Helping of Music

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’ve got nothing to prove here, and you have everything to gain.

Here’s what it is. I listen to more music than anybody I know. That’s not saying much, probably, given how much music some people listen to. But it’s a recursive universe and mine is particularly self-referential, because I don’t get out much.

The thing about what I listen to is, it’s all over the map, I mean the cultural qua musical map, because if it gets to my heart, or my soul, or simply into my head to my pleasure centers, I listen and I listen good. The same results for everyone are not guaranteed. I mean there’s even some rap and hip-hop I listen to. I like opera. If you catch my tune.

One of the pleasures I always get, or not so much “always” as more and more reliably more often, is listening to music that is the auditory version of comfort food. It hardly matters, except for context, but I am very comfortable with music I have been listening to my whole life, which is over 70 years, and some of it, a lot of it strictly speaking because I listen to so much so-called “classical” music and there is more of that written during the course of the modern era in western culture, that is, over the past five hundred years or so, than has been written in the time I’ve been alive.

But the greater comforts can be had as well with popular music that is, some of it, at least my age, and older, dating back to beginning of the 20th century. This is more or less co-extensive of certain kinds of music, genres distinguishable from their roots in ethnic sources that traverse continents and oceans. I am talking about, among other major musical art forms, jazz. But I am also talking about blues, and I am talking about rock and roll. All more or less a century old in their recognizable forms by those rubrics.

I love to share what I gives me so much sensate satisfaction (call it soul satisfying if you like; I won’t stop you, or even give you a fishy-eyed look). Usually this means something literally digestible, some kind of food, especially if there’s enough to go around, and particularly if I’ve prepared it myself. But music is a food. Evanescent, speaking to feeling as much as to anything, and in a certain respect impossible to get yourself filled up so you can’t take any more. Which can’t always be said of North Carolina style pulled pork.

But in a certain way, it’s easier to share something good to eat, if only because of its substance and immediacy. And I can immediately gauge the effects of consumption. And there’s an ease about how it’s here, and then, consumed, it’s gone. And if my guests don’t like it, no harm done, and my sense of pleasure isn’t compromised. Tomorrow is another day.

It’s easier to share food, because one can plan on a conjunction of heightened expectations, of preparing for a meal by abstinence, and with all the anticipatory, perhaps ritualistic appetite enhancers: the aromas from the cooking area, other palatal stimuli like drinks and a sincere air of conviviality. We build ourselves up for satisfaction.

With music it’s different. There is no amuse-geule that prepares the listener for a meal of savory straight jazz standards. There may be an opening act, but that’s only to build up a different form of anticipation, larded as it is too often, intentionally, with delay and the attendant impatience.

Of course, for that reason, and others, I avoid live performances. There’s the inconvenience, and there are all those other people.

I don’t need company, frankly, to enjoy a tune, and certainly not for a symphony or a suite.

So, in more ways than the singular and irreversible accident of the occasion of my birth in the continuum of technological progress, I am the happy beneficiary of the pleasures of recorded music. What I want to hear, when I want to hear it, or so I characterize so much of the back catalog of my musical preferences.

I look forward to new performers and new performances, experimental or tried-and-true, by old favorites.

And therefore, to cut to the chase, I love Spotify.

I have shared the occasional cut, even as I was listening to it, posting a link before a song or movement was even finished to share it with my friends on Facebook.

But for the duration I am eschewing Facebook, which loses its pitifully small benefice of being, still, a kind of threadbare means of maintaining social contact. Without belaboring it, it’s proving increasingly more fulfilling to me to provide access to what I have to offer my friends by way of sharing thoughts and cultural artifacts by the means that I have always preferred in the age of technologically enhanced connection.

So I present to you, as I will from time to time (or not, not if there’s not some kind of stir, some kind of acknowledgment, some indication that it’s welcome and useful, dare I say satisfying to you as well). If you like it, tell me.

Today was a day of reviving obscure, if not moribund, old standards. And don’t say melancholy. Say moody.

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10 thoughts on “
Helping of Music

  1. I enjoyed this playlist very much and will return to it. “ Cottage for Sale “ was new to me ( as were most of the others ). So breathtakingly sad. I found other versions, including James Brown and Chuck Berry., but Sinatra’s is by far the most affecting. Thanks for the list.

    • There was more meat to that article, once I read it, learning that you actually did have a reference. We should note it says:

      What did the critics make of this event? Here again, there is a problem. Music criticism was still in its infancy, and the only regular music journal was the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, published by Breitkopf & Härtel in faraway Leipzig. Fortunately the AmZ frequently included reports from other cities, and a brief account of Beethoven’s Akademie was published. As usual, the AmZ account appeared anonymously, but it was probably written by Haydn’s friend Georg August Griesinger. The account praised the event as ‘truly the most interesting concert in a long time’, and the new symphony possessed ‘considerable art, novelty and richness of ideas’. But this is surely a somewhat guarded comment – only ‘considerable’, rather than exceptional, art and novelty?

      But the more important lesson here is that performances back in the day were rarely public, were always subscribed to (required payment), and mainly served the gentry. Originally, as was true of all formalized manifestations of art, it was for the benefit of upper classes, usually nobility. Alternatively there were commissions paid by the church, and specifically for art with highly constricted allowable subject matter as its focus. Nowadays all you need is a smartphone (for the possession of which, people will go without other essentials) and a free social media account. And no one need call you an artist.

