Musical Magnanimity

Written by Al Drinkle

As is typical for a wine professional (I trust you can overlook my loose application of this word), I used to play in a punk band. In fact, I still do but at some point living in a van with a bunch of malodorous drunk guys got a bit tiring. It’s been much better for my finances and potential for repose to relegate puerile music to recreational-status, and instead spend the majority of my time in a beautiful shop with well-groomed and less conspicuous dipsomaniacs.

Occasionally I feel the urge to listen to recordings that I made in the past, partly with a perpetually critical ear and partly out of the perverse urge to teleport back to a time when these obnoxious anthems represented absolutely everything that mattered to me. I suspect that this compulsion is common amongst “artists” (and I use that word very loosely too, and certainly to the severe detriment of people with real talent) and though it seems to strike with less frequency, I happened to have a bout of this curiosity earlier this week.

Virtuosos we were not, but everyone in the band was proficient enough to execute the simple music that was our charge. But to me, our young, quiet drummer always stood out for his inordinate proficiency in our modest genre, and particularly so on my most recent listen. I’m obsessed with the idea of considerable skill and energy being invested into a modest enterprise, and what better example of this than a freakishly overqualified musician applying his talent to sincere but utterly unsophisticated music?

Two things struck me in particular. First, after many years of deliberation, I have decided that my ex-bandmate is my favourite punk drummer of all time. Any “musician” (another term whose belt I fasten on the loosest notch) knows what a rare honour it is to make music for over 10 years with an individual whose talent you so thoroughly revere. Second, my drummer’s manifestation of his prowess signals not only superior proficiency, but also a highly uncommon musical magnanimity. His performances were never means to their own ends, the point was never about how good he was and no embellishment that wasn’t to the express benefit to the song in question was ever executed. An insightful ear would notice extremely difficult patterns, all the more impressive by the ease with which they seem to have been played, and the way the drumming seamlessly and subtly improves the music similarly to how tasteful and discrete seasoning completes a dish.

True talent is rare, and even less common is skill allied with the confidence to value discretion and subtlety instead of garish and flagrant exhibitionism.