Saturday, January 5, 2008


It is a truth universally acknowledged that one is too seldom accosted by accordions.

Felicitously, this morning was grey and drizzly, so after wandering around for an hour getting damp, I retreated to my local coffee shop to make obeisance to the Holy Trinity of addictive beverages, illicit muffins, and junk journalism.

I should tell you that my local coffee shop is, aside from the chickens, the best thing about my new neighborhood and city. The coffee is cheap. The coffee is plentiful. The coffee is good. The patrons, who run the demographic gamut, make excellent reconnaissance targets, particularly when surveyed from a squashy armchair. My local coffee shop avoids the heffalump pits into which other coffee shops have fallen, being neither tragically hip (Soma), made of silicone (Starbucks), infested with strollers (The Bakehouse), crappy (The Copper Cup), nor burnt-flavored (Runcible Spoon). I buy my $1.20 mug of Brazilian Estate (free refills) and try not to live there.

In other words, I expect greatness. What I don't expect, at least not at 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning, is live music. Loud live music. From an upright bass player, a classical guitarist, and some guy whaling on the accordion. Hmmm.

It was impossible not to listen, so I did. (I've always thought music operates best with a captive audience; if early music really wants to win friends and influence people, it should start distributing addictive substances.) And surprisingly, considering they were playing at 10:00 AM to an audience of four friends and three innocent bystanders, the group was pretty good. Not first-class: there were some sour notes, some slackening of ensemble, some gutlessness from the bass. But still, overall...

Pretty good: the bane of artistry. My friends are pretty good. I am pretty good. Millions of people and their mothers, across mediums, are pretty good. But what's the point, exactly? Pretty good is almost worse than atrocious: there you are, floating somewhere north of bad, while the audience (listener, reader, viewer) winces at the pull -the charged, agonizing gap- between you and great.

Never mind pretty good. From now on, I'm living for outright suckiness. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled mediocrity! If I spend enough time in the desert of dreadful, maybe the vultures will feast on my critical faculties and I can stop being a snob.

Or not, God help me. Remember when I said musicians ought to outsource their writing? Here's an excerpt from the trio's Myspace page:

Though primarily an acoustic band that centers their sound on complex and euphoric melodies, they can shock listeners by plunging into the intense realms of avant-garde ferocity before settling down into hard groove. If one were to try to compare XXXX's music to anyone else, Astor Piazzolla or John Zorn might come to mind, however, being that their sound is so diverse it is almost impossible to label them under the school of any one master. They seem to be an enigma that wanders on the outskirts of genre and classification yet, enters the listener to pluck their heartstrings with subtle notes weaved with pop nostalgia and the dark unknown. They will melt your face clean off!

Upon reflection, pretty good looks pretty good to me.

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