      Today, most artists are self-annointed.

      The gauge of Beethoven’s ultimate success, which still says nothing about the objective quality of his compositions (which also require skillful renditions for true assessment of their depths; the article you’ve cited makes it clear that musicians of most concerts had, at best, one shot at playing their way through… it’s a wonder we still get to listen to Beethoven) is in the additional fact to be gleaned that eventually he cleaned up, financially, acting as his own impresario.

      So, what was your point again? I mean about how Haydn should have poo-pooed the work of those upstarts Mozart and Beethoven.

  2. Well, although I personally have opinions (don’t we all?) on “today’s music”, it does seem like every generation regards the next generation’s music with disdain….so I’m not sure that we reliably can judge anything near to our time…even Beethoven’s First was judged by the only music critic of the time that “the wind instruments were used too much”…

    • Not to flog the horse called Stating the Obvious, I myself will say, “I can only speak for myself.” Not every generation does any such thing, of course. It’s a commonplace to excuse our lack of open-mindedness by misidentifying it for a factitious generational failing. Invoking it is tantamount to suggesting it is a genetic adaptation. But let’s go with that, as it’s a line of argument I’ve heard you prefer so much in the past. What, exactly is the advantage to such a repudiation of the cultural artifacts of a succeeding generation? (Or you can tackle the obverse: what’s the existential advantage to eschewing the past for a radically different mode of expression?) Not that either of these propositions holds up.

      The Beethoven critic (the only music critic…? You want to substantiate that with some scholarly reference?) may have been having a bad day. Or maybe, as is my fallback suspicion where I lack other evidence, he was just an idiot. It’s proof of no such sweeping characterization of whatever explains the phenomenon I outlined.

      I know there are musical rappers and hip-hop artists. I am also familiar, of course, with the efforts at creating a kind of fusion of other forms (“Hamilton” comes immediately to mind, if only because of how spectacularly successful this composition has been—taking the production as a whole, with its many parts, its variety of musical styles, forms, and intermingled genres).

      Besides, what you persist in not addressing is not any statement I made (mainly because I didn’t make one) about the disruptive nature of the music that has evolved and emerged to prevail as the current state-of-the-art, but my statement that there is a reluctance simply to point out that with much of this music the emperor wears no clothes (which is to say, analogously, if imperfectly, that the rapper has no melody, no harmony, and no modal discipline). Where are the mature current artists, and what are they playing, producing? (that’s not a trick question; it’s meant in earnest… I don’t know… and only indicates that I will have to dig deeper than I have)

  3. Well, given how seemingly shallow we’ve become, based on news media, TV, etc., the only question is, “Which is the cause, and which the effect?”

    • What do you mean “we?” It’s all effect. There are still people producing the other, the in danger of extinction types of cultural artifacts that were mainstream. What “we” have done is cowed ourselves into allowing prejudicial assessments to mingle with the disappearing skill of judging art disinterestedly, and concluding that this or that song, in the case of music, cannot be assessed without bias and it’s best to declare it’s all art… and as long as there’s an audience for it, that’s conclusive validation of not only its authenticity (which no one would question anyway) but its value. To remove this consideration from the realm of music, which is far too fraught (and the constituency of the major players and kingpins, not to mention the constituency of the rivals for prizes in each category (a taxonomy, incidentally, that didn’t even exist, say, 35 years ago) is too difficult to differentiate one from another, so granular are the apparent discernible distinctions – not to mention, say, whether it’s a valid question that a recording by Taylor Swift should even be assessed as to quality in the same “category” as a recording by Beyoncé), I think of a visual artist like Basquiat. His work, which the art world struggled to appreciate (in every sense of that overused word) is still indistinguishable to the common person from what you can see on the overpass walls outside the suburban train windows as you pull in from the west past the yards bordering on 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.

      The music I am, for lack of any more convenient shared vocabulary, calling standards and classics were, when they were just released and popular, in any unequivocal sense of that word, is the music that ordinary people listened to, revelled in, danced to, found solace in, and expression for a whole other range of feelings of which we are capable in the course of living our everyday lives.

      Can that be said of the preponderance of the music that just took all the top prizes at the Grammies? Or am I just being an elitist of some kind? Is this music going to be on someone’s “less known standards & classics” list of the Spotify service of 2088?

  4. Well…yes!
    .and today I’ve been listening to southern rock, because it is truly enjoyable to play…not sure if it is as enjoyable to all to listen to…but there you have it….like the Clash, playing it is more fun than listening to it…(I’ll be playing this tune with a band I may join, largely improvisational except for the main riff)

    • There are all sorts of collateral benefits to following one’s ears into what, for too many other people, are arcana and “old-fashioned” choices. One of those I like best is learning what I should have picked up on in the first place. Like the name of the guy who not only wrote “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling” and then looking further and discovering his heritage of being unsung for a whole strain of classics in what Harold Arlen called in his masterly survey the “American Songbook.” Things like the doleful “Cottage for Sale,” and the vaguely puckish (thanks to the contribution of a guy named Fats Waller) “Don’t Tell a Man About His Woman.” What popular music used to do was capture the feelings, and give a voice to, the entire range of human emotions as experienced by each of us, regardless of factors of differentiation. So much popular music seems to have recast into posting dispatches that speak only of anger, injustice, revenge, or adolescent love.

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