Re: Favorite Artists and Staying Power

From           Bob Bennett
Organization   Bright Avenue Songs
Date           Sat, 07 Sep 1996 13:26:09 -0700

Presuming that I might have something worth reading, I post in response
to what Christopher C Parks wrote:

> 1. What makes an artist one of your favorites?  Musicianship? Lyrics? A
> combination?

I gravitate toward people who seem to almost exceed the sum of their
parts...meaning that there is great singing, songwriting, etc., but
there are also intangible inferences that accompany their work...most
importantly to me, an implicit respect on a couple different levels.

Firstly, I appreciate songwriters/artists who respect the stories and/or
characters in their songs. The songs are, in a sense, true to
themselves. An example of this would be Randy Newman. He allows a
warts-and-all sensibility to infuse his songs...he's certainly not
afraid to turn a surprising corner in a lyric. Even the jerks in his
songs (remember "Rednecks" anyone?) have a kind of off-kilter dignity.
He "lets them be" and I always respond to that. In "letting them be", he
"lets me be". I'm simply resistant to spoon-feeding no matter how good
it might be for me!

Songwriters also respect their own songs when they resist what I would
term the "ccm-default-urge" to filter questions, feelings and
experiences so as to make them "safe" for themselves and others. 
If there's any attempt to avoid this, it implies a second kind of
respect: to the listener. I appreciate anyone who gives me a chance to
actively participate in the listening and understanding process. When a
songwriter/artist gives me musical or lyrical "language" to describe or
call up something important (something I may even already know), they
have accomplished a wonderful thing.
> 2. I have noticed what could be called the "DA" effect, or the "VOL" effect:
> some artists remain favorites even though they may have put out albums
> with varying musical styles, or gone through numerous personnel changes.
> What makes this so?

They have managed to establish a "heart-and-mind" credibility with their
listeners. You simply know that even their missteps will be more
interesting than the best work of others. Of course, all this is
deliciously subjective (I love it!)
Some examples for me ("I'll-go-to-any-effort-to-hear-anything-they-do"):
Pierce Pettis, Mac McAnally, Jane Kelly Williams, Dillon O'Brian, David
Wilcox, Shawn Colvin, Stephen Bishop, the aforementioned Mr. Newman,
Bruce Cockburn, The Story, Mark Cohn.
Also, unless an artist's stock-in-trade is to change with the trends, I
appreciate someone who does not try to figure out which way the pop
culture wind is blowing and to go there for the time being. That's not
to say I advocate not growing, but I cringe at being able to dilineate
an artist's albums and career phases by their disco-, new wave-,
techno-, Hornsby-, Bryan Adams-, unplugged-, etc.- incarnations. Bruce
Cockburn is not a "static" artist by any stretch, but he's always

> 3.  Conversely, what causes an artist to cease to be a favorite?  Is it
> changes in the artist?  Changes in the listener?  A combination?

It's usually both for me. Up to "Windows And Walls" I would've knocked
over old ladies to get to anything Dan Fogelberg did! Now, it's just a
passing-attention deal.
Whatever an artist's intentions might be, as a listener I seem to have a
fairly developed (and, perhaps, unforgiving) sense of whether or not
they still seem to have a fire and commitment to what they do. Is it
from the gut or is it being phoned in?
David Wilcox describes certain songwriters as "vulnerable and brave". If
I sense a commercially-expedient lack of vulnerability...if there seems
to be cowardice lurking behind the air-brushed persona (whether Wonder
Bread or street-wise), I'm outta there! (And, of course, I keep myself
awake at night worrying that I might be unwittingly guilty of some of
these same things!)

Regards, Bob.
Bob Bennett
"To be held in the heart of a friend is to be a king." -- Bruce Cockburn
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