While reading the chapters in our text on music in the seventies and eighties, I found that there were a few areas that were of particular interest to me as a musician. First, was the area of Art Rock that emerged as a transition between the 1960s ad 1970s. Second, I took notice of the degree of separation between black and white musicians during this time and, especially in the early eighties, the difficulty black musicians had in breaking into the mainstream for a variety of reasons. Third, I would like to briefly discuss punk and their failed attempts at satire. Finally, the concept of MTV and what it has done to the musical landscape in America.
As a classical musician I find that I both appreciate and detest the idea of "Art Rock" in the late sixties and early seventies. I appreciate the concept for a number of reasons. First, I am glad to see classical elements coming to the forefront as part of the history of rock and roll in America. The inclusion of the Style of Bela Bartok for example in Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I also get the impression that it was not only about the inclusion of style or the orchestra (which groups like the Moody Blues used to great effect), but they also attempted to incorporate portions of actually classical songs within their music as well. While that disturbs me a little bit (which I will attempt to explain below) part of me takes the attitude that it is a great way to expose individuals to the classical repertory that would not normally come to it of their own volition. I also find that the use of this so called "Art Rock" can be useful tool in a course like Music Appreciation to set up various topics like opera for instance. I think in an earlier post I had referenced Queen for this very purpose, but perhaps the Who and their rock opera would be a better approach. Also a synthesis can really be seen between literature, art and music through this genre as well which can open student's minds to how the varying parts of the humanities affect each other throughout history.
On the other hand, I find this music to be a little disturbing. For one, the insinuation that this music was elitist gives me the impression that some critics of the day felt this music to be trending towards "high art". The fact that this music would be seen anywhere near high art is, quite frankly, a bit disturbing to me. In my humble (and as my wife would say, hoity-toity) opinion, this music tracks nowhere near where high art does. The inclusion of some classical elements, an orchestra, or adding a rock beat to a classical tune does not high art make. And perhaps I show my arrogance as a classical musician, but I find it rather insulting that this music would even be considered in this vain.
The second thing that disturbs me (at least with some of the groups considered in this category such as The Who) is that it seemed to be far less about the music they were producing and far more about manufacturing an image that would sell. Fast forward into the modern era and I think we have the same concept of manufacturing and image to sell a product on crack. I think it does music, both classical and popular, a disservice to worry more about image than content...especially since we seem to be heading down the track of dumbing down Art Song, which is my performance art. Perhaps not in the same way, but with the idea of aiming at the lowest common denominator and allowing those with minimal or no talent to be successful in the field through gimmick instead of talent, work ethic and artistry!
On a personal note, I will say that I find it rather ironic in a way and insightful in another that the groups that I have tended towards listening in rock music tend to be "Art Rock" groups such as the Moody Blues or groups that incorporate classical instruments and style into their music such as Ben Folds.
Moving onto my second topic of the plight of the African American in the popular music world, I guess I find it very ironic that an industry that produced so many singers in the sixties who were at the forefront of the social protest movement was actually ding their level best to separate themselves from the very people they were protesting for. Now perhaps that is not a fair assessment. After all the record companies were not the ones protesting, they were just reaping the rewards (after they caught onto the concept anyways). But the fact that white musicians were trying to separate out the contributions of the African American on the art of rock and roll and begin to attribute their influences to themselves (can we say Eric Clapton and his comment about playing like a white man) is perhaps a bit disheartening. It was almost the ultimate in being hypocritical. Perhaps I am mischaracterizing this a bit, but I believe the sentiment is in the right place.
Disco music (which had the dancing elements that so many wanted) had a difficult time making it onto the radio. Although this eventually turned into a very popular music of the seventies, one cannot think that the universal dismissal of the music all together was, as the book noted, racially motivated. Also, the fact that it needed white groups such as the Bee Gees to popularize the music (and Saturday Night Fever to put it over the hump for record labels and radio stations) it follows the same paradigm of the early seventies where white musicians "annex the territory" which finally brings the music to prominence when perhaps it should have been there all the time. What makes this perhaps more interesting is that fact that disco served to bring people together across racial and sexual lines, so it seems ironic to me that a music that would bring the masses together was on some level scoffed early on by the industry.
