Not long ago we visited a local Asian market to buy some groceries. We decided it would be fun to pick something exotic up, and took a risk in grabbing a box of cookies which we could not read the label of. We had no idea the kind of stench that was to be unveiled when we opened them, but even our outside garbage can stunk for days! We couldn’t read the writing and had no way of knowing…… they were Durian fruit. The stinkiest fruit on the planet!
A few days ago I spent several hours in the car driving a round-trip of about 4 hours total. I don’t do this that often so I rather enjoy the opportunity. For me, this is an opportunity to listen to local radio. When I am home, I listen mostly to Pandora and TuneIn Radio and like to listen to radio stations all-over. But I was excited in this case to listen to some live and fairly local jazz, and much of it was quite excellent music and art, presented will and skilfully on multiple levels. I was really digging it too.
But then something horrible happened. Someone opened up a bag of stench that lingered into the rest of the programming and ruined it. And it wasn’t the music. The remaining music was swinging (we are talking jazz here), emotive, and presented with effort. I can’t speak quite as highly of the validity and melodic choices of the soloist, but that is not the point here.
A seasoned radio professional of many years came to the mic to introduce a special guest. He gave what I can only hope was an impromptu introduction. I am sure we’ve all done something similar, and so the point here is not to discredit the individual. But what he began to say he described as normative. He introduced the guest soloist as someone who has that “something special,” and he just knew it the first time he heard them. What did he know? What is that? His only definition was that it was something that most musicians he hears don’t have.
This opens up the big bag of stench, and here’s five human reasons why I think we should toss this term in the trash and never open up another bag. I’ll come back and break down some specific musical reasons why we should reject that something special in a few days, but consider the stinging stench of this term:
1. It’s Undefined
You cannot explain it with descriptive musical or artistic terms. In other words, it is most likely purely subjective (it is a personal taste). If you just don’t like a particular work of art or music because it isn’t your style and you don’t have the vocabulary or knowledge of the art to explain why, just say so.
2. It’s Kind of illogical and Inconsistent
With almost anything else, any other form of art that you enjoy, are indifferent to, or even hate, you are probably used to pinpointing a few reasons why—even if you aren’t a professional. Because you have actual reasons why.
What do you like about your favorite food?
Is it because it is sweet and salty, because it is fresh, maybe because it is smothered in cheese? Whatever the reason, you have one.
What about a movie you dislike?
The characters are unbelievable, there is no plot, etc. You get the idea.
3. It’s Kind of Insensitive and Inattentive
If someone you love were to ask you why you love them, would you respond with “just because?” Probably not if you know them well, because you know they want to know personal, real, and communicable reasons why you love them. They want to know that you pay attention to them and that you know them.
4. It’s Kind of a Betrayal
It betrays both those you say have it, and those that don’t. To those that have it you say, I don’t really pay that much attention to what you do and I don’t really care that much, but I like it, I’ll give you that. To those that don’t have it you say, I don’t like your music and I don’t really care enough to tell you why. In both cases, if you can’t describe it in even basic terms artistic or musical, maybe you don’ t know the music as well as you think. Maybe you need to spend more time listening.
5. It Kind of Devalues Music as a Whole
Such a statement reduces music to a commodity or mere entertainment product at best. But even these usually get reviews that make an effort to actually describe the salient features.
So I listened with bated breath, ready to hear that something special. Unfortunately, I was still wincing from the stench, so I couldn’t listen with a completely fresh ear. Either way, I certainly didn’t hear that something special. I did hear a talented musician, but I am sure many of the musicians that the professional would relegate as only worthy of singing in a lounge somewhere are just as talented and artistic, and maybe even more. I know countless that are. Music is to be created with attention, and enjoyed with attention. And musicians deserve honest and attentive appreciation for the value in what they do.