Getting no (musical) satisfaction?

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Wed, 2006-04-05 01:02

Reading a puff-piece the other day about the Rolling Stones' impending world tour, a piece of research was quoted that suggested our 'cultural choices' (or some such phrase) are all made between the ages of fifteen to thirty, following which we all apparently seek to recapture and reprise the thrill first felt in the first flush of adulthood.

This, said the journalist about the research, explains such phenomena as the constant repackaging and re-selling of CDs and albums of arthritic rockers, the $umpteen squillion Jimi Hendrix Rock'n'Roll Museum in Seattle (paid for with Paul Allen's Microsoft winnings), and the bland dreck played on expensive sound equipment emanating from the car windows of too many highly-paid middle-aged middle executives - 'life in the fast lane' - 'I can't get no satisfaction' - 'all in all we're just another lame-brain in the wall' - bleecch.

This, however and quite frankly, is the sort of 'research' that confuses statistics for explanation. As Ludwig von Mises used to say, "mathematics is silent on causality" -- and without causality you don't have meaningful 'research,' you just have description, just the very beginnings of research.

It's true that many people do seem to make their choices-for-life about things artistic in those early years of adulthood when they are seeking to find their place in the world, and to find art and music that seems to describe the way they themselves see the world. Art and music offer both the mature and the immature brain a necessary 'shortcut to philosophy' that is particularly evident and absolutely necessary in those teenage and post-teenage years when the 'searching ' for that shortcut begins; the offerings of popular culture however are peculiarly ill-suited to offer the significant art and music that really would offer the mature, thinking, brain a lifetime of interest.

The sad thing is that too many are unable to keep their taste maturing and their brains alive as they mature, even as their taste refuses to; rather than seeking out the great artistic heights that could truly touch their mature souls they choose to settle instead for the immature art and music they experience in their early years - the 'shake rattle and roll,' the 'raw power' of their youth -- and sadly, they miss out on art and music that could truly touch those places that 'raw power' alone can never reach. And then they end up listening to the bland nothings of Goldenhorse at dinner parties, and find themselves huddled in corporate boxes at Rolling Stones' concerts pretednign ot 'rock out' - and they find they have souls to match the pretence.

Its likely the 'research' thrown up by statistics about people's artistic and musical tastes is correct, but only because too many people chose not to explore any further than those early artistic and musical gropings, when their first questions about the world and their place in it are answered for them by the facile voices they first hear. The loss in their lack of further exploration is all theirs.

[Want more? If you haven't already, try one of my earlier articles on the same subject, but in greater depth: Something Better than Rage, Pain, Anger and Hurt.]

LINKS: Something Better than Rage, Pain, Anger and Hurt - Peter Cresswell

TAGS: Music, Philosophy, Ethics


James V:I "hear" sincerity,

Lanza Morio's picture

James V:

I "hear" sincerity, too. How do we do that? What is the quality that we are "hearing," or how is that transmitted? Maybe I should consider why other music sounds pretentious or insincere...

I've been thinking about this James. Perhaps it has something to do with focusing on essentials. Said another way: Keep hitting the theme. An honest song, like an honest novel, can be summed up in only a few words. The theme for James Taylor's "Never Die Young" is: to never give up on Love. "It's yours, you can have it," as Rand might say. My focus here is on the lyric but there is also a quality of sincerity that goes toward writing the harmony, rhythm and melody. Near impossible to analyze but if the music serves your theme you will, as a composer, want to make use of the prosody. It would be disingenuous to match your theme with music that detracts from that theme.

Sincerity

James S. Valliant's picture

Hey Lance,

Great ones.

I "hear" sincerity, too. How do we do that? What is the quality that we are "hearing," or how is that transmitted? Maybe I should consider why other music sounds pretentious or insincere...

Hey James...

Lanza Morio's picture

James, I'm not sure anymore what the question is on this thread but I used to listen to Oingo Boingo a lot. There's a cult band if there ever was one. I know "On The Outside" and "We Close Our Eyes" very well. A few of my favorite Boingo tunes are "Not My Slave", "Sweat", "Reason to Believe", and most of the tunes on "Dead Man's Party" were solid. Smiling

I look for honesty in an artist. That's the key whether it's Roger Waters or Rachmaninoff. Here are a few tunes I consider to be honest:

Sade, "It's Only Love That Gets You Through"
Paul McCartney, "My Love"
Roger Waters, "It's a Miracle"
Elton John, "Someone Saved My Life Tonight"
Elton John, "Talking Old Soldiers"
Elton John, "Indian Sunset"
Paul Simon, "American Tune" (falls just short of an anthem)
Paul Simon, "Heart and Bones" (honest, though too Naturalistic)
Rush, "Subdivisions"
Stevie Wonder, "Isn't She Lovely"
Stevie Wonder, "For Your Love"
Sting, "Secret Marriage"
Sting, "Why Should I Cry For You?"
Sarah McLachlan, "Angel"
James Taylor, "Never Die Young" (best lyric & theme ever)
U2, "Pride - In The Name of Love"
U2, "One"
U2, "Love is Blindess"
Bob Marley, "Is This Love?"

Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Tchiakovsky come across as heart-wrenching and heart-throbbingly honest as well. Blues and gospel songs sometimes hit it too.

C'mon, you know better than That!

JoeM's picture

I expect more from the man who wrote "The Incredible Mystics Among Us"!
But thank you for clarifying. Eye Yes, there is a big difference between "Moonlight Sonata" and Nirvana's "I Hate Myself and Want to Die."

Course, Kurt was a genius, according to the rock critics. Well, he stayed true to his ideals, anyway.

I just hoped you would get the gist.

Marcus's picture

"Marcus, I take serious issue with that idea."

I didn't really have time to elaborate on specifics in that last post.

By "seize the day and do something wonderful and productive", I was including music that causes one to reflect (not just intellectually), unwind, or to relieve stress and tension (so that you are more productive).

Clarification

JoeM's picture

Linz, I worded it unclearly. I meant that there was something going on with sentimental music. I was pointing out your comment about genuine sentimentality:
"These are youngsters from whom all vestiges of genuine sentimentality have been excised by philosophically-induced, state-reinforced cynicism. The poor gum-chewing, attention-spanless automatons have been spiritually lobotomised."

I was asking Marcus if he wasn't thinking more about music that has the above effect versus music that makes you feel sad (i.e. your testimonial on your experience with Lanza and Chris.) I should have specified music that makes one sentimental in emotionally variant ways.

Music appropriate to maturity level

Tim S's picture

I couldn't agree more with this statement of PC's:

...the offerings of popular culture however are peculiarly ill-suited to offer the significant art and music that really would offer the mature, thinking, brain a lifetime of interest.

This appears to be true for the Stones themselves. Their most creative and raw music is contained on the four consecutive albums Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, written when Mick and Keith were aged around 25-30.

Since then they have been completely unable to capture the vitality that infused those albums, apart from the odd exception.

Their most recent two or three albums confirm how inadequate rock music is for emotionally mature people. Not that the Stones are Objectivist geniuses mind you, but they've been through a lot - their art just doesn't do justice to where their lives are at.

Tim

PS. PC you should switching from Turd On the Run to Let It Loose from the same album. It's a completely unsung gem (no pun intended), even if the words are indecipherable even by Mick's standards.

Joe ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Of caterwauling, you wrote:

There's obviously something greater going on with such music that gives it a value. Catharsis, maybe? (Cue Peter Cresswell's "Don't Cry for Me.") I am not arguing against uplifiting music, give me more of it! But I don't think you can limit the range of emotions in a genre if you want great art.

Nope. Ain't nothing going on, much less anything "greater," except mindless wallowing in the hate-ridden & deliberately ugly.

Recommendations

Kenny's picture

I recommend Hyperion Records' romantic concertos series. There are lots of neglected works that are performed by excellent musicians. I recoomend the pianists Stephen Hough and Marc Andre Hamelin in particular.

Hyperion also offers a wide range of instrumental and chamber music, lieder and choral music - baroque, classical and modern. The Florestan Trio is superb. Graham Johnson's collaborations with a wide range of singers on Schuber and Schuman lieder are magnificent.

The recordings and notes are, in nearly all cases, simply superb.

The grandson

Tim S's picture

Give him a copy of Shostakovich piano concerto No. 2. He will love the thumping Russian chord changes.

I feel sure he'll grow out

Peter Cresswell's picture

I feel sure he'll grow out of the Shostakovich. Smiling

Marcus, I take serious issue

JoeM's picture

Marcus, I take serious issue with that idea. What better way to promote emotional repression! Emotions in themselves are not wrong or immoral. There is a context for music that is not uplifting (you yourself mentioned funeral music, as times of mourning are not the times for Kool and the Gang's "Celebration."

How would you convey complex emotions in an opera, or movie soundtrack?

"Moonlight Sonata" is not quite a "happy piece" to make one run out and sieze the day. "Pavane pour une Infante Defunte" can move me to tears with a few notes. Yet I don't literally throw myself off a cliff, or walk around zombified. Are you suggesting that Linz throw out his Lanza?
From FREE RADICAL: "Then there was The Flood. (Forget Noah!) As it happens, October 7, the day of the aforementioned tour of Brooklyn, was the anniversary of Mario Lanza's death. It was that night that I reintroduced Chris - predominantly a jazz lover - to the Lanza voice. The results were beautiful, but nearly catastrophic. The available box and a half of tissues was nowhere near equal to the task of containing the torrent of tears that Magic Mario induced from Sentimental Sciabarra, and I feared at one point that Chris' Chihuahua would be drowned in the cascade. In the event, no lives were lost, and Chris had the musical ride of his life."

