Johnny Marr's Great Ideas
Victorian art and social critic, John Ruskin (1819-1900), believed in order for a piece of art to be considered great, it must be more than beautiful, it must also contain "by any means whatsoever, the greatest number of great ideas." Ruskin felt art was about creating concepts and encouraging critical thinking, not merely imitating what had been done before. Modern music, lyrically shallow, full of sampling and computer generated instrumentation is exactly that, an imitation of an imitation of an imitation. It has lost its lifeblood and become anemic. Music, unlike painting, is not an art one can hold or touch, but yet it has the ability to hold and touch the listener. Music is an internal experience, one where the deepest connections are made. That in itself is enough to make it beautiful.
Johnny Marr's masterpieces, The Messenger, and Playland, are without question, beautiful. Marr uses a colorful palate to create sonic landscapes, rich in tones, interlaced with dynamic, melodic contours. The result is aurally and emotionally stimulating. The great idea in Marr's music is in the absence of overstatement. There are no obnoxious guitar solos or lazy, clichéd lyrics. Marr's music is clean, defined and unassuming. It is his music, filled with his ideas. Johnny Marr proves he can be modern without being trendy.
Marr has noticed the current direction of music becoming "..concerned with looking inwards..." and describes his perspective as what he sees happening in society as he looks at it from an exterior viewpoint. In a 2014 interview with Sky News, Johnny Marr stated "...the idea really is that we live in this kind of cultural loop, like we're chasing to get away from something that's actually caused by the chase." That concept is the great idea within both The Messenger and Playland. As we attempt to "escape boredom, loneliness (and) detachment" we chase after the things we believe will prevent them. We turn to religion to nourish the soul, money to nourish capitalistic cravings and status to nourish egos. Eventually, discovering these are temporary solutions that lead us back to the very things we were trying to run away from. With his solo releases, Johnny Marr has brought awareness and challenge to this cyclic chase on his own terms. While these topics are by no means, new ideas to music, Johnny Marr with his idea of looking inward from the outside, uses his own unique perspective in crafting these songs, therefore escaping the influence of imitation, something Marr has always done exceedingly well.
Music, unlike painting, is not an art one can hold or touch, but yet it has the ability to hold and touch the listener.
In "25 Hours" Marr challenges the philosophy of whether we are indeed products of our environment, and if so, can we change. Are we able to erase our past selves or, are we in fact, "erasing ourselves" and individuality by conforming to social standards instead of finding our own.
The lyrics are presented as a stream of consciousness as Marr contemplates purging or erasing the influences forced upon us by our environments, cultures and traditions, and finding "the door (that) really goes somewhere." Marr suggests we think, without telling us how to think. The door will lead to a different place for each listener if they are ready to go through it.
Looking in from the outside, gives one a more objective and a less emotional view, which Marr uses as he tells himself "about all he had to do" to rid himself of the negative influences we are all subjected to. We can accept and conform to these ideologies or we can decide to look in from the outside and discover our own truths.
Marr asserts that he is here "NOW", stronger and more confident. He learned a "need" and that need was to find his own value, his own self-truth.
The songs "25 Hours" and "Generate! Generate!" from The Messenger could have swapped places. The energetic, "Generate! Generate!" suggests it takes place after Marr has gone through "the door". The flowing vibrancy of the music alone is enough to suggest a rebirth after Marr frees himself from the "sensations (that) jacked (his) thinking." Johnny Marr "calculates" and "generates" through the song, shrugging off the "Congito ergo dumb" of a closed "one track mind" way of thinking. The world is not black and white and Marr is not afraid to explore the gray areas.
Ruskin noted "every generation has in all probably some peculiar gift, some particular character of mind, enabling it to do something different from or something in some sort better than what has been done before." I think this is exactly what Johnny Marr has accomplished with the The Messenger and Playland. Both releases are beautiful to listen to, the music creates an intimate connection with the listener; the lyrics challenge a different viewpoint, and stay true to Marr's perspective. They are his own great ideas.
No doubt, Ruskin would approve.