Local Current Blog

What does it mean to be a ‘local musician’?

photo by Erik Hess, courtesy Mark Mallman

When we talk about music being local, should that even matter? Is it possible to be a band from nowhere? Is the guy that plays a bucket poorly with one drumstick a local band? It’s all quite absurd, this labeling of music. Music does not label itself. Music can only be music. Is it better to hear music that you hate by a friend that you love, or a person you despise in a band that you adore? When Chris Martin says “Hello, Minnesota,” to an arena full of people between songs, I’m certain there is at least an ounce of sentiment behind it — but when someone works all day, then slugs a guitar amp in through two feet of snow on a Thursday in February to play to 35 people at the Nomad or the Hexagon, that’s a beautiful thing. It’s what passion manifests.

Famous or unknown, local or international, the music business is simply a lot of work — but music will not work for you. All that music can do is be music. We mustn’t demand more of it. The cliche of “paying your dues” as a musician is a privileged notion. Everybody has to work, no matter what they do. Even flowers have to work. Ants most certainly work harder than we do. Yet we step on them. Poor ants. I wonder what ants sing to their eggs in the night.

Science has yet to define what music becomes once inside of us. Did you know that a ringing in your ears is not a sound? It’s a thought, an imitation synthesized by the brain. Mine is buzzing now as I type this, like a waterfall under my hat — but I’m not wearing a hat. Imagine blasting the third movement of Beethoven’s Symphony #7 very loudly in your home with your hands pressed against the window. Picture your fingers still buzzing as you remove them from the glass. This is the constant ringing of tinnitus. When the hearing gets damaged in this way, certain frequencies are dead to the ear. The brain gets lonely, and it recreates frequencies on its own.

It is said that white noise contains all sound. I’d like to think this constant rushing in my head is all the world’s great music playing forever at one time. We cope.

Tinnitus transcends location or genre. Jay-Z can damage his ears in the same way that I can. In this way, we are very similar people. But we are wealthy rock stars in very different ways. Fame does not always equate to quality. Numbers and money do not always justify artistic content. For instance, Van Gogh only sold two paintings. Any time you’d like, you can go to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. There you will see Van Gogh’s Olive Trees glistening in a way that feels as if old Vincent himself had just hurried around the corner. It is the only painting of its kind in the world. Olive Trees can only be Olive Trees. If we demand more, it will only disappoint. Van Gogh worked very hard his whole life. He made beautiful paintings, and nobody really cared. For Van Gogh, the painting was its own reward. Now he is dead. I suppose that’s the ultimate form of paying one’s dues.

Beneath the white noise wallpaper of my mid-career mind, Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings Op.11 is playing from my stereo as I write this. When I leave the living room to heat my tea, the white noise follows, but the soft adagio fades away. Samuel Barber’s Adagio Op. 11 is like a drive-thru window in the fast food restaurant of my feelings. It is sad that songs disappear. It is sad that people disappear. It is sad when the dessert is over and you’re staring at a messy empty bowl. I don’t want to be sad anymore. I guess that’s why I play concerts for a job. When a band plays to a room full of people, we are all holding hands together with our ears.

Mark Mallman has been Local Current’s DJ in Residence for November and December. Tune in to Local Current today, Dec. 18, from noon to 6 p.m. to hear him host six hours of Minnesota music.