Linz's post below crossed with mine, but he mentions something that made me wonder if this is what you may have meant:
" 1) Anyone who enjoyed them would have to be comprachicoed or evil. Looking around me while I'm working out, it's clearly the former. These are youngsters from whom all vestiges of genuine sentimentality have been excised by philosophically-induced, state-reinforced cynicism. The poor gum-chewing, attention-spanless automatons have been spiritually lobotomised."

There's obviously something greater going on with such music that gives it a value. Catharsis, maybe? (Cue Peter Cresswell's "Don't Cry for Me.") I am not arguing against uplifiting music, give me more of it! But I don't think you can limit the range of emotions in a genre if you want great art.

Of excrement ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Folk often bring up that quote from Ayn Rand re not being able to judge one type of music as objectively superior to another as though it meant one should withhold one's contempt from crap. Clearly she didn't think that, given the contempt she expressed for crap herself. I remind readers of the answer I cited in Riveting Rand: "Buy yourself some classical records. I cannot listen to modern music. I can't hear it. It's anything but music." This, mark you, was said in 1981! How much more unlistenable would she have found rap-crap & all the rest?

Here's what I said on the matter in Why SOLO?:

Now perhaps you can better understand why Ayn Rand said, "I am not willing to surrender the world to the jerky contortions of self-inducedly brainless bodies with empty eye sockets who perform in stinking basements the immemorial rituals of staving off terror, which are a dime a dozen in any jungle - & to the quavering witch doctors who call it 'art.'"

Good for her. And I want SOLO to do its part in seeing that the world is not surrendered to such animals & their excrement. In this regard, I couldn't be more pleased to have as a guest speaker at this inaugural SOLO conference, painter Michael Newberry, fresh from smiting some post-modern dragons. I'll leave it for him to tell you all about that.

But there's a problem here. Talk in these terms & folk get very defensive & upset. First, they think you're attacking them personally & go into typical modern era cry-baby "I'm so offended" mode; second, they think you're arguing that the excrement be banned.

Well, I suppose you are attacking them personally, if you're attacking excrement & they like excrement. You're telling them they like excrement. By extension they might infer that you're saying they are excrement. Well, if the crap fits …

Luckily for them they have a fallback position, which, though they still go through the motions of being so offended, they seize upon gleefully. Ayn Rand herself. Did she not say, "At present our understanding of music is confined to the gathering of material, i.e., to the level of descriptive observations. Until it is brought to the stage of conceptualisation, we have to treat musical tastes or preferences as a subjective matter -- not in the metaphysical but in the epistemological sense; i.e., not in the sense that these preferences are in fact, causeless & arbitrary, but in the sense that we do not know their cause. No one, therefore, can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it's every man for himself - & only for himself"?

Did she not say that? Well, yes she did. She also said that she was talking physiologically. She went on to say that there was, nonetheless, a great deal one could observe on the psychological & existential levels. For instance: "The deadly monotony of primitive music -- the endless repetition of a few notes & of a rhythmic pattern that beats against the brain with the regularity of the ancient torture of water drops falling on a man's skull -- paralyses cognitive processes, obliterates awareness & disintegrates the mind." And she observed, "The products of America's anti-rational, anti-cognitive 'Progressive' education, the hippies, are reverting to the music & the drumbeat of the jungle." Today, I would say the same of the MTV generation. And I have no hesitation in saying that anyone who says he gets an exalted sense-of-life reaction to that stuff is in that instance at least sub-human. I am the first one to ask, Where is the animality in man?, when it comes to countering Objectivist flights of rationalistic fantasy, but to call this musical maggotry "animalistic" is an insult to animals.

I hear this musical maggotry when I'm at the gym. My best efforts to mute it with ear-plugs are sadly inadequate, but at least it keeps me in the loop as far as modern "music" is concerned. Hearing the various conscientiously ugly atrocities being blasted forth, I am convinced of the following:

1) Anyone who enjoyed them would have to be comprachicoed or evil. Looking around me while I'm working out, it's clearly the former. These are youngsters from whom all vestiges of genuine sentimentality have been excised by philosophically-induced, state-reinforced cynicism. The poor gum-chewing, attention-spanless automatons have been spiritually lobotomised.

2) Anyone who enjoyed them could not possibly REALLY enjoy classical music, especially of the 19th century Romantic variety. A sense of life may clash with one's conscious convictions, but not with itself. A sense-of-life clash of the magnitude that would have to be posited here is inconceivable. It simply is not possible, I submit, to be uplifted by Fatboy Slim AND Chopin.

That said, I'd add the following:

1) The first imperative in this matter should be to be honest. One should not pretend to like or dislike something because "Objectivism requires it" or someone one admires likes or dislikes it & one wishes to impress him. In the spirit of Rand's "every man for himself" & of personal prerogatives, one is fully entitled to say to any finger-waver, "I like what I like; what I like is my business; so fuck off." If, however, one is going to *argue* that what one likes is uplifting when any fool knows it's unspeakable crap, one must expect a contest, especially from those like Ayn Rand who are unwilling to surerender the culture to it.

