Thursday, May 12, 2016

When You can't Hear the Song for the Singer

There's a line in my current favorite song, Black Muddy River,  that goes "When you can't hear the song for the singer". The song, written by Robert Hunter,  is sung by Bruce Hornsby, a quite unassuming "pop star" by current standards. His piano playing is quite remarkable and, although he didn't write the song, I find myself listening to the words and instrumentation intently. I hear every nuance in his voice, every note and cadence in the instrumental accompaniment. This is not always true. When I listen to Prince, or watch Celtic Women video I am preoccupied by the performance and the performer and not the song  With Prince it is his entire aura of who he is and what he stands for. His facial expressions and gyrations. I just can't hear the song for the singer. With the Celtic Women videos the sheer size and over production of the performance overtakes the actual words and their meaning. It's as if the song becomes a vehicle for everything else going on so you can;t really listen to it. The beauty of the Celtic women performers, the striking makeup on the drummers and the outside locations at castles and other notable venues.

I find  so much of educational "innovation" and "advancement" to be like this. You cant grasp or come to terms with what is being said because of who is presenting it. Much of current research is presented through emotional contexts based on  individual's unique experiences. It becomes difficult to grasp a theory of some sort that can become food for thought and reflection. Angela Lee Duckworth's Ted talk on the concept of grit in the classroom is a classic example. There are many others who shout about bullying, and dress codes, and all sorts of peripheral things that have little bearing on what education is all about.

The same is true inn the current political arena where the participants themselves become the object of the vote and not the idea and theories for which they stand. For example it's virtually impossible to determine exactly what Donald Trump stands for because his persona and delivery style far outweigh
what he really means.We seem to be becoming a nation of performers who know how to perform but but who's performances completely obscure the songs they are trying to sing..     


  1. You did see Prince on youtube doing "While my guitar gently weeps" at some sort of Harrison memorial thing that had Tom Petty, Stevie Windwood et. al. (including George's son)?

  2. yes, but that seems to prove my point. He goes so far beyond the music. Best ever guitar duet by the Eagles at 5:30 on this; no theatricals, just incredible guitar playing. Can Prince do it without the distracting theatrics?

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  4. Geez. I'm still getting the hang of this. I said in a comment I lost (I'll recreate it later) that Rock's a young person's game and should be. I saw this group in Montana mid-1970's, just about when this was recorded. People will something ask why I don't like the "old" groups touring. Well once you seen this you want to see it when they're pushing 70? Then it was all about "trying" and "finding out" and creating and having fun. Now...and I agree 100% with you, it's about seeing the performer(s). Give a look and it's why I don't want to see it now when she's 68:

  5. Here's the comment I "lost." I was never a fan of the California laid back sh*t, which to me the Eagles typified and which just put me to sleep. Can't argue they were a considered great group...but it ain't what I call rock and roll. Here's how you do it with great rock and roll guitar work: