I couldn't help but get caught up in the Carolina Rebellion this weekend. I was lucky to get to be in the media tent where the bands all came to give interviews and pics to the lucky saps like me who want to hear their thoughts on life. (Did I mention how lucky I think I am to get to have tht kind of access?) It hit me watching these hard rock/metal bands that "alternative music" really isn't all that alternative, but that rock music has always needed a more visceral, hard driving edge to it in order to push most of us out of our norms.
I mean, Nirvana never really tripped my trigger, but I surely can see why so many identified with Kurt Cobain on such deeply personal level--he was raw and real and gutsy. I always liked Pearl Jam because Eddie Vedder's voice is remarkable and Mike McCready's guitar solos are as good as any you will hear from anybody--those solos are so raw and gritty that they are almost unbearable (like staring at the sun). Stevie Ray Vaughn was that way, too, and so is Lzzy Hale of Halestorm. If you go way back, the reason that Ella Fitsgerald and Billy Holiday work is not only the that they have great pipes, but that they know how to sing those songs from some deep, spiritual place--not just their vocal cords.
Which brings me to the notion of "otherwise." Alternative music, though there are some very awesome manifestations of authenticity, strikes me as being very pretentious. What gives with the constant auto-tuning and remixing and quantizing? Can we try real people expressing real human stuff instead of machines making noises? But the very idea of alternative is interesting since the whole idea is to be different. So somebody like Mumford and Sons or the Avett Brothers really work for me. Are they alternative? I don't really know, nor do I care (screw categories!). But rest assured the marketers will bust their butts to get them into a category other than bluegrass or Celtic (because those niche markets, you see); they will work to normalize the bands. Alternative means otherwise, different from the norm. In a culture that is increasingly homogenized, everything becoming more and more the same, a good dose of otherwise can only be healthy. And that is my problem with so much of what is called alternative--it's so freaking normalized and even boring. That's part of how I got so hung up on lyrics--I figured there had to be something redemptive about electronic music which does nothing for my ears, so maybe the lyrics are decent poetry.
Then this weekend at the Carolina Rebellion I met the three members of the hard rock band, Otherwise. They are from Vegas, yet they sing about love and spirit and balance and hope. They don't fall prey to the temptation to be a metal party band (though their music is worth throwing a party). They've got something to say and they don't act like children about it...AND they have the guts to sing their songs in their own voices and tune their own instruments and play their own rhythms without the help of digital tuning. They are Otherwise. In talking with the guys, I realized that we had things in common, not because we love loud music alone, but because we are all wanting to give ourselves to things that matter. They call their fans "Wise Ones." Their fans are dedicated to them, and they to their fans--it's pretty impressive, actually. Ryan, the guitar player for the band, said he realizes that the band is about something bigger than just themselves which means that they have to be willing to put themselves out there as honestly as possible. That seems to be pretty alternative to me, pretty different. Maybe what characterizes a wise one is being willing to be otherwise, not conforming because the marketing folks try to determine our choices, even by throwing us a few fake though inexpensive choices.
I have no argument any kind of music that somebody else likes--to each their own! But I will always believe that the best music is music that has guts and soul.