Of all the musical genres out there, the one that scares me the most is the one they call singer-songwriter. Some earnest cat with a guitar telling you about his sad luck, or complaining about what’s wrong with the world. Downer stuff, man. Run away and hide. We’re all doomed.
Wait a minute! Wikipedia says singer-songwriter just means musicians who write, compose and perform their own music – in the finest folk tradition. Leadbellly, Woody, Dylan – guys like that. That’s cool, right?
And anyway, Buzz, don’t you adore James Taylor and Cat Stevens, and didn’t you enjoy and respect some of those hippy-era guys like Tim Hardin and Bruce Cockburn?
And by the way, Buzz, what the heck do you think most of your music should be called?
OK! Fine! Then why do I associate the genre with the likes of Harry Chapin and Jim Croce and Dan Hill, guys whose songs – with all due respect – make me lose my will to live?
Maybe it was that bad voodoo going on in the early seventies, the force that codified, stereotyped and exaggerated everything, the thing that pushed metal into silliness and prog rock into pointlessness and soul into disco and goofy hair. Maybe it’s just that little bit of singer-songwriter that turns me off.
Anyway, it ought to be the most respected genre, ‘cause it’s got to be the oldest. Troubadours, bards, poets, Homer and all that.
By the way, I’d respectfully suggest the Wikipedia entry needs a major overhaul. Maybe Frank Zappa did write, compose and play his own songs, but come on! Is singer-songwriter really the genre that pops to mind when you hear his name?
Then again, as David Knopfler’s thoughtful article points out, it’s a genre that has defied categorization.