Before we begin today’s discussion, I have to get something off my chest. Long-time readers of this blog will recall my personal fascination with New Orleans, pursued through various visits and acquisitions. They may also recall my fondness for the David Simon show “Treme”. I’m not sure there is much, if anything, to improve about that show, but there’s one scene that really grinds my proverbial gears. It comes from Season One, Episode Five:
Producer: “Do you want to cut bass and drums first?”
Davis: “What is this band, Journey? Everyone in the big room, all at once, classic New Orleans R&B”
Producer: “Gonna have to call me Cosmo”
Why does that piss me off? Because Journey’s best-selling (and, frankly, just plain best) album, Escape, was recorded live in the studio. They didn’t split the musicians up and record them individually, the way Page did with Zeppelin or… well, pretty much every other arena-filling rock band did. Journey albums have a diamond-hard polish to them, but it’s mostly because the musicians involved are Just. That. Good. Even if their musical instruments are worthless.
Now you can argue that Steve Zahn’s character in “Treme” is meant to be an idiot, so perhaps that line in the script is meant to point out how stupid he is. ‘Twould be nice, but I doubt it. I think that David Simon just assumed that Journey did everything the way Steely Dan or the Doobie Brothers did, crafting pop confections one subtle ingredient at a time. He probably has no idea that Escape was recorded in six weeks, while Aja took ten times as long and cost about twenty times as much.
Which isn’t to say that Escape was not carefully produced, or that you can’t find a tremendous amount of tradecraft in it. Which brings us to the above video.
My friend Chuck did me the disservice of introducing me to Rick Beato’s videos. I think I could probably spend a year of my life watching him carefully dissect the production of, and explain the music theory behind, great songs of the past. His “Don’t Stop Believin'” video is probably the first time I have watched anything on YouTube longer than five minutes from start to finish. Beato’s critics, particularly on Reddit, complain that he expects his viewers to know too much, but let’s be honest with each other for a moment: Does the world need another video clown who babbles along at an elementary-school level while flapping his arms like a bird and expressing unfeigned astonishment at rain-activated windshield wipers and the like? If you don’t understand something Beato says, that’s a good opportunity for you to learn about that particular something. Furthermore, Beato isn’t exactly frog-marching people through five-part fugues most of the time. I have very little formal musical training and I can follow him just fine.
Rick’s enthusiasm is just as strong as his erudition. I defy you to watch the video with an open mind and not come away impressed by “Don’t Stop Believin'”, even if you’re so sick of hearing it on the radio you could simply burst from it. Are Beato’s hundreds of other videos just as useful and entertaining? I have no idea, but I intend to take at least a representative sample.
Twenty minutes well spent. And it provides an outstanding demonstration of something my favorite professor, Edward Tomarken, never tires of repeating: Criticism competes with the text in addition to commenting on it. You could enjoy Beato’s video even if you cannot stand Journey, the same way that the Clive James review of a dreadful Judith Krantz eroto-novel is so much more pleasurable to read than the work on which it comments. Do we have time for a little music? Well then — let’s permit Journey to send us out with their criminally underrated title track. If you can can make it through without at least tapping your toe, then at least you’ll be in good company with Steve Zahn.