Harmful Music

Interested in your thoughts on this. Subjective input on whether music can be too powerfully influential is welcome. Is there a record or records you think have the effect of changing artists to a degree that may be detrimental?

I got on this train when I heard an interview some time ago with an author who listed the “Ten Most Harmful Novelists for Aspiring Writers.” It was Crawford Kilian, a Canadian contributor to the blog, The Tyee, who suggested we simply withhold these works from young authors to protect them from negative influence.

Read Ten Most Harmful Novelists for Aspiring Writers at The Tyee

Why am I writing about this? Because at the time I remember wondering if there would be a corollary in music. Are there recordings or compositions that, because of their power to influence, you recommend young musicians avoid? Records I maybe wish I hadn’t heard because I was never again able to play the same? A conversation with a friend re-triggered the idea.

OK first of all it’s a silly idea. I get it! None of my friends would comment on the record (no pun intended)! Maybe you will. But that’s another issue. You can’t blame the masters for their imitators. But I decided not to scrap this post because I know some folks will chime in. You may do so anonymously (if you prefer) by writing to the Greenleaf Help Desk.

Kilian says some novels are so powerful that aspiring writers are pulled into their orbit, corrupted by unavoidable influence. “[These books] are often well-written, but their effects have generally been disastrous: they inspired younger writers to imitate them, they created awful new genres that debased readers’ tastes, or they promoted literary or social values that we could very much do without.”

The list contains books by Ayn Rand, J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, William Golding and it’s true that most folks read these in high school and were affected. He identifies traits we see in writing today (that he abhors), and blames it on Catcher In The Rye, Atlas Shrugged, and On The Road.

Does Kilian really mean they should be verboten? I don’t think so. But influence is something I hear in music a lot. Sometimes I hear it as an avoidance rather than an emulation, i.e., players trying, often to negative effect, not to sound like something or someone. Maybe that is even stronger evidence for the influence problem in music.

Here are some records that changed me. I wonder how different a musician I would be if I hadn’t heard them. I recommend them enthusiastically! But maybe I agree that young listeners should beware their pull…

Miles Davis, In A Silent Way

Don’t even remember how I got it. Listened to it five million times. Can’t play the same way over a vamp in F. Can still sing every note, still go to that church. It’s a masterpiece, but did it profoundly affect countless musicians? Undoubtedly.

Weather Report, Heavy Weather

Just a couple months ago I was in a car with a bunch of musicians and we spontaneously sang together, from memory, Jaco Pastorius’ Teen Town. What a moment of recognition: this was a piece we had all unconsciously internalized! Likewise, A Remark You Made is possibly the most powerful instrumental ballad of the era. There’s a perfection to the production on this record that can be dangerous to attempt in an improvised context. It raised the bar, but it also changed the game for a lot of people.

Woody Shaw, Woody III

Wanted to have a band because of this record. It’s the way they played the arrangements together that most affected me. It felt like a community, with Mr. Shaw’s brilliant musical mind at the helm. There is a spontaneity to the playing here, but it sounds so effortless (I think) because it was a band on the road and at the same time a new imagination of ow a band works that Woody Shaw had the vision to bring into being. Maybe some of the hard work behind putting it together was something I was not as aware of when I listened so obsessively.

I could go on. But I’m really curious what others would say. Which recording or composition do you think has this kind of influence and do you think there is something to NOT hearing them? Which records do you wish you’d heard later? Or earlier?

Be Civil.