2) Folk very seldom change their musical preferences, any more than they change their sense-of-life, from which their preferences stem. I've learned to be sceptical when people report to me that, at my suggestion, they've listened to such-&-such & what a life-changing soul-opener it was! If folk with a black one want to work on their sense of life, and with it, their musical preferences, they've gotta realise they must be in a project like that for the long haul.

3) Folk shouldn't even try to change their musical preferences if they're tone-deaf, i.e. unable to distinguish one pitch from another. Music weaves its magic primarily by melody, & if you're deaf to the melody there's no point in listening. A tone-deaf person could become a musicologist, but he could never appreciate music.

4) Avoid snobs—folk who *affect* likes & dislikes on the basis of respectability—like the plague. Better an honest headbanger than a by-definition-dishonest snob.

In short, enjoy what you enjoy. But if it's nihilistic, & you're gonna defend it on a "sense of life" site that is avowedly at war with the contemporary culture, expect an argument! And if you *know* it's nihilistic, be open to something that isn't.

I know what I like.

Marcus's picture

The easiest way to judge the value or merit of music is the following...

Does it make you make you "feel" like you want to "seize the day" and do something wonderful and productive - or does it make you want to throw yourself off the nearest cliff and/or send you into a permanent, maudlin stupor?

If the former, it is good music, if the latter then it is bad - throw it in the rubbish promptly (or file it away under - "music to play at funerals!")

What I listen to constantly changes - because it always needs to be new (to me) and challenging to hold my interest.

Fred's grandkid

Kenny's picture

More to the point, whose CD collection does he borrow? At 5 years old, his pocket money will not stretch that far.

Taste in Music

seddon's picture

My 5 year old grandson has interesting tastes in music. He loves the Beatles, the Stones, Pink Floyd, Mozart's K. 545 (lst movement) and K. 626, Shostakovich's 8th Symphony, 3rd movement, and the 8th String Quartet, second movement, Beethoven's 5th, 1st movement, Bobby Darin's Mack the Knife (he is going through a shark phase), tons of Frank Zappa, some Sinatra etc. Whose grandkid is this??

Fred

But All That Sweet, Green Icing!

James S. Valliant's picture

Bill,

Holly agrees with you that "Last Dance" is superior. I contend, however, that the devastation to Ms. Summer's cake remains a tragedy of operatic dimensions!!

James, James,

William E. Perry's picture

James, James, James,

McArthur Park???? At least it isn't the Waylon Jennings version.

If you and Holly are going to dance to Donna Summer at least dance to a good Donna Summer song. Dare I mention Last Dance?

Bill

Expulsion

Kenny's picture

I will risk expulsion by confessing that, like James Valliant, I am a Yes and Floyd fan. Sadly, I cannot get into Rush.

I love classical music - Chopin, Rachmaninov, Beethoven and many romantic composers. I hope this spares me.

Linz

James S. Valliant's picture

No way.

Valliant ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Do at least *try* to stay out of jail till we have done our presentations.

Holy thread hijack!

Peter Cresswell's picture

Holly: "As I have expressly stated to my adorable husband, I have no problem with a second woman in our bed as long as it's Kylie!!!! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!"

'Adorable Husband': "Now, if only I can talk Ms. Minogue into this... Kylie, if you're out there..."

Holy thread hijack, Batman! Sticking out tongue

Calling Kylie

James S. Valliant's picture

Now, if only I can talk Ms. Minogue into this... Kylie, if you're out there...

just plain beautiful

Holly Valliant's picture

Peter,

I like what you said about "recognizing what it is and making the most of it."

However, and we can forget the music now, have you not seen the video of Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Outta My Head"? Try "[Kylie Minoque! shakes booty!]" And quite a booty it is, too! Have you seen Kylie in that white outfit in her video?? She is objectively hot. As I have expressly stated to my adorable husband, I have no problem with a second woman in our bed as long as it's Kylie!!!! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

Did somebody say Wagner?

Peter Cresswell's picture

"Not me, Linz... but I'm gonna drop the dime on Holly and Casey."

Thank Galt at least some music gets played in the Valliant house. Sticking out tongue

[Kylie Minogue! shakes head]

Subtlety

JoeM's picture

"Classical music is too mentally commanding to permit the flailing and screaming incited by rock n' roll, thus it forces young people to control their emotional output, offering them the experience of cathexis rather than catharsis. "

This is what is almost impossible in not only rock songs, but any form of song that is the average 3 minute fair: There's no time for development, subtlety, etc. "Don't bore us, get to the chorus" is the motto. Part of that is the fault of radio, which tries to satisfy the conceptual common denominator. Not that there's no value in a pop song, I'll take a good pop song over a bad symphony. But god forbid you go over that three-minute mark!

