January 25th, 2004


A little philosophical rambling here

Kim Komando, radio's "Digital Goddess", has a mailing list where you can get the Daily Cool Site of the Day sent to your email box every morning. This was this morning's entry. You can put in the name of just about any musician and find out who influenced him or her, who he or she influenced and what other musicians are similar. For example, I put in the name of jazz guitarist Tal Farlow, and I find out that he was influenced by Charlie Christian and Jimmy Raney, that he influenced Bola Sete, Tommy Tedesco, and many others, and that Herb Ellis, Joe Pass, Barney Kessel and Kenny Burrell (among others) are similar.

I know, BFD, right? Well, if you play the guitar (as I do), and are looking to play like Tal Farlow, it gives you some idea of the people who were his influences, so that maybe you can listen to and learn from them as well. Even if you just like the music that Tal Farlow (or whoever) plays, it gives you some idea of other people you might find interesting. For example, I looked up Richard Thompson, and learned that his influences included two seminal jazz guitarists (Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian) and two great blues guitarists (Otis Rush and Michael Bloomfield, who played with Paul Butterfield in Chicago).

This got me to thinking about something: so much of art evolves from what someone else did before us. Most artists start out by copying what other artists have done before them, and find their voice, their style or whatever you want to call it through that imitation. We copy the people who inspire us to take up what they do (play guitar, write, paint, whatever) and learn through that what makes us unique. I've read lately how many great authors started out by copying the works of people who inspired them to write. It wasn't enough to just read the words on the page; they had to take the time and expend the elbow grease to commit those same words to paper. It sounded stupid at first, but then I realized, that's what everyone does: musicians, painters, cartoonists, columnists, whoever, it all starts with someone doing it before us.

It makes me think that the way we teach beginners (usually kids) how to write, how to paint, or how to play musical instruments is totally cockeyed. We expend a lot of energy teaching grammar, brush technique, scales and modes, whatever, and tell the beginner that they have to master these things before they can go on to doing what they really want to do with it. Talk about destroying someone's desire.

I don't know. Am I right? Am I full of shit?