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Taking Music for Granted
The forgotten rationality.
I wish the world were truly happy.
Living as one.
I wish the word they call freedom.
Some day would come.
Some day would come.
— Lionel Ritchie
For the past several years most of the writers I have been following as well as the those who have been following me have been hounded by a ghost. It is the ghost of rationality. We lament its lack. Every week I hear somebody talking about critical thinking skills as if it were dead to us and needs some supernatural power to resurrect. I don’t doubt the sincerity of this wish, it is something I wish for myself when I am in the mood to speculate about the future.
Like the debate about IQ, there’s something fundamentally pessimistic about these wishes and discussions. There is a have and have not dimension to it. Or to put it more frankly in the words of comedian D.L. Hughley, “They’re fucking it up for everyone.” They, being the irrational, the stupid, the uninformed and the otherwise out group that lowers our collective profile and brings us such national turmoil and shame. Isn’t it always an American expectation that our collective be exceptional? We don’t have to be. We can be common.
In my head, there is a tune. Spontaneously it is Yankee Doodle Dandy. I can’t tell you what key it is in, but I’m sure it is a major key. I would bet that most every common American knows the tune along with Happy Birthday and probably 200 others. When I was a younger parent and our oldest got into the middle school band, I recall a speech given by the principal about the value of music instruction. What impressed me about the speech was the clear conclusion. Everyone eventually listens to music, but what music they choose to listen to depends upon the sophistication of their upbringing in that regard. Those with none will always end up listening to the BOOM BOOM CLACK. Is that what we want for our children, to have their joy of music communicated in the most fundamentally elementary versions? My mind immediately went to one of the lamest rap songs I ever remember, the one-hit-wonder from Audio 2 that was unforgettably bad. Sorry I had to poison you but I do wonder if you can survive the entire 3 minutes 45.
If you did, what more can I say, it’s illin’. You have suffered at the stoplight just like all of us from this kind of illiteracy and the wonderfully inexpensive supply chain of technologies that get it from Under The Rock Studio into your eardrums.
Yet I would actually rather listen to Audio 2, Oaktown 357 or L’Trimm than to Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper or Mara Liasson. In my book, simple honesty beats sophisticated pedantry every time. For all of the limits of simpleminded music and the offenses to our sensibilities that some of it provides, it also provides another way to think about what our society may have failed to deliver in this world of red vs blue and black vs white races to the bottom.
Where is the music? As far as I know, BLM has no theme song. Joe Biden didn’t have a tune. Trump? I can’t even imagine he played any at his rallies. But what do I know? I’m not looking that close. I do remember that Barack Obama had the Black Eyed Peas, and who could forget the blustery tearjerker of Lee Greenwood way back in the Bush years? I asked the question a while ago and was presented a list by a Progressive friend of mine, and I wonder if anyone would recognize them. I do recall the requisite appropriations of Childish Gambino and Lady Gaga but who really wants to hear the ‘Manifesto of Mother Monster’? Who wants to watch a gospel choir get shot to make a statement about America? I don’t want to watch. I want to hear music. I don’t want to hear sophisticated pedantry in lyrics over borrowed samples.
I don’t mind if it’s frightening music. I mind if the fright is the subject and music is the bait. Because we all want to listen to music, even the simpleminded music. Even Yankee Doodle Dandy. I want music in service of music itself. I want the music itself to communicate itself. Music as the beast of burden in service to coercive, sophisticated pedantry is an abuse.
I have said that I am not anti-social, I am anti-bullshit. I aim to expand my vocabulary of art, and therefore I am doomed to study art history. I don’t mind taking the long way around to it starting with fashion and style and crafts. I’ve ingested thousand of hours of virtual play in stunning environments. I’ve enjoyed the small perfections of brewing tea and calligraphic play with fountain pens. I have knives and watches and whiskeys and am working my way up to a wing chair. Music, though, I know. I played cello as a child. I read the music and I kept listening until I got tired of a kind and moved to the next. I can’t be played with on the subject, immense as it is and as small as my ears are to witness what they can. I want my sense of integrity on the matter to be shared. Let the fog come on little cat feet but don’t let coercion come with a beat. We all need music to be music. The rationality of music is music itself. So listen and let hearing music be your reason. It’s something we all can do and it needs no supernatural force - just slightly different kink in that wonderful supply chain.
So what should we listen to? You bet I have an answer, a discovery that I just fell into a few days ago. Before I go there let me describe what happened to my mind when I listened. I remembered that culture is the structured part of society that exists with purpose. Culture is the result of a million acts of creation which require imagination, skill and respect. When imaginative and skillful creators work their craft with respect, the result is beauty, a thing to be desired, imitated and preserved. OK, enough with the pretty words. Dig this. Yamandu Costa.
Then you have to take a listen to this by Ibrahim Maalouf.