It was a beautiful song
But it ran too long
If you're gonna have a hit
You gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05

Sorry subjectivism

Peter Cresswell's picture

Michael, thanks for the link (It looks interesting; can you summarise? Smiling ). And best wishes for your work. However, I don't buy your plea for musical subjectivism. You say, "Our appreciation of music is far more nuanced and intricate for rules like "only three harmonic changes means the psycho-epistemology of a child imprinted upon an adult consciousness"." I agree, so against whom are you arguing?

The categories or groups we're talking about here include those of emotional depth, musical integration and the ability for music to be maturely meaningful. By any of those standards, 'Turd on the Run' just doesn't cut it .

Like Joe says below and as I say in the longer piece, I'm not suggesting amputation; I'm proposing weaning off, or at least being prepared to begin putting away childish things, without discarding them completely - they're still part of ~you~ after all. As Joe said: "Rand herself was not suggesting that it was wrong to keep an appreciation of pop fiction or music, hell, it was well known that she loved mystery stories and "tiddlywink" music. She celebrated the "benevolent, almost childlike sense of life" of O. Henry. And she wrote that popular fiction proceeded to show "adventures in living", which was one of the reasons for its widespread "popularity", even among "problem laden intellectuals."

The problem is when that childlike sense of wonder is celebrated at the EXPENSE of maturity."

Quite right. I'm simply suggesting recognising what is and making the most of it.

Now, you quote AR in support of what you say. I'd remind you first that Rand wrote those words in the early 1960s, nearly half-a-century ago! Research has moved on some since then, fortunately, as Joe for one began pointing out back at SOLOHQ. And even if you were to discount the research since then, you can't discount the necessary 'gathering of material' and drawing of conclusions therefrom.

To do that, you just need honest introspection which will surely tell you that the difference in maturuity, integration and emotional depth between the Ramones' 'Beat on the Brat' and, say, Wagner's 'Siegfried Idyll.' In that Alexandra York quote in my longer article, she concretises somewhat what that emotional depth means in music, and can mean for the listener, especially the young listener:

Like life, musical passages contain highs and lows, fast and slows … musical vocabulary includes dissonance and resolution, tumult and sublimity, all emboldening a student in the process of making music to feel to his heart’s content within the security of a confined experience... By learning to orchestrate emotional content through so rigorous a structure, the student must learn to merge reason and emotions; otherwise, the resulting music will be cold and sterile, math without the poetry. Classical music is too mentally commanding to permit the flailing and screaming incited by rock n' roll, thus it forces young people to control their emotional output, offering them the experience of cathexis rather than catharsis. Also, because music deals with broad abstractions - triumph, defeat, love, loss - it allows a young person to personalize universals of the human condition, to feel on a grand scale both the hope and the hurt that necessarily accompany an individual life fully lived. For teenagers, in particular, it unlocks gateways to mature excursions into the ecstasy and the vulnerability of love, the headiness and the hazards of risk.

Try finding any of that in 'Satisfaction,' or try denying there's a difference between 'getting no satisfaction' and music that does 'contain all of life,' as Alexandra York describes.

I've been on shakey musical ground for a while anyway

Landon Erp's picture

If it's any consolation James, if that's representative of anti-Objectivist music, pass the Kant.

I've put a lot more thought into the issues brought up by this though. I think a big part of the issues brought up here do come back to context. As an angry young kid I listened to the unabashed noise with a hint of melody called Black Metal. When I look back on what I was listening to and why I kind of trace it back to a byronic sense of life I had at the time... (ie I was drawn a strong to the magestic melodies which were hidden below as if desperatly trying to reach the surface of a pool of muck)...

When I look back on what I was drawn to then, I'd be flat out depressed if I still had the reaction to it now which I did then. It serves a purpose of getting people through a rough developmental time...

Sometimes revisiting it can be a good way to understand the deepest levels of your own psycho-epistemology... where you've come from where you are now, where you're going.

But a phenomenon I've seen in my friends and formerly myself is a certain level of musical immaturity I call "music snobbery." Getting overly focused on certain genres of music and a number of arbitrary rules ("True punk stays raw and simple!"). You tend to act like you're getting all your artistic nourishment from a single source and you become unopen to new experiences and paths for development.

I think stagnating on it too deeply is counter-developmental.

---Landon

It all basically comes back to fight or flight.

OUCH!

JoeM's picture

Peter, I wouldn't sent a stinky wet dog to MSK's site, the dog will come away smelling worse.

