Saturday, November 05, 2005

Music Will Never Change the World

Some musicians resemble the mouth, some have guts, others are assholes. Musicians generally resemble a type of noisy alimentary canal, and are predisposed to swallowing any of a number of romantic lies. This is true of every one of them that I have worked with or met. An entire industry has been founded upon this vulnerability.

To sustain themselves during times of unpopularity, anonymity, and indifference, band members will fix their hopes on flimsy and ephemeral achievements such as getting signed to a record label or gaining radio airplay. With vast reserves of youthful idealism available, they will endure long periods of roadsickness, poverty, sleeping on floors, etc. And this, really, is fine with me: as a society, we need people willing to do this so we can listen to new tunes all the time.

But please, let us have the strength to dispose of one existential illusion: that what we are doing as musicians will actually "change the world". Bullshit.

In describing orchestral music, Stravinsky once said

"I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc...Expression has never been an inherent property of music. That is by no means the purpose of its existence. If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion and not reality. It is simply an additional attribute which, by tacit and inveterate agreement, we have lent it, thrust upon it, and as a label of convention -- in short, an aspect unconsciously or by force of habit, we have come to confuse with its essential being."

The above passage has been interpreted as a critique of Romanticism but it is equally serviceable contradicting the notion that the content of instrumental music can ever be representational. With rock music, of course, an artist can easily craft words that directly or indirectly express his intentions. But does that ability necessarily give music some kind of mojo to drive events and history? I say it does not. If you disagree, give me one good example.

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