The anti-disco sentiment that followed from the rock based radio stations only seemed to fuel the flames of the social divides that exist within our country. As Garufalo points out, "While rock radio could have demonstrated the connections between hard rock and black music for its listeners, it fanned the flames of the racism instead." To be fair, however, the blanket statement from the rock community that "disco sucks" does not intern mean that all people who hate disco are racists. In fact, while there are similarities to the music, they are both different forms with their own unique following. I also have a difficult time calling everything racism just because it is a black vs. white issue. I know that the previous statement may sound like it coming out of left field, but say both disco and the rock of 70s were born of white musicians and the rallies were still held and radio stations waged campaign that said disco sucks. Would we still hold the same view? Is it narrow minded of us to think that just because there are black and white people involved that it is a racially motivated issue? (Is this perhaps a good springboard into a discussion on race relations in a college political science course?) What of Louis Armstrong saying the Bebop was a fad and like Chinese music? Since he is a black musician speaking about another predominately black art form we call say it perhaps a choice of his to hold the opinion. If he was white, would we then automatically say that it is racially motivated and that all who agree with him are racist? Why can't we hold are own opinions even when they have color involved without being deemed racist? Why can't reasonable people disagree? (My apologies for the tangent) Having said all that, with the way the music was promoted (or the lack there of) perhaps there was a bit of a racial divide being created by the labels that trickled down to the radio stations. For the DJs perhaps a lot of the disco sucks movement was less about race and more about protecting their turf!?! Good topics for discussion...
The trend carried into the 1980s as well. Look at MTV for example and their reluctance to include black artists. As a matter of fact, we can look at MTV and their apparent reluctance to include American artists all together. It took the power and foresight of an artist like Michael Jackson to finally break the barrier and even that was with a great deal of reluctance. It seems that in the modern era that black artists have found their own groove and popularity with hip hop and R&B, but the fact that we seem to base everything off of the white middle class demographic for so long was a bit misguided...at least in my opinion. At least this offers us the opportunity to look at racism in the last 30 - 40 years (or perhaps "social justice" as new found academics and media refer to the cause today).
Punk musicians of the 1970s...I am having a hard time first seeing music anywhere in this form. But let's put that issue aside because that is a different debate all together. However, their intent to be the "anti" everything movement I think took things way to far when they started to incorporate swastikas, Marxism, etc. Robert Christgau states in our text that these antics were certainly rock parody and should be considered as such. I couldn't disagree with him more on this point. This is no where near parody and I would say at minimum is rock insensitivity and at worst...well...I will leave that one alone. I guess what makes things worse for me is the fact that the music itself used these anti-Semitic tools, concerts were promoted by them (for example "Special Extermination Night"). Now I realize that the idea of rock and role, and especially that of punk is not to appeal to the norm and be socially sensitive. The idea for many of these musicians was to show injustices (such as music in the 60s) or to be anti-establishment. However, as our author points out "that fine distinction, which is rife in punk's recapitulations of itself, over-look the importance of historical meaning". It is the one thing that we talk about as individuals, groups, and nations...those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it. In this case it is not about forgetting their past, but ignoring the significance of that past in order to fulfill their anti-establishment needs. Seriously! They were trying to be satirical using one of the worst losses of human life as their backdrop. Did the drugs get to their brain and truly make them that dense? The only other conclusion that can be made is that Christgau is absolutely wrong. These people new exactly what they were doing with these images. I understand the need to create controversy...but there are rules of decorum (which these groups were completely against, this I understand) or how about just sensitivity and understanding. If those are out the window...well, it seems to me that it goes against the very nature of what music is (which perhaps explains the entire Punk Rock movement completely). Regardless, what a bunch of flippin' idiots!
Finally I would discuss the music video and the influence it has had on music over the past 30 years of so. That fact that most early music videos were done by ad based producers explains a great deal to me, but does not alleviate the problem that I have with them. Perhaps rock music has turned into a complete performance art. I do not mean the rock concerts themselves (although those are so choreographed it is hard to distinguish at times), but rather the fact that all music now days seems to have a need to be accompanied with a video. The texts (in my opinion) have been dumbed down enough. There is no metaphor in many of them, and, if there is, it is so weak that it doesn't take someone who is overly bright to put two and two together. But to make matters worse, we have music videos that it seems everyone relies on for the piece de resistance...half of which have nothing to do with what is actually being said in the song (and has made me wonder for years how the industry has survived). It seems to me the art of music is far less about music and far more about visual appeal (weather in video format or on stage). My how the mighty have fallen so...although, if I look at modern through the lens of a performance art, I think it is remarkable successful at what it attempts to do (both in practice and in capitalist terms). I think there is a place for this music...and in education for that fact...the question is where and how and what is it the means to an end of (I would hope it is not a means to the end of itself).