Michael, James, read my posts carefully. I do not say rock or any genre is incapable of emotional depth and complexity. Peter and I are not in agreement on the capabilities of rock musicians in this regard. But the reason I defend him against charges of snobbishness are his past posts ("Something Better Than Rage, Hurt, and Anger") where he makes statements regarding the electric guitar as equal to a violin as a potential instrument for emotional depth. He claims that the violin has simply been called on to do more. But I also think he's bringing in some of his architecture experience. "Form follows function." If the mindset of rock music culture is "forever young," then don't you think the form of the music is going to reflect that? Could you imagine the field of architecture if architects refused to progress beyond "4 walls and a roof?" I argue against rock proponents when they try to inhibit that maturity. (I'm a prog rock fan myself, don't get me started.) But I've been around enough rock musicians firsthand to tell you that the predominant attitude is one of prejudice AGAINST maturity. And most music in the genre that does manage to do so is usually criticized for "not rocking." It's not the mature musician that's afraid to have a little fun (not that there aren't the stodgy number counters, of course), it's that rock music has always been marketed towards youth. Rock musicians who strive for something more at this point are better off not calling themselves rock musicians, a nebulous term musically at best, anyway.

Mike, thanks for the link. I invite you to the music forum archives to see where I've posted various materials and ideas that attempt to take the claims of Western classical music beyond simple artistic prejudice. My own personal view is that Rand didn't go far enough (but thank her for bringing it to my attention!) in her connection of music and dance. Emotion, motion, all related. In the end, it doesn't matter HOW complex the piece, the purpose of any human activity is life-sustaining movement.

Right!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

They're outta here forthwith. It's Cockroach Corner for them!

You Should Know, Linz...

James S. Valliant's picture

Not me, Linz... but I'm gonna drop the dime on Holly and Casey.

No, no ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Cresswell to James:

I hereby expel thee to the outer reaches of hell: Take your evil and depraved sense of life to MSK’s site where it belongs.

I hereby countermand that. James, you're off the hook. For now. It could have been much worse. You might have praised Wagner.

I Can Dig It

Dan Edge's picture

Hello Folks,

While I think there is a sense in which some music can be considered objectively better than others, I could not even begin to tell you what the standard for judgement might be. All I can tell you is that I like at least some songs from every musical style I've ever heard.

I love rap and techno for dancing, heavy metal and industrial for working out, and classic rock for little musical snacks throughtout the day. I don't listen to symphony often, but when I do I set aside time specifically for listening. I pop the CD into my high-power stereo system and sit in the sweet spot. I give it more respect.

Rachmoninoff can incite a more intense emotional response in me than The Beatles, but I listen to The Beatles 10 times more. Curious...

--Dan Edge

That's it!

Peter Cresswell's picture

I hereby expel thee to the outer reaches of hell: Take your evil and depraved sense of life to MSK’s site where it belongs.

;^)

[Oingo Boingo! shakes head in despair]

Running Backwards?

James S. Valliant's picture

Peter, Lance, and Joe,

Now you all should know that I love you guys…

But hear me out on this musical maturity thing.

As a kid, I loved classical music much more than popular music. My dad really loves good music, and I’m also grateful for the extensive piano lessons my folks had me in from an early age. At the tender age of 13, I would have ~ gone out of my way to ~ proudly announce to you my list of favorites: Beethoven’s symphonies and overtures, Chopin and Rachmaninoff’s piano music, everything by Gershwin, and, of all dark things, Schubert’s ‘Unfinished.’ I already preferred Italian opera to German (!)

The Schubert symphony is particularly revealing. What in the hell was a kid doing listening to that pensive and often dark masterpiece? Rich and complex and, at the time, deeply moving to me – I almost never listen to it now.

Sure, as a teen I also loved a lot of rock, too: Led Zeppelin, Yes, Pink Floyd, and, you guessed it, Rush. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed such a wide array of stuff from opera to jazz to popular songs, I might just be too promiscuous to consider reliable on this topic, but these days, as a mature attorney-type, I find myself listening to a lot of Seal and jazz and, here’s the confession, I’ve recently come to enjoy some… hip-hop… can I say the word “rap” without forever losing Linz as a friend? Yes, in the form of the Black Eyed Peas.

If you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you how much I loathed such stuff.

What’s funny is that I still listen to “serious” music when I want to turn off the lights, give the sound my exclusive attention, and be emotionally wrung out to dry by Rachmaninoff or the like.

I think that context is everything here. I love to listen to music while I am doing some kinds of work, or while driving to the office, or while taking a shower, or at a fun par-tay, or (on a rare occasion) dancing (or the contemporary dance-like equivalent in our bankrupt age or my living room).

So, I just made a “party” CD with what I consider to be fun, danceable stuff (and Holly and I just cannot stop cutting that living room rug these days.) Here’s the playlist, with my high recommendation:

“On The Outside,” Oingo Boingo, Anthology (Disc 1)
“Pump It,” Black Eyed Peas, Monkey Business
“Alright,” John Legend, Get Lifted
“Mas Que Nada,” Sergio Mendes/The Black Eyed Peas, Timeless
“The Tide is High,” Blondie, The Best of Blondie
“Vogue,” Madonna, I'm Breathless
“Please Baby Don't,” Sergio Mendes/John Legend, Timeless
“Like That,” Black Eyed Peas, Monkey Business
“Aven, Aven,” Gipsy Kings, Roots
“Relax (come fighting),” Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Welcome To The Pleasuredome
“MacArthur Park,” Donna Summer, The Journey: The Very Best Of Donna Summer (Disc 1)
“The Look Of Love (Part I),” ABC, The Lexicon Of Love
“Kiss Like Ether,” Claudia Brucken, Love: And A Million Other Things
“Can't Get You Out Of My Head,” Kylie Minogue, Fever
“We Close Our Eyes,” Oingo Boingo, Farewell (Disc 1)

I suppose that my credibility around here is now shot forever and that I will be asked to leave SOLOPassion – “to take my evil sense of life to MSK’s site where it belongs,” or something – but there it is. Confession feels good, anyway.

