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September 27, 2007


Otis Jefferson Brown

Copied-and-pasted quotes from the NY Times Magazine’s featured story this week, about somebody named Haynes who has made a movie about Bob Dylan:

It might sound like a parlor game, or like cheating on Haynes’s part, but to make sense in a film about Dylan would make no sense. “If I told you what our music is really about, we’d probably all get arrested,” Dylan once said.

“I don’t know that it does make sense,” Cate Blanchett says of the film, “and I don’t know whether Dylan’s music makes sense. It hits you in kind of some other place. It might make sense when you’re half-awake, half-asleep, in the everyday lives in which we live. I don’t think the film even strives to make sense, in a way.”

Richard Gere, who plays the Dylan of later years, a Billy the Kid Dylan who ran away to some other place, another time, tends to agree. “It has an emotional truth to it, which is what I think modern art is about,” he says. “It’s not about the narrative. In other words, without narrative, it’s kind of, well, cosmic.”

“You have to give up a certain amount of control when you listen to music,” Haynes told me. He wanted to get back to what it meant when Dylan went electric, when he ran away to Woodstock and recorded the oldest, craziest American songs. “What would it be like to be in that moment when it was new and dangerous and different?” Haynes says. “You have to do a kind of trick almost to get people back to where Dylan did what he did or Mozart did what he did.”

Otis Jefferson Brown

Loud huzzahs from the Melody Harmony & Rhythm faction (a small but hardy claque in the cheap seats down the right-field line). Gimme an M, gimme an H, gimme an R!

Minimalism, serialism, modernism, freudianism, totalitarianism... The 20th century was a century of grandiose isms each of which was hailed, by people who were more smart than wise, as the wave of the future - all of which turned out to be either dead ends or death machines, or both.

Today the mantra of fatuous symphony directors worldwide is: To attract younger audiences we must program contemporary works by contemporary composers. (Translation: unwanted, unwelcome, unlistenable works.) Here’s a challenge. Name me a classical piece written after Bartok’s 1945 Concerto for Orchestra that has become a beloved staple of the repertoire. Just one. I’m waiting...

Today’s pop-music world is different: ruled by amateurs, its conventions are defined by raging hormones, adolescent angst, faux modernism, arty-farty pretension, and a conformism as rigid as anything we experienced in the 1950s. Plus ça change...

(A short pause for the raising of hackles throughout the vast readership of this blog.)

Just for a moment, let’s forget we’re good, party-line, relativistic liberals who have trouble saying A is better than B. (You know the routine: “It’s all a matter of taste,” “Whatever works for you,” etc.) Isn’t it possible – just possible - that melody, harmony and rhythm, as we have traditionally known them, produce (I’ll be using some technical neurological terms here) good stuff in the human brain, while dissonance and discord produce bad stuff? Could that explain why I prefer Haydn to Stockhausen, Louis Armstrong to Thelonious Monk, Frank Loesser to Bob Dylan?

In fact I’ll lay you 8 to 5 that in the long run the human race will derive more pleasure and spiritual sustenance from the warmth, wit and melodism of Kern, Porter, Berlin, Loesser, Mercer, Carmichael, Warren and the many hundreds of their Tin Pan Alley cohorts than from all the punk rockers, hip-hoppers, heavy-metallurgists and obscurantist “geniuses” straight out of Creative Writing 101 who have dominated pop music since 1960.

Since none of us will be around to pay up or collect on the bet, make that 2 to 1.

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