Thursday, September 13, 2007
staying true to the ascetic roots
A few years ago I read a series of books about the early recordings of folk/blues music around the turn of the century. There was a couple of insights those books provided that still ring in my head. 'Songcatching' was hardly as romantic as it sounds. The people that went up into the Appalachian mountains with the first portable recording devices to find new music were after money and not much beyond that. Cultural preservation movements arrived decades later. Music that we think of now as being 'old timey' was, back then, immediately marketed as 'old timey' in the Sears Roebuck catalogs selling these early records. The people up in the mountains singing the songs being recorded and usually not being paid were themselves sometimes confused about what was an old-timey song and what was a 'commercial' jingle that had made it's way up into the hills only a few years earlier and become woven into their repertoire.
This is an excellent flashpoint for the perennial debate on authenticity. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like this debate is currently going on. Music is just like food or anything else in that people either don't recognize that it's processed for their sheltered palette or just don't want to know the ugly truth. And so commercialism thrives on a celebration of 'processed-ness' and hollow simulation endlessly. This culture is all about hits,, everything else is swept off the table into the trash along with the best or our minds.
I remember once in college I was trying to explain to a kid that I wasn't interested in going to see the newest hollywood blockbuster ..saying to him something like "don't you see that it's just marketed to you and your age range/class position?" He looked at me incredulously and said, "yeah, that's why I like it."
People will tell you very plainly that they'd rather cut out the whole 'thinking for themselves' part of life if you just phrase the question right. There's not much shame left.
More disturbing is that authenticity in music can't necessarily be heard and pinpointed. What is raw, unbridled 'genius' and what is a postured product of mere craftsmenship aren't so easy to separate in any particular Zapruder film-frame analysis. Once people begin to agree on authenticity signifiers the true progression starts to shut down. Worst is that most seem to view this dynamic as only more reason to shrug and give up on attempting to discern what they are consuming.
I don't trust anyone's arm-chair analysis of how the popular vices of distraction are unavoidable as much as I'd earnestly ask the guy on the bus next to me to quickly explain the big bang. The tensions between conformism vs. authenticity will never become cliche. The argument couldn't be resolved unless we redesigned the human being to be fully loyal to themselves and their own version of history instead of the mass virus/ paid-for-by-our-sponsors script.
There is a strong arm propping up a phenomenological microscope of propaganda for those to look thru who are too lazy to focus their own lens on life. It must ultimately be the audience that holds responsibility for creating the financial waters that the sharks are swimming in. Without their money, Vapid commercialism cannot live.
The line between art and entertainment is continually blurred as they flush down the spiral vortex of spiritual boredom evoked by the malnourishment of commerce-based attempts to achieve mass disassociation. I have trouble believing that people actually listen to music on their Ipods,,, it seems possible they are really just listening to themselves being distracted by it. Ipods are not evil in and of themselves, but the Ipod culture was baited and led on by X-mas-time marketing and the not by the love of music... just as the early folk/blues record labels were hunting out original songs to exploit their singers and not to memorialize them. Modern Music is really just the sound of the bourgeoises' disassociation.
Music means more than just the way it sounds,.. but to really sell music it has to be rendered meaningless. A girl I knew went to see a Fugazi show,, on return her only comment was 'the singer had a nice ass'. Somehow, to me, that illustrates what happened to the underground in a nutshell. There was an interview with Ian Mackaye in a local newspaper and a woman in the fiscal department at work asked me why I was interested in it. I said 'oh, he's sort of a figurehead in the world of underground music.' She said 'what is underground music really? does it really exist?'
I guess not anymore...
What underground music really is::is a raw primordial pool of embryonic and usually more extreme ideas formed on the more lawless frontier. What is really lawless is virtually impossible to agree upon these days. Even originality itself has become a murkier thing to dissect. This underground pool of ideas is largely deigned as useless by anyone who is looking for any power or money. Most people won't have the time to investigate a pocket of subculture with no black and white values that refuses to identify itself. I was telling a friend once about a band I thought he'd like and he cut me off by saying, 'I'll just check'em out later on when they get big enough to be in Spin magazine.' Mindsets like this don't need my anthropological dissection. They display a clearcut desire to be spoon-fed virtually anything that is agreed upon by the larger crowd. It's just an endless line of nodding heads;; the sound and message is completely peripheral.
In theory, underground music exists in an elusive moment of autonomy,, in the stoned mind of a teenager somewhere before he even starts his first band or buys his first four-track and starts on a journey of compromises in search for some affirmation or a sort of loving he feels is denied him. His idealism and autonomy are quickly sidelined by the same old pursuit of getting the rewards that have helped to evaporate our purer interest in the true/raw primordial pool and destroy the idealism that underground music symbolized in theory.
for another version of this debate try reading::
"Art, in our society, has been so perverted that not only has bad art come to be considered good, but even the very perception of what art really is has been lost. In order to be able to speak about the art of our society, it is, therefore, first of all necessary to distinguish art from counterfeit art."
"there are people who have forgotten what the action of real art is, who expect something else from art (in our society the great majority are in this state), and that therefore such people may mistake for this aesthetic feeling the feeling of diversion and a certain excitement which they receive from counterfeits of art."
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