The Bad Note Manifesto

Toward full enjoyment of the Bad Note:

The Bad Note grew in power as styles melted together and formalities were set aside.  The Bad Note often communicates emotions and ideas more effectively than many hundreds of Good Notes.  The Bad Note might frighten our ears if we're not comfortable with our own shortcomings, but it might also blissfully liberate us from unachievable (or boring) perfection.

The Bad Note might be chance, a random factor, or a more deliberate element of surprise.  The Bad Note may be gentle, approaching softly, or it may have no need for subtlety, stepping loudly and coarsely out of the purity of Form.  When the Bad Note is full of mystical power, it often packs the sharp tongue of the Zen master.

The Bad Note can hold all of the weight of human experience.  Humanity is most beautiful when viewed through the lens of its own fallibility.  In embracing the Bad Note, we can still struggle toward perfection.  Indeed, the Bad Note often needs a clean, clear context to exist.  We advocate the continued march toward the Perfect and the Ideal, but if we never get there, we can enjoy our journey, and we can feel unfettered enough to make a funny noise or three while we go.

My Bad Note Bible is Joey Baron's Raised Pleasure Dot.  His Barondown Trio often breaks into Bad Note flurries, playfully soloing around the tonic, around the main rhythms, around each other.  It's a beautiful thing.  I first heard the record in high school, and immediately myself and a dear tenor sax-shredding friend of mine began taking "bad note contest" solos in high school jazz band almost every time our solos came up.  Everybody wins in a Bad Note contest.  Maybe not the band director...but even in his case, it must be noted that the old adage about "walking before you can run" applies to the Bad Note concept as well: to take a truly dissonant/angular/polyrhythmic/metrically modulating solo--to stay "out"--one must already know how to play "in."  I don't see many videos of the Barondown trio floating around (I think I posted this one before), and this isn't quite as down 'n out as the Pleasure Dot jams, but you can get the idea:

Obviously there are lots of other folks whose music depends on the Bad Note in a variety of ways: Vernon Reid's frantic harmolodic-meets-shred playing was a major influence on both my guitar approach and my overall musical thinking.  That solo on "Information Overload?"  Laying it down, down down.  Then of course you have Beefheart, Primus, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Sex Mob, some of Marc Ribot's playing, just to name a few.    But I think there are many places where a perfectly-placed Bad Note can make all the difference.  Sometimes a rough edge is the perfect finish.  The Bad Note is playing our song.