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The Canon Cathedral

PostPosted: Tue May 09, 2006 10:13 am
by howard male
The Canon Cathedral

I've long been fascinated by the idea of the canon of popular music and how it's arrived at. Obviously there are a myriad of different elements operating, pushing artist through the doors into the hallowed space of The Canon Cathedral, and some of them are fairly reliable, yet others are fairly arbitrary, such as my favourite suspect criterion - death. Would Lennon be in there? Would Nick Drake have recently sneaked in? Is Marley really the greatest of all reggae musicians, and Fela the greatest of all African musicians? Perhaps it's stating the obvious to say their untimely deaths had a disproportionate influence on their entry. But is there anyone who should replace them in there?

Then there's hanging out with the right people at the right time - would The Velvet Underground be covertly shooting-up in the crypt if they hadn't hung out with one of the top art canon guys of the 20th century, Mr Warhol? Andy may have proposed the notion of fame for five minutes, but if you were there, then - even if you were just some brain-dead pretty face - you can still make a living from being interviewed on documentaries about the guy, "You were part of the Factory? Wow! What was it like, man?"

And then, ironically, huge popular success can make those contrary critics who are the gatekeepers of the cathedral, snobbishly turn you away for just being too damn popular - unless you're Abba, and then they eventually soften and let you in, because some clever musicologist has just pointed out the complexity of your chord changes.

So this is a double-edged question really - who do you think shouldn't be crowding the isles of the overcrowded Canon Cathedral, and what great musicians in your humble opinion, from whatever period and genre, have been unfairly overlooked? It might be fun as well if we decide the cathedral has a finite capacity, so when you propose someone goes in, you also have to choose who gets booted out.

PostPosted: Wed May 10, 2006 10:43 am
by howard male
Well I have to say I'm quite disappointed - nearly 30 viewers and not one of you with any suggestions? I would have thought you lot would be dying to inform each other of obscure, unacknowledged geniuses down the decades who have unfairly been barred entrance into The Canon Cathedral. And perhaps a few who shouldn't be there in the first place.

dead good

PostPosted: Wed May 10, 2006 1:07 pm
by Gordon Neill
I confess, for I have sinned. I viewed but did not post. I couldn't even think of any Marys to hail. Please forgive me.

Actually, I didn't bother replying as I couldn't think of much except the obvious stuff. Fashions come and go (is Clapton still God?). Being dead is almost always a good meal ticket. Being old is also helpful.

But also I'm a bit of an athiest when it comes to this sort of stuff. The fact of the matter is that I really don't care who the music establishment decides is a great or who it doesn't notice. Personally, I would have Lennon in there (hallowed be thy name). But what has he done for me lately?

But, for what it's worth, I would evict Jim Morrison and his pretentious drivel. His place would be taken by Bobby Bland. Fashion doesn't yet seem to have come back to his smooth Sinatra-ish style of R&B and soul, but to my knowledge he has never sung ditties about lizards or worn tight leather trousers . And for that I am truly grateful.

pew, what a relief

PostPosted: Wed May 10, 2006 1:21 pm
by Gordon Neill
Funnilly enough, I just finished the last posting and a colleague reminded me of how over-rated Gram Parsons is. BBC 4 repeated that documentary about how great he was. I'm still waiting to hear any compelling evidence. And Emmylou Harris. I can't think of a single memorable (in a good way) song that she's done. So there's two more spaces on the pews.

PostPosted: Wed May 10, 2006 4:21 pm
by howard male
Thanks Gordon, that's exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. Because - believe it or not - I did this in the spirit of enquiry rather than wanting some lengthy debate about whose great and who isn't. The gaps in my knowledge of popular music outside the mainstream are embarrassingly vast (partly due to the fact I didn't actively seek stuff out during the 15 years or so I was intensively making music myself) and so I really am fascinated by the idea of forgotten greats from all eras and nations.

PostPosted: Wed May 10, 2006 4:41 pm
by NormanD
Let's hear it for The Blues!

Who we gonna have in?
I thought first of Robert Johnson, of course, of course. His spooky life, the haunted repertoire of 29 songs....But how many of them can you sing along to when you're doing the washing up?
BB King? Well, maybe if he hadn't started doing "Duo" albums (don't the big record companies just love those) and certainly before he recorded with U2 (forgive him, please).

