March 28, 2009

Musical Conservatism

Stick with me on this, even if you disagree with the song selections used for examples - there are some real lessons associated with this tangent.

When you start complaining about modern music, how its all just noise and how it used to be so much better x number of years ago a couple of things usually happen. Firstly, you suddenly realize that you are getting older and how much you are starting to sound like your father or mother.

The other thing that typically happens is that the person you are complaining to quite likely starts to see you in the same way - old, not cool, a technological Luddite and definitely not relevant in the modern age. Their eyes roll as if you are an idiot of the highest order. You are behind the times, man.

You kids keep off my lawn!

Despite the perception, there is reason to take issue with today's music and there's a lesson for conservatism associated with it. Don't tune me out as being a moralist, because that's not where I am going with this. Yes, lyrics are often more vulgar, more violent and cynical than they used to be. But that's another discussion.

At the risk of sounding like a social fossil, my point is that today's music is predominantly inferior to that of yesteryear. Most of it sucks. Not because it is a different style from the 1970's or 1990's or whenever.

How and why

The problem with today's music is that it has become too simple, too cookie-cutter and despite the number of supposed super-producers like P Diddy, not well produced. In small doses, a Britney Spears is listenable. In large doses it becomes apparent that despite the potentially catchy beats, it is largely redundant and unimaginative. Put any Pussycat Dolls song up against The Supremes or even the Go Go's and you see a drop off in inventiveness and originality. The Pussycat Dolls sound like Britney or any number of other groups and singers. But more importantly, for their sound or many others, where are the saxophones that David Bowie had? Where are the xylophones, cowbells, trumpets, strings, and other instruments that are so often overlooked today?
Where are the interesting melodies that dance around the beat in enough different directions to keep the songs from sounding ultra-repetitive like Van Morrison used to do? Where are the interesting vocal harmonies like Three Dog Night used to manage? Where are the guitar solo's that are reminiscent of Dire Strait's Sultans of Swing rather than 'speed metal'?

For that matter where are today's symphonies like Mozart or Strauss? Or even a song with different movements like Paul McCartney's Band on the Run? It's really not asking for too much.

There are some musicians out there today who don't deserve to be lumped in with my complaint - don't let me paint everything with the same brush. But they are a distinct minority. How did music degenerate to the point its at now? A number of reasons. One is volume and demand. More people demand more music and in today's instant gratification age, they demand it in bigger doses and delivered faster or with more frequency. When you deliver more you need more 'supplier' you are therefore diluting the talent level by increasing the pool.
Another reason for the decline is that the homogeneous product being offered up is what sells. The reason it sells is that it distills what some consider superfluous fluff and concentrates on the beat. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - originality is replaced for what sells and gets the artist, producer and recording company rich quick. In other words short term payback is valued over building a longer term quality product. Music becomes disposable. No Justin Timberlake song will ever be played 70 years from now with the frequency and appreciation of a Rolling Stones Satisfaction or even a Waiting on a Friend.
Or a Handel Symphony. In the process the public (demand side) and recording industry (supply side) are succeeding in dumbing-down the music listening public's appreciation and understanding of music. And therein lies the two lessons for conservatives.

(1) Music is analogous to the education system in that lowering the bar to the lowest common denominator instead of elevating everyone to the bar at a higher level is antithetical to real progress. Ebonics for example, is not progressive but regressive - it keeps a segment of the population from real learning.

(2) Shortsightedness in profit seeking and in problem solving leads to deeper consequences down the road. It is the lesson of General Motors, the lesson of the housing bubble, the financial crisis and the lesson of political vote buying, pork barrel spending and of massive deficit spending. Not enough people, many of ourselves as conservatives included, do not take enough of a long view.

It hurts ourselves, our families, the economy and the United States of America.

1 comment:

  1. That's an interesting connection to make...although I think Soulja Boy Tell'em is more a sign of impending apocalypse than anything going on in the financial sector.


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