On The Musical Metaphors Heavy And Deep

by Thomas Brett

I might be generalizing, but when I’ve overheard musicians talking about a musician they really admire and respect, they don’t usually say “He’s an amazing musician” or “She’s really a wonderful musician.”  For some reason, what I hear over and over again are the words “heavy” and “deep”–as in: “She’s such a heavy musician” or “His playing is so deep, man.”  Why do musicians return over and over again to heavy and deep when there are a million other ways through which to frame their artistic admiration?

It’s possible, of course, that some musicians just don’t excel at, have much interest in, or the time for descriptive wordplay.  But I think something else may be going on in the use of heavy and deep as their metaphors of choice.  Heavy comes from the old English word hebban which means “to heave”; it means of great weight and has connotations of something difficult to lift or move.  Deep means to extend far below a surface, or extending far in time or space, and has connotations of referring to something with a mysterious nature, something difficult to penetrate.

A musician who is described as heavy or deep, then, is perhaps someone who makes music with gravitas, every sound they make seemingly solid, just right, perfectly timed and tuned, enduring.  Or maybe their music evinces a vast well of body and cultural knowledge, references and associations.  Maybe a great musician is both like a rock and like water–solid mass and flowing liquid.

Are the words heavy and deep reserved for mature, older musicians?  Can a child be a heavy or deep musician?  Or like teenage chess masters, can they only be prodigies?  Instinctively I want to say, no, child musicians can’t be heavy or deep, but maybe that isn’t so.  I’m thinking back to YouTube clips I’ve seen of very young child drummers playing very intense and rhythmically sophisticated drum solos.  Such effortless movement and graceful, ergonomic gestures around the drum set!  So much body-mind know how at such a young age!  (How can they know this and come by that knowing?)  True, they’re not playing with anyone else, and maybe solos aren’t the ideal place for evaluating heaviness and deepness.  Still . . .

So: heavy and deep: powerful, evocative metaphors for speaking about musicianship.

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