May 16, 2006

Brion's Song

Just caught up with this marvelous LA Weekly piece on composer/arranger/polymath Jon Brion. The writer, John Payne, is a little too in love with his subject, and with himself, but what gems of insight. To wit:
I would not call what a lot of people do songs; there are a lot of things I would call performance pieces—it’s this guitar part with this drum part equals this performance piece. Led Zeppelin didn’t write songs; those are performance pieces, the lyrics and melody are almost secondary. You don’t wanna hear anybody else do it; you want to hear those particular people playing that arrangement, and you want to hear that recording of it, you don’t even want to hear the live version.

Exactly! And, along the same lines:
I find the attitude of rock musicians over the past 20 years kind of funny...the whole I’m-a-rebel stance. The truth of the matter is, most rock bands are classical musicians and they don’t know it. Because it’s ‘This song starts with this drumbeat, at this time; halfway through, the guitar comes in, playing this part, with all down strokes on the fifth, with a clean sound; at this point you turn on your distortion and you play the barre chord, and then it’s muted at this point...’ And every time they play the song, it’s the same thing. That’s classical music!

Someone needs to write a rock-pop update of Alec Wilder's seminal American Popular Song. I think Brion might be the man to do it.

1 comment:

Erik said...

Rob, I used to go see Jon Brion at Largo a lot, and the thing that always impressed me is that he seemed to be familiar with every song ever written. Or if he wasn't, he's really good at faking it. Because people would often yell out the most random of random songs for him to play (or, "performance pieces," rather) and I never saw him stumped once. And I would definitely say that "performance piece" is the write term when describing what Brion himself does. You might ask him to sing something like "Wicked Little Town" from Hedwig and he might start out by playing a music box and then go into a drum solo before getting to any of the lyrics, but it will undoubtedly be a compelling take on the "song."

I would be curious to see a Brion/Bjork collaboration.