Pretension, Play-acting, Posturing

Pretense is firstly “an allegation of doubtful value” (MW).  I’m a huge fan of Orhan Pamuk- there’s a guy who is very interested in pretense, and the eternal quest to find out who he really is, not who one thinks is or would like to be. He says we go to the movies and own a lot of useless stuff to gain a few moments (or hours, or a lifetime) of respite from our “selves”, diversions to avoid thinking about who we really are. It’s a primary theme in his books- it may be THE main challenge for any artist.

Pamuk is from Istanbul, and his stories are laced with pashas and sultans,  high rankers in the Ottoman Empire.  They are forever disguising themselves and escaping the palace and trappings, eager for some honest interaction and  a break from being the living projection of their subjects.  They wear a costume and play a role as a commoner, to find out who they really are, and then return to the palace to resume their full-time gig, acting the royal role.

Luckily my band doesn’t wear costumes (although we have gladly suited up for our histrionic projects)- it’s an unwritten rule (all of them are) that the question “What are we wearing for the gig?” gets no answer. But that doesn’t mean we don’t individually ponder over our public “face” and the right shoes.

Is this a ‘persona’ I put on when I pick the Fez or the pith helmet, or is it me expressing “myself”? Am I being fake, pretentious, posturing?  I was reminded of this seeing an ‘alt-bluegrass’ band recently, they didn’t quite seem real.  Not actors in a play, pretending to be artists, these guys were players.  Good players, but pretentious, and I was not touched emotionally by their performance.

I think it was obvious to most of the crowd, whether or not they had a musical bone in their body. If you go to a play, you know that what you are seeing isn’t real, that the actors aren’t really experiencing the emotions they are trying to convey- but if they are talented, you may be moved by the performance, they’ve “pulled the major wool” as a pal of mine used to say.

But a musician is playing a different tune altogether. Are we trying to fool the audience? Surely not- it’s not an “act”, it’s art in real time, it can’t be phony or pretending to be something it’s not. I catch myself, too often, singing not in my own voice, instead doing an “impression” of singers I’ve been influenced by. Especially if I’m doing a cover, it’s very hard not to emulate the recording I learned from. (It’s nice, isn’t it, to learn a song from a piece of sheet music, never hearing another singer perform the song, it frees you up)

And what are we, but the sum of our experiences? Tom Petty likely listened to a lot of Bob Dylan, was “influenced” by the experience.  It is possible, but highly improbable, that he came up with his vocal style “out of the blue”.  Just as dialects are learned by “ear”, vocal styles are determined by what you listen to. My advice? Listen to everything you can, don’t fixate on a singer or a style.  Be the sum of a large number of influences,  the larger the better, the higher the “sum”. It’s only when no one can tell where it all came from that it is you and only you.

You are unique, to begin with, and that’s what interests me if I see or hear your performance; I want to see inside your soul, see the real you. You are not an “impressionist”, are you? That’s a neat trick, a skill, but it’s not art.  You are a musician, an artist, you exist on a higher plane.  No tricks, no gaff, no fakery- and of course, no auto-tune….

Who is that in the mirror???



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