Last year I declared September 23rd to be National Vulgar Boatmen Appreciation Day. (Casual Readers: The Vulgar Boatmen have a song titled “23rd of September.”)
The point of Vulgar Boatmen awareness month is to highlight the fact that our language has difficulty communicating that a band can be qualitatively better than 99% of the other bands and deserve greater attention. To use more philosophical language, to highlight the fact that a rock and roll band can create something that can only be called beautiful - a work of art - not an article of commerce.
There are categories – jam bands, punk bands, indie pop, prog, post rock, and on it goes. These categories attempt to herd listeners into familiar pens. However, the categorization is horizontal and does not evaluate for quality of the music. The leap to The Vulgar Boatmen is vertical but not immediately obvious. It requires effort (or cultivation) on the part of the listener. Appreciation of The Vulgar Boatmen is not mere sensory stimulation like putting your hand over a hot stove. It is sensing but also reflecting, evaluating, and comparing to other music that has been listened to deliberately and evaluated. Through highly-tuned and developed senses the beauty of The Vulgar Boatmen can be recognized. Not everyone gets The Boatmen, but those that do I have found to have a certain cultivation in common.
The beauty of their music comes from quality of the music itself, not how many records they sold, what bands they can be categorized with, how compelling their biography. The power of the music is demonstrated by the fact that 25 years after the release of their last album that people still care. That a fan, Fred Uhter, made a documentary about the band, funding it himself.
But isn’t music just a matter of personal taste? I’ll answer that using the Budweiser versus Guinness example. If you have only ever drank Budweiser, you may think that is good. Once you try Guinness, you discover that what is called a beer can be something quite different and that difference is not only the style, stout versus lager, but in the quality. Knowing about Guinness opens a new horizon. You may like Guinness better or worse, but you awareness of the difference will increase or decrease your fondness for Bud. You leave the glass a person changed forever.
Not everyone has to agree with me that The Vulgar Boatmen are one of the all-time great bands, but to have listened to them will have added to the richness of your life – like having a Guinness.
I plan to post Vulgar Boatmen related items until the 23rd of September to increase awareness. I invite others to join me.