Monday, November 14, 2016

We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us, Fellow Boomers

The sad truth for my fellow geezers of the Baby Boom is that, far more than the poor-whites they want to blame Donald Trump on, it is us, bunkies, it is our age cohort who inflicted one of our own on the world.   This should make the Geritol and lumbago set at a certain blog reflective, but they, like so many in my self-obsessed generation, aren't big on deep reflection, despite all of their Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen listening.   I did happen to read something over the weekend that ties in, an old interview with the great composer, Charles Wuorinen at The New Music Box

FJO: So, at this point, do you think it’s intellectually dishonest to write music in C major?

CW: No, but I think it depends on who you are. I remember—again, I hate to give so many pointless anecdotes from my past, but I’ve reached the age where that’s unavoidable. In the ‘70s, a—at the time—semi-well-known rock musician came to me because he couldn’t read music, and he wanted to learn how to write down his songs. I said, “Well, do you know anything about harmony?” And he said no, he didn’t. He just felt his way around, as I guess they all do. Anyway, I gave him something to read, and he went away. He then called me a little while later and said that he decided instead of studying to hire a secretary to notate his stuff, and I said, “You have made the right choice, because if you knew enough to write down what you’re doing, you would find it unsatisfactory. If you had knowledge, you would be unable to continue with what you’re doing.” And this seems to me to be very much the case with popular music today and has been for a long time.

What’s interesting about that is that it wasn’t always so. In the earlier days of old-fashioned jazz, big bands, whatever it was—I’m not a historian in these things, I don’t know the exact sequence—until sometime around the rise of rock ‘n’ roll, I would guess in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, popular musicians recognized a hierarchy, and tended to look up, or else tended to be defensive about or to be angry with, classical musicians. Everything they did, of course, ultimately derived from classical practice. The harmonic language they used, and still use now, comes from the work of serious composers of an earlier time. Jazz is the same—it’s grafting on via Baptist hymn tunes, diatonic harmony from Western music, and African elements and rhythms. In any case, just to finish this off, there wasn’t necessarily a great profound knowledge on the part of pop musicians, although a lot more than now, you really had to be able to play, you really had to be able to do those arrangements, you had to know what you were doing, to have real instrumental skills, to be a good musician in those genres. They may not have known a hell of a lot, but they knew that there was something there which was worthy of respect. It wasn’t their thing, and they did what they did.

Following that we had—don’t forget—the pronouncements of the students of the late 1960s. In their colossal ignorance about everything, they pronounced themselves the best-educated generation in history; that attitude has continued since then. And you have now pop musicians who really don’t know anything. They regard themselves as moral colossi who are going to tell the world how to live and what’s wrong with everybody else via their immortal poetry, but their musical substance is very, very slim, and there is no recognition of any sort of higher forms of musical discourse or musical practice. That is a very a profound change, and it’s something which, when you then see the pathetic spectacle of certain composers, you know who they are, aping pop behavior as a way of trying to grab an audience that expects not to be pandered to, but to be given entertainment that it can receive effortlessly, without paying very much attention to it. You see that we’re in a very different place than we were at one time.

I have to admit, this is sort of like me taunting Foghorn Leghorn,  wacking his ass with a fence slat - hey, it's been a crappy two weeks, I need some fun.  Though I don't agree with all of what Wuorinen said there, I absolutely agree with that last paragraph.   The fact is a lot of jazz musicians were then and, especially now, quite well versed in what was going on in Classical music.  Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Mel Powell, etc. knew a lot about the current classical composition of their days.  Mingus, especially, knew it very well, according to the late Gunther Schuller.

Yeah, get used to it, fellow boomers, it was the greedy, self-absorbed members of our generation who inflicted Donald Trump on the world and it's generally with a different kind of ignorance than the one you love to imagine powerless, poor, white people used to put him there.

Do click on the link and notice the COUNTERSTREAM RADIO button at the top.  It's well worth listening to.

Update:  Well, if you've read the piece above that Simps lied about, you already know he lied about what it said.  What he and Freki don't know about music is pretty much everything.  What Wuorinen said about pop musicians goes six times for pop music "critics".  If you, like most of the Eschatots don't read what they gas ignorantly on about, you haven't seen this either.   If Eschaton were significant the comments there would be a good example of how the social media spreads lies.


  1. A semi-student of classical music who never got to the point of studying harmony, beyond what one learns of counter-point and a few other dusty-on-the-mind's-shelf ideas from 8 years of piano lessons, I have to say from such a lofty position as that gives me, that modern music sux. Pop music, I mean.

    I see where the Beatles got most of their inspiration from the English music hall, and the Stones from American blues, but music (pop music) degraded into pure percussion at some point, not that it was ever that far from it, with the drum kit favored by rock bands.

    But it's nothing but percussion now. Even the piano stopped being a musical instrument and just became a percussion instrument (thanks, Jerry Lee!). It's all pound pound pound. Or beat beat beat, except I don't mean that in the pop music sense.

    And yeah, more and more I see a generation unmoored from classical knowledge (science, art, music, literature, etc.) deciding they were geniuses because they were navel gazers. Ironic the most popular writer of our age, J.K. Rowling, studied classics at Oxford.

    Not that we weren't in danger of suffocating under the dead hand of tradition, but we did throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  2. I didn't know that about J. K. Rowling, interesting.

    I like pretty much everything except commercial pop music and I can listen to music I don't much like, Polka Party on Saturday morning while I'm cleaning the house.

    I do have to admit this was mostly to taunt Sims as he's been trolling me when I comment on other sites. It's hilarious to me how much it offends those great individualists when you diss the mass audience pop culture that one is not to diss, apparently. It's especially funny in his case because it's what he made a career out of. And since I know he'll read this I'll end by saying "Mopheads".

  3. I grew up on popular music, still like most of it, just not what's popular now. This makes me an old geezer, I suppose. So be it. I even liked country, until Garth Brooks got hold of it.

    My musical listening is sharply down these days, though I listen to everything from 15th century chant to Philip Glass to prog rock. But let's face it, popular music is mostly crap, be it jazz or hip hop.

    And yeah, story is Rowling got to Oxford and classics was about the only program open (not sure how their system works), so she took that. Got to seem even less useful than philosophy or theology, but there you are. I think it grounds her books in ways other writers just can't get close to.