I'm losing faith in the American public. It's getting bad, really bad. Recently, I've found myself asking: What happened to art? What happened to culture? What happened to sophistication? Who is the next Fellini? The next Bob Dylan? The next Jack Kerouac? The next Jim Morrison? The next James Joyce? When will we wake up and realize that everything popular today will be forgotten tomorrow?
This wasn't always the case. Some things persevered...barely. In the 1600-1700s, Western Europe experienced, (after the Renaissance -- which was perhaps the most critical era in the history of the arts), the Baroque era of music -- a period primarily remembered for the works of Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Telemann, and of course, its patron saint, J.S. Bach. Music was not solely considered a mere form of art, but also, a sacred gift. While, much of the music was centered around the church, these composers were nonethless geniuses in their own right. Bach, for example, had an extraordinary understanding of composition, mathematics, music theory, not to mention, impeccable style and technique unmatched today. So much so, that academics and musicoloigsts are still fascinated some 300 years later. I can safely say that there will NEVER be another Bach. He is arguably the most important figure in the history of Western music; yet today, he goes unnoticed. Or, said another way, no one gives a shit. This is quite tragic. Sure, trends come and go; but certain things are meant to stay. Classical music, and on a wider scale, great art as a whole, is one of those things. Yet, for reasons I'll never fully understand, these things have little relevance today (at least on this end of the planet). Society's waning disinterest in classical music was the first of many blows to great art. They say history repeats itself, but I truly wonder if classical music will stage a comeback. Do you know the name Virgil Fox? Did you know that in the 70's Mr. Fox, an organist, made a valiant attempt to introduce Bach to the mainstream (via Pink Floyd-esqe light shows and all)? Probably not, right? Will downloading Liszt, Chopin and Wagner from iTunes ever become fashionable? I somehow doubt it. Have you ever heard Glen Gould play Bach's Goldberg Variations? If so, were you moved? Even a little? If not, you've probably caught "the bug."
Perhaps you've fallen to prey to the DE-evolution of the arts. There is no question that art is dying a slow death. Films and books that were once groundbreaking and controversial are now rarely discussed. But for The Simpsons' cryptic references to Truffaut, Munch, Scorsese, Hitchcock and others (many of which I'm certain go unnoticed by the majority of viewers), there is hardly any recognition of the great ones, the legends. There is more to life than pop culture people. Like it or not, there are centuries of great art getting shit on in favor of America's Got Talent (ironic title, isn't it?), Desperate Housewives and For the Love of Ray J. Expand your mind; don't be so short sighted. Don't be so ignorant. Don't shrug off the classics in favor of the pop-orgasm: here today, gone..well, in a few seconds.
Something very disheartening occurred last evening. I along with a few friends saw the Fab Faux at Radio City Music Hall. The Fab Faux is a "real" Beatles cover band -- not some costume-clad Vegas act that feigns Liverpudlian accents. The Fab Faux, which is more or less centered around Jimmy Vivino (Late Night with Conan O'Brien) centers around the core of The Beatles. They abide by a strict code of technique, style and interpretation. They happen to nail it. Unfortunately however, the band is forced to dumb themselves down to appease an audience that screams "play old Beatles" (whatever that means) for a majority of the show.
In any event, I noticed two things: 1) there were only a handful of audience members under the age of forty and 2) there were more than a few people dozing off during the show. HOW DARE YOU! As if you were forced to attend a lecture on quantum physics. This is the fucking BEATLES! Have you no respect? Have you no soul? I was appalled and embarrassed to say the least. First off, the age barrier revealed that for the most part, the younger generation either has no appreciation, let alone, any interest in listening to good music, or, are just so far gone that they are beyond hope. I truly wonder how many young adults got Jonah Hill's message in Superbad: "It was like the first time I heard The Beatles." Probably very few. And for the Neanderthals who were screaming out pointless song requests in order to quell some primal urge (see prior post on "The Concertwreckers"): shame on you. Go home to your dumb reality t.v. and and whatever else rots your brain.
At dinner, this same group of people I was with (including a fellow Weightstaffer) philosophized over the "blame game" -- namely, what came first, the chicken or the egg. Or, said anothe r way, dumb Americans or the programs that make people dumber? Is it really Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus who are morons (rhetorical question folks) or the people who perpetuate them? Is it really that T-Pain and Lil' Wayne are that "talented" (again, rhetorical question) or that the people who buy their CD's have zero concept of good music. It makes me sick to think that high school students today can name five songs by Rhianna but not The Doors, or that The Jonas Brothers sell more albums than Neil Young, or that Dane Cook is even allowed to star in a movie...and that people actually find him funny.
Bob Lefsetz, in a recent post, wisely observed, "We live in a dumbed-down society. We're supposed to lower our expectations. Say something is good because it makes a lot of money, or the audience it appeals to has never been exposed to the classics. At some point you feel you're just too old, you've seen it all. You won't fall for the machinations of the Hollywood apparatus and you seem to be saying no more than yes." Bob, I couldn't agree more.
Is there any hope? I don't think so. What began in the 80's has snowballed out of control and there is no sign of its end. Is anyone else the least bit troubled that Perez Hilton probably has more readers a month than Edgar Allan Poe and F. Scott Fitzgerald do in a year...combined?!? Or that the once symbolic insignia of the Grateful Dead is hardly recognized but for the occasional nod of a passing stranger; or that members of Pink Floyd are dying at a far too rapid rate; or that kids today can't name any of the guitarists who actually wrote the songs featured on Guitar Hero; or that Bergman and De Sica have been replaced by Harold and Kumarl; or that Ashlee Simpson, I assure you, has never heard of...Bach?!?
I dread the day Bob Dylan dies. With his death, I fear that all remnants of great music, poetry, art and history will depart as well. Dylan, rescue us; leave us with a message. Give us direction. You're our only hope. Who will step up to the plate when you're gone? Who has the talent, the soul, the passion, the sophistication, the longevity to bring about the next Renaissance? Will it ever come? I'm worried it might be too late.