The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

3 July 2004

Lesser contenders

All too often, the late Marlon Brando lived up to Terry Teachout's description of him — "a self-indulgent, undisciplined ham" — and Teachout suggests that he occupies a lesser level in the Pantheon than would actors who also took on the task of writing or directing. And in Brando's case, this makes sense; had he been on the other side of the camera, he might have been more disciplined. (The prototype here is Clint Eastwood, whose direction tends to be spare and not even slightly self-indulgent.)

Turn this approach toward music, and you get the post-Beatles/Dylan emphasis on performers who write their own stuff, a phenomenon which R. Alex Whitlock is happy to endorse:

A singer or band is an interpretative artist. But a singer or band that writes their own music are creative artists. No matter how wonderful Faith Hill's voice is, she's singing from someone else's script. She's doing what someone else has planned for her. I can appreciate her vocal talent, but it becomes difficult to connect with the artist herself.

Which makes sense as far as it goes, but then you're stuck with the question of Shania Twain, who does write her own stuff, but who annoys Nashville purists even more than Faith does.

My own bias here comes from two phenomena: the fact that the pre-Beatles pop/rock which informed my early years was written largely by professional songwriters, not by the performers themselves — two words: Elvis Presley — and the fact that songwriters, thanks to their performing-rights agencies, are guaranteed a piece of the financial action, which surely encourages performers to write their own material, however derivative.

What's more, the best recordings by some of our "self-contained" recording artists have a lot of different fingerprints on them: Dylan might still be warbling in front of baristas in Dinkytown were it not for The Band. It's indisputably easier, as Whitlock suggests, to get a handle on an artist who's wearing as many hats as possible; perhaps the difference here is that I'm more interested in finding my own emotional connection to a given song than getting a grip on the artist's intention. Or maybe I'm just being self-indulgent.

Posted at 9:20 AM to Tongue and Groove


Brando did direct one film: One-Eyed Jacks. I always liked it although I gather the shoot was a... self-indulgent nightmare.

Best moment: Brando gets his own back on Slim Pickens. "Get up you big tub of guts".

Posted by: The Proprietor at 12:44 PM on 3 July 2004