11 April 2013

When We Listen To How Much of What, and Why

"...but would you rather listen to Bach or Vivaldi after a long day at work?"

Um...is this a trick question?

My name is Stefan and I have a problem. I listen the most to the music that is most important to me. Parties are not welcome respites from talking about music, but in fact welcome opportunities to talk about the music I really want to talk about. I've been known to "chill" at the end of a long day with my friends Shostakovich and Lutoslawski. Like everyone else, when I have leisure time, I do what I want; unlike everyone else, what I want to do most of the time is hear/read/write/contemplate that which gives my life purpose.

I'm struck by some recent comments and events here at school implying that there's something wrong or unusual about this. It's not the first time, but it still gets under my skin. If you almost never listen to a style of music, it is not "important" to you, no matter what you say. If certain "heavy" composers are set aside only for special occasions and rare states of consciousness, those are not your favorite composers, no matter what you say. The music that is important to you is your daily nourishment, not a delicacy to be ascetically reserved for special occasions. The things in life that are important to you are the things you confide in your friends, not those which you hide from them for fear of coming off a square. (Or are they your friends after all?)

Everyone needs a break. Even I retreat to the basketball court or the Scrabble board from time to time. Maybe it'd be nice if the rest of y'all that I have to live and work with didn't look quite so eager to get away? Maybe just humor that guy at the party who won't leave music behind when he leaves campus? Be yourself, of course, but dare I say maybe don't be quite so openly proud for not being like that guy if you really think this is what you want to do with your life?

How peculiar this all looks to someone of my sensibilities, accustomed as I am to being bludgeoned over the head with the insistence that art and life must be joined at the hip; that Art without Culture is just gymnastics; that "making pretty things" for their own sake is merely an adolescent phase; that the most important thing about art is its social message; that beauty and craft are merely Trojan Horses, used by elitist ideologues to seduce, hypnotize and disenfranchise the common folk; that silly white musicians err in treating their sound as an external "artifact" where they might more properly seek a "voice"; that music "matters" because it makes kids smart; in other words, that autonomous art is degenerate art, specifically because "autonomy" means severing the work from all of the things which make it "relevant" (if not always "beautiful," which is of course is strictly optional).

Having thus shoehorned Art into Life, Life does the Dosey Do! What a drag! Of course you don't talk about anti-aesthetic art any more than you have to! Of course you need a break from it twice a day! Of course you put on something else when your friends are over! You made it to be life, but not your life! You made it to teach society a lesson you were born knowing! Let them sort out your dogpile while you enjoy your teeny-bop techno music and totally epic wall hangings! Real life is, like, totally important to who you are as an artist, but it's not like anyone is going to live it all the time!

One of my favorite ambiguous statements is one I first heard uttered earnestly: "The only reason to do music for a living is that you can't do anything else." I ask any musician reading this to stop for a moment and consider which, if either, sense of this statement applies to you.

1 comment:

SS from South Mpls said...

Speak, brother Kac!

As somebody who's shared many a music conversation with you, I'll just add one thought. Sometimes I don't casually talk music because I'm intimidated by the breadth of somebody's listening experience. (Not you of course! You have breadth, but don't intimidate).