this monday at the hideout
This Monday it's me and Eric Noden, playing a bucketful of blues.
In the wake of my Grammy nominations I've received an avalanche (by my standards) of Facebook messages. Feeling cheerful and celebratory, I resolved to answer each note of congratulations individually ("Congratulations, long overdue, don't give up!" "Thanks, I won't!") but after the first couple hundred I've given up. I take egoistic pleasure in the avalanche though, and each expression of support, no matter how plainspoken or brief, is most appreciated.
There's been some interest and speculation regarding Sturgill Simpson's and my being included this year. I read the piece in the NY Times and a couple country-music blogs, and, beyond the fact that our inclusions are a little eye-catching, and the content of our albums speaks (whether defiantly or subtly) to our confidence in our personal strangenesses and concerns, I don't think that there's nearly as much to say as has (already) been said. Granted, I have a thought of that sort on a daily basis: "Aah, shaddup already." The industrialization of music, the ever-increasing efficiencies in creating and marketing all of it but particularly the commercial subset of it -- call it a sameing-down -- this is a decades-long and continuing phenomenon, with multiple causes but with computer technology, in my view, heading the list. So an individualistic work of quality -- one in which, for instance, each item in the mix doesn't impress a listener as having been elaborately and expensively compressed, a known and long-identified genre doesn't leap out of any random needle drop, the lyrics don't seem to be at pains to express garden-variety emotions of every living human in each couplet -- stands apart from the herd more than ever. There's just too much that everyone knows at this point, and getting to an aural result that reflects the knowledge is easy and not that expensive. Making a piece of art that sounds distinctive means, nowadays, forgoing some widely available tools, which requires a rare stubbornness of mind. Also, as Danny Barnes has put it, quoting John Hartford: in the 1970s there were one thousand bands in the US. Now, there are one thousand in every state. And since Hartford's "now" was in the 1990s, maybe the number's closer to 10,000. Standing out is a taller task just mathematically.
Leaving aside the wave of popularity and publicity he's been riding lately, Mr. Simpson made a record that sounds not only accomplished but vividly unlike the other 500,000 out there last year. In that respect I don't think it's really very surprising, or worthy of intense multisyllabic reflection, that Grammy voters noticed and honored it. More newsworthy that the thing was done than that it was noticed! For the eggheads of NARAS the challenge wasn't noticing it but guiding a square peg into one of a small number of plainly labeled and historically defined round holes. Once the record cleared the (very high) hurdle of "this really needs to land somewhere," the exact location of landing wasn't as meaningful as some are making it out to be. His nominations, or mine, aren't a long-overdue validation of this or that scene; nor do they mean that shitty country music or any other brand of commercially induced boredom is on the decline. Shit's here to stay! Instead, I take Sturgill's record to be a personal achievement in the field of music -- not only rare but highly resistant to analysis.