt depends as much on great interpreters as on great composers. What is more, in the absence of interpreters, songs will never be sung by anyone other than their composers and I cannot imagine why anyone would wish that kind of planned obsolescence on their work.
Armes responded as thus:
There’s another side to this. I’m generally interested in the work of people articulating and expressing their own (sense of ) truth. As Dylan Thomas puts it ‘the record of my individual struggle from darkness towards some measure of light’, and in case you’re tempted to dismiss that as overly serious, hold on, Dylan Thomas could be an extremely funny writer.
I also think that explains my predilection for singer’s who are somehow confessional in feel, whether Morrisey or Sylvian, whose words are seemingly personal. As opposed to the singer/actor types . Despite all his brilliance and facile intelligence, I never got engrossed in much of Bowie’s work for example.
So there’s something for me in hearing a singer/musician in his or her own words expressing something (hopefully universal in some way) about themselves, and their place in this world. And as great as the interpretive artists Van Ronk mentions are, they don’t do much for me.
As to the wilful obscurity point he makes, fact is the material lives on in recordings these days, whether interpreted by others or not. And on a deeper level, once your work is done, and it’s time to die, and your written work isn’t in that % deemed of lasting value, what part of you really cares, except your ego? You just hope you did the right thing during your lifetime… and that’s what interpretive non-writing performers live with anyway.
It’s an interesting reaction that deserves its own space.