Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Complete Unknown

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.


Anonymous said...

well said, well said.

WeightStaff said...

wow. as a founder of and contributor to this website, I have to tip my hat to you on this post. it was well written, well informed, and well....fascinating.

would read again.


Anonymous said...

And just a touch of depression.

As much as I agree with your tirade against the dumbing down of society, its all relative baby.

1) When Dylan was breaking the rules by "going electric" there was a backlash from the folkies that he was dumbing down the folk aesthetic for the pop mainstream; and

2) The Beatles were a boy band circa 1964.

The renaissance is all around you. Don't wait for history to tell you when it's over.

Rasp Polermo said...

This is some deep stuff. I enjoyed reading it...definately agree with much of what was said

WeightStaff said...

Anonymous #2 - thanks for the comment. You make some insightful points re: Dylan and the Beatles.

However, I disagree that the Renaissance is around us. Perhaps I'm cloaked in extreme pessimism, but I somehow doubt that the films of Lindsey Lohan and the music of Beyonce will be revered and cherished in years to come. A Renaissance by its very nature must involve artistic development and progress; quite the contrary, I feel that Hollywood and the music industry are moving backwards - there is zero creativity and no longevity (take for example the influx of toilet humor movies - the "Beerfests" and "Balls of Fury"). Maybe this is what people are interested in now, but I hope for everyone's sake, that you're right and I'm wrong.

As for the Beatles being a boy band prior to '64...maybe so or maybe not. But we both know that the members of Backstreet or Menudo could NEVER be capable of writing a Sgt. Pepper's or Revolver (let alone ANYTHING for that matter) - that much is for sure.



jz1 said...

I too fear for the future of the arts. The rate at which music, film, and visual art is consumed and discarded into the ever expanding cultural landfill, has caused a directly proportianate decline in quality of the arts. We barely give time to the art that is created today, let alone the stuff of yesterday. Music blogs dictate a new flavor on a daily basis and Rolling Stone has become the US Weekly of rock stars.

Despite this, I keep the faith in the few artists who I know have learned from the greats and in the great artists who continue to demand our attention. Jim James, David Byrne, Craig Finn, Ryan Adams, Tweedy, Jack White, Neil Young, Sam Beam, Patterson Hood, Wayne Coyne, The Coen Bros, Guillermo del Toro, etd.

Maybe the renaissance is all around us after all, you just have to know where to look!

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

I feel like giving you a standing ovation for this post. I read it and will pass it on to a few people I know. Its very depressing to me, because you are right...I don't think there is any going back, I think its too late.

I completely disagree with the Beatles being a "boy band". Sure, they made the girls scream and faint but that was not just about them being cute young men, that was about what they represented. Anon 2, how can you compare the lyrics of most Beatles songs to anything NSYNC ever sang???? Ludicrous.

Anyhow, thank you for writing this.

Oh, I did meet a new blogger who is only 18 yrs. old and has a deep appreciation for and vast knowledge of Classic Rock. His blog is:

Tell him Layla sent you!

d.edlen said...

Sitting here listening to the new Kings of Leon having bought "Icky Thump" on vinyl today and having seen Beck yesterday, I think that there are those artists in it for the art. Driven by passion, they create.

Having grown up in the '80s I am quite at home listening to Depeche Mode, but when I look back at the list of albums that came out during that time, there's some amazing music that came out! "Nobody" knew about it at the time.

I got into the habit of finding random used CDs to listen to at the store just because I didn't know what they were. I found some stuff that will become the classical music of recent times.

You just need to dig. I'm sure there was fluff back in Bach's day, otherwise how would Bach be the stand out? What was he standing out from?

Yes, those of us well versed in what is currently considered recent culturally significant contributions worth preserving don't seem to find much to capture our hearts and souls today. But could that be because we're living in a framework of cultural judgement of creativity based in the past?

