This is not going to be brief, it’s something that has bothered me for years. By and large, people seem to feel that music has gone “down hill” since the ’90s. They view pop music today, the Cyruses and Swifts and the Jonases and the Kanyes and see a lack of either inspiration or plain understanding of what music today is. To me, this is largely untrue. I’m a music lover, perhaps obsessively so. One of the few whose group of friends takes pleasure in shutting the hell up around a set of speakers (singular in my case. My left Bose blew out and now have to run both channels through the right. Besides panning, everything still sounds great) and simply listen to very diverse music. We informally critique, find what works, and move to another artist. It’s a fun exercise that you don’t see many people do. I think it’s because people typically view music as a vehicle for experience. They do something, so surely music must accompany it. It’s a lifting force that can add a spectrum of emotions to anything you do.
So I think it is pretty excitingly odd that my friends and I normally do nothing to music. We simply listen. Not because we’re so up our own asses that we’d rather analyze than live, but because music is an art form that requires so much attention. The reason I think it’s so popular is because of its passive nature. It’s hard to read War and Peace. It’s hard to even convince yourself to approach that work. Imagine sitting down and allot all 248 minutes to viewing Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra (1963) with intermission (can’t recall if that is included in the run-time). While for some, this isn’t a challenge at all, the fact is that both require a level of attention dedicated. You can’t claim to have read War and Peace is you don’t literally read it. Music can be heard while doing just about anything. While different activities allow different levels of attention, the fact that music allows any room for multitasking is a huge advantage. Now take any work (regardless of length) from Beethoven or Brahms to Cage or Davis and there is something simpler in those approaches. You can listen to any of them in the car, or while running, or while drawing, or while watching.
Music strikes us in a different fashion. How many soundtracks have you heard? Have you heard any of them separate from the media they were meant to accompany? In other words, do you need to listen to John Williams’s work by themselves to have appreciated them? War and Peace holds cultural, historical, and linguistic divides that prevent a large consumer base from fully enjoying it. Music holds very few barriers and even in extreme cases rhythm serves as a fantastic bridge. When in doubt, watch for the bass.
But what bothers me is how people view music of today. Despite amazing technology and talent, people still feel like eras previous were “better.” It’s unfortunate because that’s such a repulsive view. What good can come of it? That’s the ultimate betrayal of music’s mythology, particularly that of Orpheus. Why look back?