Hugo and Jagger exist in different universes. It is blasphemy to breathe their names in same sentence. But there are contexts in which I can even get a happy bounce from old and very immature Stones stuff.

As for musical maturity, I seem to be running backwards in some ways…

Peter/Joe,The problem here

MichaelGShapiro's picture

Peter/Joe,

The problem here is that you're committing the classical fallacy of begging the question. You're segregating music into groups which you designate as less and more mature, and then bemoaning why people fail to move from one group to the other. My question is: why do you assume that The Rolling Stores et al are immature/juvenile/malevolent/etc. in the first place?

Music is not like the other arts; there are no universal principles for assigning emotional content to particular pieces of music, because music itself has no denotation. To one person, Wild Horses might be corny tripe. To another, it might be poignant and beautiful. Both people can evaluate the song accordingly, with neither negating the other's opinion.

Harmonic or structural complexity is not, repeat, not a critereon of universal musical evaluation. A three-chord Ramones song is less complex than a Beethoven piano sonata, but that doesn't mean it's insufficiently complex in some way. If you think so, what's your standard of evaluation? Complex to whom and for what? Our appreciation of music is far more nuanced and intricate for rules like "only three harmonic changes means the psycho-epistemology of a child imprinted upon an adult consciousness".

You might disagree with me, but Ayn Rand does not. From The Romantic Manifesto ("Art and Cognition"):

"In listening to music, a man cannot tell clearly, neither to himself nor to others - and, and therefore, cannot prove - which aspects of his experience are inherent in the music and which are contributed by his own consciousness. ... At present, our understanding of music is confined to the gathering of material, i.e., to the level of descriptive observations. Until it is brought to the stage of conceptualization, we have to treat musical tastes or preferences as a subjective matter - not in the sense that these preferences are, in fact, causeless and arbitrary, but in the sense that we do not know their cause. No one, therefore, can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it's every man for himself - and only for himself."

For more on this subject, I encourage you to check out my lecture from the 2005 TOC Summer seminar, Objectivist Musical Aesthetics For the Skeptical and Wary.

I spend a fair part of every

Lanza Morio's picture

I spend a fair part of every day wondering about this kind of thing. People are genuinely inspired by raps, bad movies, and paint splatters. I've made peace with it by accepting the fact that people are free to chase shadows if they want. We are only guides, not clerics. When we accept this the bad art loses its potency.

Victor Hugo's Les Miserables is the greatest work of art I know of. That's my spiritual model for judging other things. It's clear that Mick Jagger is not interested in presenting characters like Valjean and Cosette. He is not trying to inspire in that way. Jagger is trying to do something very different and that "something different" is a common line that includes most popular artists. And that's where my analysis gets stuck. I don't understand what this "something different" is. Possible explanations for this "something different" are "Evasion", "Malevolent Universe Premise", and "Slave Morality".

We might want to narrow the scope of the discussion. Eh? I agree with things everyone so far has said but we're all over the place; myself included.

Sellout?

JoeM's picture

Michael" "I could formulate an equal and opposite argument that those who drop Rolling Stones for Barbara Streisand or Mahler are sellouts, abandoning their true values, or succumbing to a sense of life of resignation and pain. "

And I could easily quote Mick Jagger (on "Street Fighting Man"):
question: "Did it ever seem to you that ten or eleven years ago rock and roll was a powerful social force, and that since then it's been slowly defanged or coopted?"

Jagger: "No. That was obviously a false notion." (on "Street Fighting Man") : "That was during the radical Viet Nam time. It was merely then. You've always got to have good tunes if you're marching. But the tunes DON'T MAKE THE MARCH."

"...rock and roll isn't protest, and never was. It's not political...the whole rebellion in rock and roll was about not being able to make noise at night and not being able to play that rock and roll so loud and boogie-woogie and not being able to use the car and all that."

double post deleted

JoeM's picture

double post deleted

Romantic Manifesto: Serious and Popular Literature

JoeM's picture

Michael, I don't know who you're addressing, me or Peter, but since I made the "inner child" crack, I'll take a shot:

Even though I don't agree with with Peter completely, I agree with his larger suggestion, which is based on Rand's Romantic Manifesto (maybe not explicity, but in spirit):

"Popular literature is fiction that does not deal with abstract problems; it takes moral principles as the given, accepting certain generalized...ideas and values as its base....Popular fiction does not raise or answer abstract questions; it assumes that man knows what he needs to know in order to live, and it proceeds to show his adventures in living."

