Stopping Power

Hermann Göring is supposed to have said “When I hear the word ‘culture’, I reach for my gun.” If he did say it, it’s a typical bit of Nazi bullshit, pretending to be “one of the guys” who would rather have a beer than be subjected to that culture crap. Of course, the fact was that Göring had huge cultural pretensions and made great efforts to steal every bit of culture in Nazi-occupied Europe that wasn’t nailed down. And some that were.

None the less, I have the occasional Hermann urge. With me, it’s acoustic guitars. When I see an acoustic guitar centre stage, whether held by a solo performer or the singer in a band, I metaphorically reach for my gun. (I must emphasise the word “metaphorically”. I neither advise nor condone the bringing of guns to live music events. Except in a very few specific cases.)

My reaction is caused by experience. Experience of the “singer-songwriter” and their usual weapon of choice, the acoustic guitar. The acoustic guitar is a fine instrument, capable of the most enchanting and exciting music; but only if it’s played well. Played badly, which often meens the uninspired strumming of a few obvious chords, it becomes the incarnation of dullness.

I’m not sure if it’s better or worse when the “singer-songwriter” gathers other musicians to form a band. You might ask why the other musicians do it, and I suspect it’s the attraction of “I’ve got some songs written”. No matter how bad the songs are, it beats coming up with something from scratch yourself. Also, the “singer-songwriters” tend to have an inflated impression of their own chances of stardom (i.e. greater than zero), and a bit of blind ambition can encourage others to tag along.

I think that the problem is that the barrier to becoming a “singer-songwriter” is too low. All you need is those few chords and some badly-written lyrics abut your broken heart and you’re good to go. Neither the guitar playing nor the poetic skills need to be very advanced to be as good as the majority of the other “singer-songwriters” out there, so after a week’s practice, the new “singer-songwriter” can head to the open mic night with confidence.

The only answer is exams. No-one without a certificate should be allowed to perform in public. Once a certain level of competence is reached, a provisional or learner licence could allow songs to be played under the supervision of a qualified instructor. The instructor would have dual controls and would be able to put on the brakes in an emergency (such as the cumulative depressive effect of multiple doleful songs causing members of the audience to consider suicide). If there are some who can do good poetry, but can’t advance on the acoustic guitar, then they can be given a qualified licence, like only being allowed to drive an automatic car.

So what’s it going to be? Work a lot harder on your playing and writing, or help me out with target practice?


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