Friday, February 29, 2008

So What Is Advancement?

I haven't done something like this for a while, so for our new readers, let's get you up to speed:

What is Advancement?

It is basically the opposite of the theory expressed by Sick Boy in Trainspotting: “Well, at one time, you've got it, and then you lose it, and it's gone forever. All walks of life: George Best, for example. Had it, lost it. Or David Bowie, or Lou Reed.” (Ironically, he told this to Renton, who Advances in the movie by renouncing drugs and "choosing life.") The Advanced Theory says that Sick Boy had it all wrong, that Bowie and Reed hadn't mysteriously lost “it,” they just changed “it” to something that is harder to appreciate. And since change is scary to most of us, we declare that the problem is with the artist and not us.

Of course it is difficult for anyone to accept that Mistrial represented artistic progress from Transformer or that "All For Love," Sting's collaboration with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, could be more advanced than "Roxanne." (It's difficult for me too.) But a great artist is great because he challenges himself and his audience rather than doing what is comfortable. Artistically, "All For Love" was more exciting for Sting than writing another "Roxanne." And what could be more challenging than doing a song you know your fans will hate just on principle?

Finding these kinds of challenges is essential to the Advanced because it is relatively easy for them to write great songs (in the traditional, non-Advanced sense) because songwriting comes naturally to them. This is not limited to Advanced musicians of course. Late in his life Tolstoy got more satisfaction from making mediocre shoes than writing sublime novels. To Tolstoy, the challenge of driving a nail into a sole without breaking it was more stimulating than writing the greatest novel of all time. After all, he did the latter twice.

Before the Advanced had to look to Honda or Rod Stewart for inspiration, the challenge of breaking through to an audience was enough to motivate them to write music. As they aged, though, they began to understand that catering to an audience is limiting. Some reacted by making music designed especially to make the audience mad. But this is ultimately just as limiting because it is still allowing someone other than the artist to dictate what the art will be. So eventually instead of trying to please or infuriate others, they make music that they find interesting, regardless of how people might feel about it. And that's when true Advancement begins.

8 comments:

frankenslade said...

How am I to believe that all new works are advancements? Can't an artist simply run out of steam for awhile and punch the clock by doing a song with Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams? I agree that artists need not "lose it" for good, but if they're in the business of making art and they start making easy-money soundtrack contributions, it's hard to see the advancement.

Nevertheless, I recently found your blog and I like it a lot. I'm also a big fan of Lou Reed and have hung in there with him for many mood swings and slight changes in direction. At a music discussion blog I run, Rock Town Hall, we have a tongue-in-cheek series based around Lou's endless quest for advancement. The most recent entry can be found here:

http://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/index.php?title=lou_reed_as_his_music_was_meant_to_sound_23&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

Jason said...

You just have to believe! Your URL was broken in the comments, so send it again, and I'll put up a link.

polkatronixx said...

I have a question that has dogged me since I first read about advanced theory. Must an artist first be overt before progressing to advancement? Can an artist arrive in the public consciousness as a fully advanced person from day one? It's easy to view the work of someone like Kate Bush as being quite advanced... but maybe she's just "weird," or "overt." Anyway, just thought I'd ask.

Jason said...

That's a good question, and one I've wrestled with a lot. I think their might be the occasional artist that is Advanced from the beginning,and Kate Bush is a great example. I've always thought Tom Waits might have been that way, then circled back to Overtness (Second-Stage Advancement).

frankenslade said...

Thanks, Jason. Believe I will!

I don't know how to post these long, specific links without them breaking up, but here's a link to a search on Rock Town Hall for some of our coverage of Lou Reed's advancements:

http://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/index.php?s=lou+reed...&sentence=AND&submit=Search

If that breaks up, you can go to www.rocktownhall.com and type in "Lou Reed" in the search box.

Sting, Adams, and Stewart were also convicted of Rock Crimes at our place. Maybe we'll have to reopen the case.

polkatronixx said...

Yeah, people like Kate Bush or Klaus Nomi tread the line between being advanced or REALLY overt. So overt that they are almost advanced simply by being SO OVERT! Who knows. I like the Tom Waits idea. I'll have to think about that one some more.

Cecilie said...

Aren't you contradicting yourself by first saying, "And what could be more challenging than doing a song you know your fans will hate just on principle?" and then, "Some reacted by making music designed especially to make the audience mad. But this is ultimately just as limiting because it is still allowing someone other than the artist to dictate what the art will be. So eventually instead of trying to please or infuriate others, they make music that they find interesting, regardless of how people might feel about it. And that's when true Advancement begins"?

As I understand Advancement, it's necessarily difficult; It could maybe be characterized as that which is easy to do for an idiot, but hard to do for a genius?

Jason said...

That's a good point, but I would say that Sting had not yet reached a point where others' opinions of him were not a factor in his decision making. When he did the lute music, I'm thinking that was all for Sting.