Rock music, in its most childish incarnations, does exactly that. It is represented in the musical organization itself as repetition, there are the same 3 chords and steady backbeat, very little growth. It is similar to folk music and blues in this regard, very little growth structurally, as opposed to composers of large scale works who often base a symphony on a basic folk song and elaborate from there.

Consider this quote from the ROMANTIC MANIFESTO:
"The translation of [a] sense of life into adult, conceptual terms would, if unimpeded, follow the growth of the child's knowledge-and the two basic elements of his soul, the cognitive and normative, would develop together in serenely harmonious integration. The ideal which, at the age of seven, was personified by a cowboy, may become a detective at twelve, and a philosopher at twenty-as the child's interests progress from comic strips to mystery stories to the great sunlit universe of Romantic literature, art, and music."

Rand herself was not suggesting that it was wrong to keep an appreciation of pop fiction or music, hell, it was well known that she loved mystery stories and "tiddlywink" music. She celebrated the "benevolent, almost childlike sense of life" of O. Henry. And she wrote that popular fiction proceeded to show "adventures in living", which was one of the reasons for its widespread "popularity", even among "problem laden intellectuals."

The problem is when that childlike sense of wonder is celebrated at the EXPENSE of maturity. And it's one thing for a 17 year old horny teenager to sing "I can't get no satisfaction," it's another to hear it coming from a geraitric. And though there is the real snobbishness of so-called "serious music," their is just as much snobbishness coming from the Lester Bangs of the world who consider anything more than three chords "traitorous." There was a serious backlash against musicians who incorporated classical composition in favor of Punk, which was mostly nihilistic and contemptuous of anything with technique and skill. That is a greater danger than mere snobbishness, it's the anti-industrial revolution.

In defense of the inner child

MichaelGShapiro's picture

I assume you have observed examples of people who do change their musical tastes later in life - perhaps you yourself are one - and are citing this as a contrast object to those who don't. But what makes musical tastes adopted later in life more "mature" or in any way better? I could formulate an equal and opposite argument that those who drop Rolling Stones for Barbara Streisand or Mahler are sellouts, abandoning their true values, or succumbing to a sense of life of resignation and pain. I don't necessarily happen to believe that, but such an argument would have identical force and validity to your own. It's based on a aesthetic evaluation of the quality of musical genres, which is entirely personal and has no prescriptive value for others.

Unless you're willing to demonstrate how people have actually relinquished the opportunity to enjoy music they would have enjoyed more, rather than the far simpler explanation that they're rejecting music they don't enjoy, I think your argument just amounts to an expression of your aesthetic preferences.

Without arguing about

JoeM's picture

Without arguing about the merits of the specific examples in Peter's blog, two things:

This is sadly true in the rock music world. In the seventies, after the failure of the hippie revolution, some rock musicians tried to "grow up" and tried to take rock music with them. Some bands even dipped into the well of music and art that Peter claims touches us in ways that raw power cannot. For doing so, they were called escapists, traitors, sell-outs (rock and roll shouldn't be for mums and grandmums), etc. Rock and roll was supposed to be three chords, about sex and having a "good time" (whatever that means.) And it was rebellious, but not about anything specific (c'mon, the hippies lost!). No, rock was for rebels without a cause.Lester Bangs epitomized the rock critic as juvenile asshole, promoting the idea that rock shouldn't grow up. Ah, but that's the paradox. As one writer puts it, "If real rock and roll is forever tied to adolescent content, then shouldn't it be abandoned by those who have at least the pretense of having entered adulthood?"

BUT NO...we have to stay in touch with our "inner child."

2. The Experience Music Project in Seattle: it looks like a rainbow colored turd came out the bottom of the Space Needle. Of course, we have Frank Gehry to blame for that. It's not even good as a rock museum, more like a mausoleaum. (Incidentally, Hendrix's family/estate isn't happy about it either.) But it's boring, and fails to live up to Hendrix's dream to create a place where people could come together and experience music of all kinds. It's such a narrow focus on rock (and roots rock at that, do we need another Dylan/blues exhibit?). A REAL Experience Music project would celebrate music throughout time, music is not limited to the period of the rock era. And the fact that the book released by them featured not a musician but a punk skateboarding tells you what they think of music. But fortunately, the public is not buying it, and in the 5th year the place is doing poorly, it's a joke among Seattlites. Save the 20 dollar admission, or better yet, spend half of that for a ticket into the adjacent Science Fiction Musuem and Hall of Fame.

One day ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... curious historians of esthetics will figure out why the most technologically advanced generation ever was the most esthetically depraved, brainless & illiterate simultaneously. That's assuming the dichotomy has been busted by then. I'm not confident. What they figure out, of course, will be something some of us already know.

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