There's only one bluesman for me and that's a woman, the great Bessie Smith, no one finer. Most of her songs are still fresh and her voice is full of flame and fight. Whose gonna try to kick Bessie out? She'll be standing there with her two fists ready and a look in her eyes that defies you to stick around to see if she uses them.

Norman
Image

PostPosted: Wed May 10, 2006 4:50 pm
by Gordon Neill
I thought first of Robert Johnson, of course, of course. His spooky life, the haunted repertoire of 29 songs....But how many of them can you sing along to when you're doing the washing up?


'Come On In My Kitchen'?

PostPosted: Thu May 11, 2006 6:26 am
by judith
I wouldn't even try to lift my foot if I were standing next to Bessie Smith. Though I would add Big Momma Thornton and kick out Elvis Presley. But then, given your description of the place, would he even be in there Howard? Or perhaps Momma Mae is already inside but got in the door behind Janis Joplin's cover. You're right. This is very confusing.

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 8:34 am
by howard male
Judith wrote -

Though I would add Big Momma Thornton and kick out Elvis Presley. But then, given your description of the place, would he even be in there Howard?


Yes I think he'd definitely be in there but, being an icon, he might just be partly there just for decoration. Which makes me think of another suspect criterior for entry - more often than not you've either got to look good or at least iconographic - have a striking or unique appearance. It's as if we need our musical stars to also please us visually, to look, fittingly enough, transcendent.

But, yes, Judith, Elvis can definitely go: the looks (if our Cathedral grants its inhabitants the chance to look at their best) definitely swayed the door staff on this one. OK so he made some great records at the start, but so did many thousands of artists. He was iconographic that's why he's still around.

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 8:41 am
by howard male
Oh, and, Norman - nice choice with Bessie, but who yer gonna boot out? Springsteen? The Beatles?

As my flimsy allegory is a bit vague, I should point out that this isn't a kind of musician's heaven - living artists who have achieved disproportionate degrees of fame, can be in there too.

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 11:01 am
by NormanD
howard male wrote:Oh, and, Norman - nice choice with Bessie, but who yer gonna boot out? Springsteen? The Beatles?
I just asked Bessie what she thought about Brucie. Her answer's in her face (see photo above). She'd been smiling before I put my question. "Born In The USA?", I heard her mutter, "so was my ass".

Norman

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 12:06 pm
by howard male
Thanks for making me laugh out loud, Norman.

Perhaps we should invite further captions to that wonderful photo. My suggestion would be, "Don't you come near me with that!"

caption competition

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 12:18 pm
by Gordon Neill
How about:

"Is that a chipolata in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?"

Funnily enough, she looks a bit like our Deputy Prime Minister. Are they in some way related?

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 12:33 pm
by Con Murphy
As the kicked-to-the-kerb Elvis flees down the road:-

"Hm. You damn' right scrawny-assed hip-shakin' pretty boys ain't welcome here."


Are you sure Elvis should be evicted, though? Is there some kind of minimum canon-size at which artists are considered? I would have thought his first half-dozen or so singles alone would earn him entry.

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2006 1:18 pm
by howard male
Con wrote -

Are you sure Elvis should be evicted, though? Is there some kind of minimum canon-size at which artists are considered? I would have thought his first half-dozen or so singles alone would earn him entry


Well this is of course where it starts to get tricky, but I would suggest that some kind of sustained quality of artistic output should be necessary to stay in. As I said, Elvis is an icon - which made it easy for him to get passed the gatekeepers (it's the equivalent to wearing a tie or not wearing trainers in this exclusive establishment), but did he really contribute anymore than any other stateside rock 'n' roller after that initial, extraordinary burst of tracks? And the sound of those records (which after all is what makes them unique) was as much a result of his collaborators as it was of his contribution. Whereas someone like Bowie, whatever you might think of him, has produced an extraordinarly varied and innovative body of work (with a dip in the middle, admittedly) over decades, and most of it written and produced by himself. Likewise Costello or any number of other self-made artists.