Saturday, December 17, 2005


Douglas Wolk (among others) takes issue with the coda to my post below, in a bout of that ever fascinating paranoia from popular music defenders that there's a classical snob ready to stomp them around every corner. I mean, you guys win, ok? It's as bad as all those persecuted Republican congressmen sometimes!

But seriously: snark aside, I have little interest in waging jihad against popular music or (god forbid) disparaging Bono's work ethic. My point was that we shouldn't settle for the kind of facile equivalencies that Sandow advocates in his attempts to cure classical music lovers of the elitist bogeyman. It's not some grand generalization, I'm simply saying I see no reason why we should feel insecure about approaching Kissin and Bono as artists who, at anything but the most inane and useless level of comparison, make very different kinds of art for very different goals. Kissin's goal is to be a supreme technician of his instrument and interpreter of its literature, while Bono aims to make affecting and innovative popular songs that will be broadly received and enjoyed.

If you can't acknowledge this is a legitimate and substantive difference in experience and values, then you'll probably find no joy in appreciating either. For the record, though I don't think it needs my help, there are obviously a host of advantages which popular and other forms have over classical music (the fact that people aren't compelled to write essays to justify their relevance so often comes to mind).

But more to the point, trying to get people to assent that everything has equal validity in all ways just blatantly denies why people like music in the first place. If people are going to have any reason for liking art its because they make value judgments in relation to other art they reject or at least feel less invested in. By contrast, the naive egalitarianism Sandow is harping on is only good for scoring points on an agenda. I mean, since we're talking marketing here, what kind of slogan does this make for? "Classical music: Nothing you can't get from pop!"?

Also, I think Wolk misreads my last paragraph responding to Sandow's whole thing about how people go to the concert hall for superficial reasons. I fully agree that people who go to classical concerts are, in part, indulging in a self-serving temple of music fetish and all that. That's certainly a part of my experience. And I love it. I just meant Sandow's mistaken for saying its A) unique to classical music and B) such a crime.

P.S. Read this delightful short meditation by Wolk about the Magnetic Fields' ever fascinating and beautiful 69 Love Songs. If somehow you missed out at the time, do buy it and spend a month listening to nothing else.

We now return to our regular scheduled snobbery.

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