Monday, March 19, 2007

Personal vs Public

There is some music I like that I have no doubt the rest of the world will like too. It seems like a no-brainer, and if I discover it before it becomes a hit, it's only a matter of timing. Lily Allen and Voxtrot come to mind as examples. And if other people seem slow in discovering that kind of music, I will campaign hard for it, whether that means talking to friends or blogging about it or ramming it down people's throats on mix cds.
But there is another kind of music about which my feelings are much more private. It is music that means a great deal to me, but which I'm not necessarily interested in sharing with others. It's not that I want to hide the music or keep it from becoming too popular, it's just that I don't really care if other people like it.
I think that what makes the music personal for me is the impression I get that the music is personal to the artist. My sense is that Lily Allen and Voxtrot are making music with the audience in mind. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, and not to imply that they are pandering in any way.) But there is music I hear which I believe the artist has made for himself or herself, and for which the audience is secondary.
Every artist wants an audience, on some level. But I do feel like certain artists are more inward-looking, and the music they create is made more for their pleasure than for that of any other listener.
This kind of music hits me on a personal level, divorced from the criteria by which I usually decide if I like something (interesting lyrics, great melodies, distinctive vocals).Case in point is a band called Lewis & Clarke, from Delaware Water Gap, PA. Lewis & Clarke is really one guy, Lou Rogai. His music is ethereal and acoustic and sometimes downright pretty, but is always anchored by self-possessed vocals and long, drone-based, meditative guitar lines.
I was introduced to his music when someone posted a cut from a live album he released last summer from a radio show in Philadelphia. I downloaded one of the songs on a Friday afternoon, and then downloaded the rest of the album (WPRB Live) from, and listened to it on my Ipod over and over again on my way to the country that night. I found myself encased in Rogai's world, with one song sliding into the next as if each was an extension of the last.
Later, I bought both the American and European version of Bare Bones and Branches (also available from emusic.) And while listening to Bare Bones may not be quite as powerful an experience as my initial experience of listening to the live ep, the music continues to sustain me in a deep and rich way.The point is, I love the music, but I don't have a stake in others loving it. (If this is a characteristic of Rogai's music, that's too bad, in a way. It would be a shame if his music was defined by the fact that the people who loved it had no urge to pass it on to other people. It's possible that, all over the world, there are isolated individuals, unaware they share this passion, listening to Rogai's songs in solitude, with no desire to share them with other people.)Having said all that, I should note that I put this song on a bunch of mix cd's at Christmas time, (before I realized I didn't care if other people heard it) and it turned out that one of the people I gave a cd to, my friend Dannette, loved it so much that she put it on a Valentine's Day mix. So much for the purity of isolated experience.
Lewis & Clarke - Before It Breaks You

I'm trying to think of other artists to whom I have responded like this. Off the top of my head, what comes to mind is Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, John Cale's Paris 1919, and just about everything by Townes Van Zandt.

Visit Lewis & Clarke's website.
Purchase Lewis & Clarke's music on emusic.


lou rogai said...

Dear Robin,

Thanks for getting in touch, I would have responded to your email, but I accidentally deleted it, so fate has presented the opportunity to make this conversation public. I am pleasantly surprised by the accuracy and intimacy of your post, and I have to thank you for your inclination to share it with the world. Your description of the music experience, the fact that it feels personal enough for someone to keep for their ears only, seems to be quite an ironic situation...a miniature tragic comedy of sorts. You have articulated a unique phenomenon which I think rings true. My intent, and subsequently the music I relate to, has been the pursuit of honesty, the vulnerability of exposing Achilles' heel, and the strength of subtlety that can come with that risk. I certainly do hope for my efforts to be experienced and enjoyed by as many folks as possible, but that cannot be the intent or the driving force behind it, otherwise I would not be doing it. Naturally, I am grateful for all support, whether it be album purchases, letters of kindred spirit, positive press or a handshake. I work hard to make these things happen without compromising what I believe in and I hope to someday have health insurance. Funny, I have never heard Voxtrot or Lily Allen, but I have deep affection for Steve Reich, John Cale, (particularly Paris 1919) and Townes.
Feel free to email me again and we can resume in the internets.


Dr. Mal Muerte said...


Dr. Mal Muerte said...

lou = big heart/big love