A Reader Writes…

By Rob Patterson

Far too often I find myself in middle age sounding like my Dad as I comment on many matters, especially music — perhaps others may find this familiar? But the moment I decry how too much contemporary music sounds like a bunch of noise to me, I immediately have to check myself.

As much as I know that tendency in myself to decry greasy kid’s stuff as not up to the standards of the past, I was rather taken aback by a recent letter from reader Bruce Lloyd Kates. Prompted by my year-end music wrap-up titled “Songs for the New Depression,” he made these observations:

“As I was reading it, the thought occurred to me that during the Great Depression, life was very tough, but, at least, one could still turn on the radio and hear Bing Crosby croon ‘Kiss me once, kiss me twice and kiss me once again, it’s been a long, long, time.’ Or else go to another channel and hear Artie Shaw playing ‘Begin The Beguine.’ How beautiful that music was and how uplifting it was to people’s moods.

“Now that we’re entering another downturn in the economy, perhaps as serious as what happened during the 1930s, we can still turn on our radios. But to hear what? To hear one vocally challenged singer after another screaming what could best be described as jungle music for jackasses. I thought evolution was supposed to be moving us in a forward direction!”

Well, Bruce, I would caution you from making such wholesale dismissals. I have no doubt that in the 1930s there were rib-rock traditionalists who felt that Bing and Artie Shaw were destroying music with sounds from the jungle. And I shall make the assumption that the music you decry is music that is not made for you, but far younger listeners. And they find uplift, comfort and succor and even beauty in what sounds awful and irritating to you.

Human behavior in general has me also wondering if evolution has reversed. But the popular arts are not a progression towards some aesthetic apogee of quality but much more the times we live in. And given how I think the world might look to some of today’s youth, the music they like isn’t so surprising.

I’m reminded by Mr. Kates’s comments of how too often I’ve heard Leftists say, “I hate Republicans?” Huh? There are good Republicans — some are friends of mine — and such wholesale statements aren’t very liberal or humanist, now are they? Acceptance and tolerance are goals to aspire to in my view—though freedom of speech allows people to also vent, and trust me, I love to vent—and to almost everything rule there are exceptions. And there is still lovely and enriching music that soothes and nourishes the heart and soul being made today and out there to be found and enjoyed, as well as the great lasting music of the past.

Mr. Kates also says, “I’m someone who always wishes everyone well. But, to be honest, nothing could bring me more joy than to see the collapse of the music industry. No other industry that I know of has been so socially irresponsible in producing and selling mediocrity and garbage to the public.”

Sorry, Bruce. You have every right to feel as you do. But the music industry, much as it is radically changing, will not collapse. People will always want to consume music. And I’d see more blame for what you don’t like in the nature of capitalism than specifically the music industry, which for often more worse than better, simply serves the—pardon the pun—loudest and most obvious consumer demands for the quickest bucks. The music industry is hardly the only offender and I do not even feel the worst. And there have been and continue to be people throughout that business (alas, less of them at the major labels than ever) who work hard and dedicate themselves to creating, finding, promoting and preserving quality music of every kind, including that which you would surely enjoy.

Plus, the digital music revolution that is reconfiguring how music is made, marketed and sold, for all its negative effects (like, to me, the almost disappearing notion of the record “album” in too much pop music), has also had made more music of all sorts more available than ever, and more efficiently in many ways as well. Yes, the search for it may take a bit more effort. But the rewards of music that you will like, old and new, are out there.

My ultimate response to you, Bruce—other than to say that I’m happy to be someone you can rant to, anytime you like—is to urge you to be liberal and populist and accept that people like things you don’t, and times change as does popular culture. And also vote most effectively for the music you’d like to hear through buying and consuming it and maybe exposing it to others. And I’m only telling you something I have to say to myself more and more as I mature.

As the Bingola once sang, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.” Or as some of the kids today whose music you don’t like say, “Don’t be hatin’, dude.”

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@io.com.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2009

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