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« A Journey to the End of Taste: A Response | Main

07 November 2011


Eric (not Benson)

Maybe this point is so obvious that it hardly bore mentioning by either of you, but isn't it somewhat significant that for several decades now, massively popular music shares the following qualities:

- It has lyrics written in the vernacular
- It is presented in relatively short chunks (about three minutes each)
- It has fairly distinct structure, with verses and some kind of chorus

In other words, music that is popular shares the qualities we associate with, well, pop music. I realize that classical music has lieder, but they're not in English, and don't usually have simple, easy to follow melodic and harmonic structures. Jazz certainly
contains pop songwriting, but it strikes me that you're not as concerned about the failure of Ella Fitzgerald or Diana Krall to catch on with young people, as you are about Miles and Coltrane. Isn't the
general lack of those qualities a somewhat insurmountable obstacle to jazz and classical really taking off among young people and/or the masses? (I guess you could take a step back and question why my
premise is even the case. I think it has to do with short attention spans and general laziness-- it's a lot easier to connect to a song that has a chorus that you can already sing along with on its second
go 'round than it is to connect to a symphony or sax solo. But who knows.)

On top of that, I think both genres suffer from lacking an avenue for the kind of showmanship and personality that most people expect from popular musicians. And the reason they expect this is that pop music is basically a form of entertainment. So people like things that are entertaining. With rock music, you have general "rocking out"
(like Pete Townshend's windmills), or frontman antics (Mick Jagger, Bono). And with pop music you have glittery outfits, and often dancing choreography. And with all of it you have lights and applause
and shouting and dancing. With classical, they give you lozenges lest you cough in the middle of a movement and disturb things. And there's definitely something cool about the smoky atmosphere of the Village Vanguard, but it's still more constraining than the Bowery Ballroom.

Also, with jazz and classical you have these very old, often delicate instruments. Especially the violin-- man, it's just impossible to look cool playing a violin. (Oddly, that said, John Cale looked verycool playing a viola in the Velvet Underground). That's the visual disjunction that these guys use to get famous:

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