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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 8. 19th April 1973

Play What You Like

Play What You Like

"Write a column in Salient", said the familiar voice over the telephone.

"I wouldn't even know where to start", I disclaimed modestly. "What do you want, some sort of fearless expose of the corrupt world of professional rock, or perhaps a quick plug for the group's latest hot waxing"?

"Yes, something like that", said the voice hurriedly, "I'm asking Rick Bryant of Mammal to tell us what it's really like to be a NZ Rock Idol, so you can really write anything you like. And as an added inducement, you're not going to make very much money out of this". Click. So how could I refuse.

It's easy enough for Rick — he spends all his day writing things on the bottom of people's essays . . . "Not good enough", "See me", "You're wasting your time and mine with this rubbish", etc. It all tends to hone his writing ability to a razor's edge. The academic mind, so to speak. An article like this comes under the heading of "Child's Play" with that type of mind. I've written a couple of songs and done a crossword or two in the last twelve months, but 1 haven't had to hand in any of those opuses, opi or opes to the vigilant hand, eye and blue pencil of an Editor, to my knowledge. Still, they can't have hired me as a journalist, so I'll try just writing off the top of my head and see what happens. Now I can begin. Where was I?

Some joker stopped me in a certain pub, which will remain nameless (it was the Duke of Edinburgh) and said:
1)"You're lucky to be as successful(sic) as you are: you can play what you like"
2)"I don't really want to play the stuff we're doing, but we have to because it's popular".
3)"I write songs but the rest of the group won't play them because I'm only the drummer. My stuff is fairly progressive and not commercial enough" etc., etc.

The implications of this thesis seem to be: 1) and 2) You play what people want until you "Make it" and then slip in what you "Really Want to Play" (you know, "progressive" stuff, "heavy head" music that widens the boundaries of "rock" music) and 3) Only the lead guitarist or perhaps the lead singer, or at any rate the lead something or other can "Guide the Group's Musical Direction". Isn't that silly.

I suggested to the joker that, if he was dissatisfied with the group he was in, he leave and join a band more to his liking, that would play some of his songs and wouldn't play the stuff he didn't want to play, you know the popular, commercial stuff he was complaining about a few tines up.

"But I'd starve", he wailed.

"Well get a job, you lazy bastard," I advised.

"Oh no", he protested. "I'd want to put all my time into my music".

"Starve then", I encouraged, "It's good for the soul and it might spur you to pull you finger out and get on with some of this alleged progressive music".

"Oh no", he moaned, "I'd be too scared..."

Impasse. So the joker gets the best of all possible worlds: the satisfaction of moaning to people in the pub that he's better than he seems to be, since "they" are preventing the real, talented him from getting out, plus avoiding any troublesome effort involved in doing anything about it.

If you want to join a group and play your own type of music or whatever, do it, don't talk about it, just get on with it. If you want to play or sing stuff that "people want to hear", buy a very cheap Yamaha guitar and go to a party.

This business of "playing for the people" and its presumed opposite, "self-indulgently playing for yourself" add up to a joint myth that need exploding. People don't want to hear any group outside a twenty-first party playing request after request: it's n one-way ticket to utter boredom. Just about everyone I've met with any interest at all in music wants to hear something that attracts their attention and most important, sustains it, played by musicians who look as if they're enjoying it and who look as if they've gone to a little trouble to entertain the audience. If I didn't play what I wanted to play I'd be a combination juke-box and idiot. An audience can soon tell if a group isn't enjoying its music, and will soon turn to another group who is. Whatever you play, if it's good, if you like it and you play it well, other people will like it. If people don't like it, try and play it better, don't start moaning: "We'll go commercial and play Grand Funk and watered-down Deep Purple". Well, you can, but you won't enjoy it. And surely enjoying it is what it's all about. Thank you.

P.S. If you haven't got anything better to do, just an odd Philosophy lecture, or Biology prac. or perhaps a Torts terms test, pop into your friendly local record shop, say Tiffany's and ask the man behind the counter to put on Side One, Track One of Rebirth by the Tarnburlaine Showband. After twenty minutes of that, ask him to put on Side Two. Track One. He won't mind at all, and you have wasted Forty minutes pleasurably and cheaply. If at the end of that time he insists that you buy it, well that's not my fault, is it?