The Breadcrumb Trail

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Slint - Spiderland

My dad loved music. He got me into a lot of good stuff. Pat Metheny was one of his favorites, though not one of mine.

I remember going to see Metheny with my dad in New Brunswick, NJ. During a break in the set, Metheny quietly asked the audience, “do we have any musicians in the crowd?”

A huge number of people yelled back that they were, to which Metheny responded, “you should all be home practicing. Why are you here watching me?”

If you’re unaware of who Metheny is, he’s a progressive jazz guitarist with 3 gold albums and 20 Grammy’s. So if he’s suggesting that there’s always time for practice, you better start practicing.

I thought about my Metheny experience this past weekend after watching the new documentary called Breadcrumb Trail. It tells the story of a band called Slint, a short-lived post-punk band from Louisville, KT, whose classic album, Spiderland, just celebrated its 20 year anniversary.

The documentary itself was fantastic — A must-watch for anyone who has even a minor interest in American underground music. But that’s not the point.

What really struck me about the documentary was Slint’s dedication to their craft. One scene shows them practicing a song called Good Morning, Captain endlessly. They play it slower. They play it faster. They begin syncing up on accents, groove, and feel. It never seems finished, but that’s perfectly alright. They aren’t there to find perfection. They’re there to play. It’s a perfect example of art for art’s sake.

Frankly, it left me feeling embarassed. I remember playing music as a kid, in my first bands. We would practice most days, and when we practiced it was serious. Of course we joked around and had fun, but the purpose of being in that room together was to play, so we played. Records and tours followed, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to play. If we hadn’t achieved anything other than being in a room playing music together, it wouldn’t have made a difference. We would have felt just as accomplished.

When I’m in a practice space now, all I can think about it the final outcome. I think about how this song will fit into the context of the record, what the bassist should be doing differently, or what vocal patterns might sound good at specific points. I know that my mind tends to go to these places, and I do my best to keep it in check, but I feel like my experience as a musician differs greatly from what it used to be.

Slint’s records still resonate with thousands because they lived that music. They probably played those songs 500 times before putting them to tape, and even then, it probably wasn’t the best take they’d ever played. It’s the same reason those early Beatles recordings sound so alive after 50 years. They played those songs so many different times, in so many different situations that they couldn’t have botched a note if they wanted to.

If you want to play, play. But don’t let the desire for records and tours, let alone fame and fortune, drive you. Your best song will come when you let it flow. Your best lyrics will come when you’re not suffering over every word. And your happiest moment will come not because of anything external, but because you’re truly in that moment at that time.

What do you think? 

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