Excuse me, but art can't die. That statement makes my blood boil. Society, as all life, changes, cycles, swings as people judge and compare. YOU aren't the arbiter of what should be preserved or considered worthy of sitting next to Poe on the shelf, (perhaps HST or Palahniuk?)


carlozzi006 said...

I agree with a lot of things that you said, but I just feel that it was a little over the top and pessimistic. Sure, music has gotten worse over the past 300 or so years. Everything you have said about this generation of music is very one sided and subjected. I probably hate it as much as you but there are tons of people who would disagree with us. Culture and art, no matter how great and revolutionary it is, will ultimately be forgotton over time. In 300 years, will people know who The Beatles are; let alone Bach? I really hope so but I don't think it's going to happen and it's a crying shame. You also can't rule out the possibility of another renaissance or more musical genius's coming along. Genius's are born not made. I believe the next "musical" renaissance won't be able to start until rock music and rap music both die out, which it seems to be already happening. No genre of music can last forever. I think it will ultimately take a new and "better" form of music to put the final nail in the coffin for rock and rap music, and I hope it comes sooner rather than later.

Oh, by the way, I'm the kid that Layla was referring to :)

carlozzi006 said...

Also, I'd like to link with your site. Just let me know, you can contact me at or my AIM s/n: carlozzi006

carlozzi006 said...

One more thing. I also know a lot of people who listen to rap, screamer, beyonce, etc. who are well-educated outstanding members of society, so you can't just stereotype people who listen to that kind of music. Believe me, I'm one of the biggest Classic Rock fans and I have some type of appreciation for all types of music but just because a person doesn't "appreciate" the Beatles or Bob Dylan doesn't make them any less educated than me or you.

Jeff said...

I love Classic Rock, hell, I have a blog that's focused on the topic, but I don't think that the music of today is neccesarily bad, it's just doesn't fit our taste. Much of white America and fans of classic rock won't understand the importance of Public Enemy and NWA, but within their community they were geniuses. Flava Flav may be some weird reality TV show idiot to most, but it's hard to deny that he was a part of one of the most important musical groups of the past fifty years. Dylan and Morrison will always be rock's American Poets, but they were speaking to the culture that respected them where as Kanye West is considered a poet to those who appreciate his art. I personally think it is all relative.

The 60s and 70s had plenty of crappy music to go around, and the same is true for today. Within rock however, there are some bands which I find to be far more creative than 90% of the bands from the 60s and 70s. Bands like The Mars Volta who take progressive music to a knew realm, The White Stripes who have the ability to do more things with just two instruments than five piece bands can do, and Tool, who is like a modern day King Crimson. Sure, there is garbage out there, but every decade is going to have their own crap.

We live in a very accesible world now, and it's harder to weed out the bad material from the good stuff. And, at the same time, who is to say what is art and what is not.

From my eyes, I agree with what you are saying. Music isn't as good as it once was, but at the same time I think it is all relative.

d.edlen said...

Well put, Jeff.

l said...

ahhh. now this is getting fun. The Music Theory of Relativity has legs.

Due to insider information, I know that the overwhelming majority of weight staffers were not around prior to 1978. This allows for a distillation of popular culture from the 1960s and 1970s (and with reference to Bach 1730s) where you can evaluate, judge, critique, and ultimately cherish the precipitate. See, you were able to be raised only on what survived the crucible of time.

Flashback to 1994: there was some great, groundbreaking music being created, and appreciated. At the same time, there were a ton of bands that were just plain awful. Take a look at your CD rack when you go home to your parents house. For every Pearl Jam there is inevitably some throw away bands such as Sponge, Collective Soul, James or some other fill in the blank soulless corporate creation. (I may have ticked off some fans there, and I apologize).

Basically, you think the art scene is so pathetic today because you're judging it in the first and second act. Give it time. They can't all be winners.

As for the music theory of relativity, and I may be paraphrasing, but someone very smart once said "that certain bands exist only to remind us how awesome other bands are."

(Not so)Anonymous #2