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Histories of Recent Music

Writing for the New Republic, Richard Taruskin’s review essay, “The Musical Mystique” throws down a post-Romantic challenge to classical music snobs. Is it possible, Taruskin asks, “to defend my beloved repertoire without recourse to pious tommyrot, double standards, false dichotomies, smug nostalgia, utopian delusions, social snobbery, tautology, hypocrisy, trivialization, pretense, innuendo, reactionary invective, or imperial haberdashery”? The exuberance of the list in his initial question permeates the rest of the essay, which argues that classical snobbery misunderstands music—both classical and popular—by prizing it for what it never was. As he reviews the snobs, Taruskin also summarizes the recent history of contemporary classical music and its relationship with pop.

Meanwhile, burying himself in pop music, Sasha Frere Jones complains in the New Yorker that too much contemporary rock music is soulless. His ruminations are set off by an Arcade Fire concert and a friend’s comment, “Do they play everything in the same end-of-the-world style?” (I agree—their style is wearying.) Frere-Jones attributes the problem to the absence of what might be termed “black influence,” which is really to say, white musicians’ inability and/or unwillingness to steal musical forms from traditional American music.

Even though their subjects differ, both Taruskin and Jones are arguing for a greater awareness that music, no matter how high or low, is made for moments. There is no shame in invoking pleasure—the composer’s, the musician’s, the listener’s—as a sufficient reason for music. The transcendence that comes not by a belief that art is based upon transcendent qualities that can be identified and analyzed but by listening, by recognizing those things that make your booty shake, and—in response—by shaking that booty. (Or, listening in rapt silence, whistling the melody long after the performance, and whatever other responses music inspires us to do that are greater than language.)



Music as a stimulus for bootyshaking, from Nietzsche contra Wagner:

This does not mean that I consider this music healthy—least of all precisely where it speaks of Wagner. My objections to the music of Wagner are physiological objections: why should I trouble to dress them up in aesthetic formulas? After all, aesthetics is nothing but a kind of applied physiology.— My “fact,” my petit fait vrai, is that I no longer breathe easily when this music begins to affect me; that my foot soon resents it and rebels: my foot feels the need for rhythm, dance, march—to Wagner’s “Kaisermarsch” not even the young German Kaiser could march—it demands of music first of all those delights which are found in good walking, striding, dancing. But does not my stomach protest too? my heart? my circulation? Are not my entrails saddened? Do I not suddenly become hoarse? . . . To listen to Wagner I need pastilles Gérandel . . .

Nietzsche would love a good booty shake, come to think of it. Thanks for the reminder!

There’s a great Dylan quote along the lines of “there’s not enough roll in rock anymore.”

3: Did everyone just neglect to tell me that yesterday was “Quote Dylan Day” (speaking of) or was this just some freaky coincidence?

FYI, there’s a discussion about SF-J’s article going at Unfogged.

And this is where I admit that I’ve never listened to most of the bands SF-J references.