I've been making my way through Small Black's first full-length and the Smith Westerns first joint for most of today. I like both of them, but they seem to share a similar flaw--the songs sort of run together. Maybe I'll feel differently in a week or so. I thought the same about Passion Pit initially, but was less bothered the more I listened.
Anyway, I'm not particularly interested in bashing anyone as much as I'm interested in why this tends to happen to artists. I imagine youth and inexperience are part of it. I don't really know much about music, but I suspect there's some relationship between how much you hear--both in terms of breadth and depth--and the colors you are subsequently able to employ. The point here isn't a profane eclecticism. Indeed, nothing is worse than musicians who cite their "diverse" influences but still haven't figured how to best enroll them. The point is the difficulty in making each work in a series stand out. Again, I'm a novice at visual art, but I imagine young painters have a similar problem.
Of course, at the end, this isn't so much about Small Black or the Smith Westerns, so much as it's about me. In a few weeks I have piece on Malcolm X coming out in the magazine. I killed myself trying to come up with a lede, mostly because everything I wrote either sounded like it was cribbed from The Beautiful Struggle, or from one of the many homilies to my Dad which litter this very site. I think I wrote like ten ledes, before deciding on telling the story through my mother's eyes instead. And then I tried that ten times, until the music of it, sounded close to the music in my head. We'll see how different it is.
But more than that, I'm struggling with the voices in the book. I think I've successfully differentiated them all, but the hardest part is inhabiting each voice in all its varying moods and motions. Think of an actor doing a one-man show. Perhaps the actor knows how to play each character angry or sad. But can the actor play the character in emotional agony? In crazy love? In solemn respect? Does each character even exhibit all of those moods?
When I played the djimbe, every one of us had improvisational riffs which we liked. But the best could weave those riffs into other riffs and those other riffs into other riffs still, which I simply could neither imagine of duplicate. Their brain-power simply exceeded mine. The reasoning employed was almost spacial. It was like watching someone reveal beautiful and hidden pathways through a percussive wilderness. But no sooner had they guided you through, then the trees would close up behind. And if you tried to double-back, to retrace the elegant path they'd cut away, you found yourself tangled in the vines and lost in the overgrowth.
So its not so much about the young folks, as it is the challenge of any sort of creation. How do you carve your own way through the wilds? And how do you do it repeatedly in a way that, at least, looks different?
Please don't try to answer that. Answers miss the point.