Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Music, When Harsh Voices Die

I'm still working on that book I've mentioned before, and there's a bit of a deadline to deal with, so the blog will feature some stuff I had written weeks ago but had no place to put in terms of context. Here are some reflections on music that were occasioned by a NYT article about that Diva of State, Condi.

Condi Tickles Ivories as Baghdad Burns

Maybe you saw this piece in the Times about Condi's musical avocation. Yes, it's a little disturbing, especially if you sense the natural connection between musical education and social awareness (not to mention higher math and science scores). But I was encouraged by the fact that Dr. Rice admitted to having made "thousands of errors" in her recent performance of the Brahms G Minor Piano Quartet.

All right, I made that last one up, though I wouldn't be surprised if there were something to it. As most people know, art and life frequently converge and sometimes appear to change places. You can see this happen no matter where you look today—whether it's the Stones giving a censored tour of China for a mostly non-Chinese audience (at around $900 a seat), or going back to the scene of Bush pickin' and grinnin' while 1,300 perished in New Orleans.

So it would seem that art and social awareness aren't that truly synergistic after all. Well, it's much the same with art as it is with religion: if we force it off into a walled-off corner of life, to be used as an escape mechanism (as Dr. Rice admits she does in that Times article), then art will be distorted and its human purpose degraded. If we resort to it as a self-promoting shill for further fattening already obese bank accounts (as with the Stones' China tour), then, yes, art mimics a decadent strain in the culture and undermines art's true purpose.

But music that endures—from Mozart's then-revolutionary adaptation of Beaumarchais' then-infamous play, all the way to almost anything Pink Floyd created—that's where the potential of music can be heard. It can still be heard today, in anything from Eminem to Springsteen to Daniel Barenboim's Middle East peace concerts.

It can be heard, though faintly, I think, in Neil Young's new album. It's probably his weakest effort ever from a purely musical standpoint, but does contain some great lines. But perhaps the musicians who most deserve our acclaim today are those three ladies who bravely and at great jeopardy to their careers (not to mention miscellaneous death threats), stood up and out against this insane war from day one, when everyone from the noted master of the ice guitar, Thomas Friedman, to the strummers of the sycophantic lyre in Congress were crying for Saddam's head dipped in premium grade Exxon.

So here's to the Dixie Chicks (click on the graphic above to hear their latest, which is really quite good), from a fellow who has never been a CW fan. Thanks from all lovers of peace and justice and the planet and America for your truth, your courage, and your beautiful clarity of art and purpose.

No comments: