The Simple Pleasure of a Well-Crafted Tune

My musical training is as a jazz saxophonist—which by the way, informs pretty much every facet of my world view as a builder of things—so I naturally gravitate to any music involving that most excellent brass embodiment of all that is good about the civilized world: Michael Brecker, Tower of Power John Coltrane, Moon Hooch, and the like.

But in fact I like all kinds of music. To be sure, not every genre in the world floats my boat, but most of them do. Opera, classical, folk, funk, klezmer, rock, electronica—I like it all. In the parlance of the Blues Brothers, I like country and western. I could care less whether something is mainstream or indie, serious or frivolous, pop or high culture. At the end of the day, I just can’t resist the simple pleasure of a well-crafted tune. If it’s awesomely constructed and played with heart, give it to me.

I tend to obsess a bit over tunes that strike my fancy. Obsess, as in, listen to each one hundreds of times, over and over and over. My ever-tolerant family eventually bans such featured tunes from any public airplay in our home or automobiles. Oh well, I’ll always have my iPhone and earbuds…

The latest composition to be locked into semi-permanent repeat on my iPhone (and banned from my car) is High Times by Kacey Musgraves and her LED-bedecked band of bearded troubadours. It’s the first tune on this amazing NPR Tiny Desk concert—check it out:

There are so many things to admire about this composition and the way it’s performed:

  • I love how the first lyrics drop you right into the heart of the action, media res. No buried lede here.
  • There’s a beautiful variety of musical textures at work: solo voice, full instrumentation, warbling whistle, and some pregnant pauses.
  • Musgrave’s lyrics are deceiving in their simplicity; I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t find some sort of personal resonance in her themes of loneliness, self identity, seeking zero BS, and making life choices.

And so on. A music critic more deft than yrs trly could unpack High Times a lot better than I ever will. And I’m not sure that I want to—I don’t want to trample over the magic at work here.

The last tune to grab my attention in such a way was—wait for it—Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. And before that it was Tubes by Moon Hooch. Preceded by Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. And so forth.

All totally different genres, and on the surface a fundamentally different approach to music making. And across all of these finely crafted tunes, I see so many things can inspire and inform the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life. Each one plays by the constraints of their respective genres, but uses them in a liberating way; the search for novelty within socially acceptable constraints can lead to incredible and surprising creative outcomes. And in each you can feel the artists performing in a flowing and authentic way. They’ve mastered the process and their instruments, and moved beyond those to another level of being. To me that’s the definition of an artist, and I believe you can be an artist no matter the tools of expression you work with.

Such are the simple pleasures of a well-crafted tune.

And remember, though nobody needs a thousand-dollar suit to take out the trash, I’ll definitely take one of those light-up ones!