I struggled for awhile with the second part to this little discourse. The struggle was that, to be in full disclosure, I had no idea really where I was going with the argument. I simply knew that my first part was not enough and as a failsafe I put that “Part 1” at the end of the title. I had a rough idea at what I was trying to get at, but in terms of putting something together—well I was at a loss. So I’ve decided to structure this second part in a very Hegelian manner. Hegel’s method of discourse, for those of you who do not know it, is essentially to have a thesis, then an antithesis, and finally a synthesis. For, the first part of this blog post laid out my essential problem: where have all the big ideas gone? My suggestion, if it may not have been clear, was that the increasingly factional categorization—I believe nitpicking was the word I used—of genre labels by communities of music lovers such as ourselves here at Sputnik, is symptomatic of the endangerment of these big ideas. A ‘big idea’, as I see it, is an attempt to illustrate something specific in a way that transcends experience and connects to the mind of the audience. This is not to say platitudes or other generalizations, in fact that’s the opposite of what I mean. No, a big idea is one that makes you think beyond the way you normally do.
I believe it was Roland Barthes who argued that there are two types of texts: the text of pleasure and the text of bliss. The ‘big idea’ that I, perhaps elusively, am attempting to grasp, fits into the category of “text of bliss.” Essentially, the text of bliss is one that challenges one’s preconceived and constructed truths; it is a serious ethical examination. I suppose, then, that my thesis would be to the first extreme, and suggest that the only worthwhile music would fit into this category. Thus the only music that is valuable is that which challenges the accepted understanding of its contemporaries. Suddenly I would not need an iPod with much file space because I could very easily narrow down the music I listen to a select group: Shostakovich, Bartok, Debussy, Miles Davis, Dave Holland, and if I’m feeling generous, perhaps some Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Talking Heads, and Radiohead. Essentially there are always a few artists who transcend their contemporaries, and therefore they are the only ones who are worthy of any attention at all.
But I love pop music just as much as I love challenging music. And in fact, is there even any necessity for music to be challenging at all? Music, after all, is the lowest form of art (let me explain). This isn’t a criticism so much as a statement of fact if we are to take the old argument from Sir Philip Sidney and say that art gives pleasure and informs. Music is just noise, really, and has absolutely no ideological or educational function; for example, Lenin and Stalin’s idea of creating strong, nationalistic music is really a construction. Nothing about music has any real weight to it; lyrics are not music, they’re poetry. So if we simply construct meaning and give it to music, then why even bother having big ideas? Why not just stick to catchiness, a nice melody, or the original idea of folk music as being a communal experience. So in this sense, is club music our generation’s folk music? That’s sort of a scary thought, but then again folk music is meant to be populist.
Yet, I go on a bender of disposable indie pop, or dance music, and suddenly I have my palette cleansed and I put on Henryk Gorecki, or Battles (who are a nice combination of pop and avant-garde, which is very rare indeed). The synthesis, then, may seem like a cop-out: we need to mix our musical diet! Oh, how very egalitarian of you, Keelan, but pardon my French when I say NO SHIT. I agree, it’s an obvious sentiment, but it brings me to the final point that I think I’ve realized is my main gripe with our present circumstance. We seem absolutely fixated on ignoring the big ideas, and ruining the balance. If everything is disposable, then we’re allowing a degradation of an art form. Pop is fun, and that easy type of music can sometimes, just sometimes, be as cathartic as the challenging stuff; but we need to continue to push the music somewhere or else we’ll spiral down into an abyss of stagnation. The biggest excuse for the apparent lack of this push is that we’ve seen it all done before. But as I said before, originality is not necessarily sounds that we haven’t heard before, but rather it is the way those sounds convey an idea that marks something as original. So the suggestion that we’ve all “been there, done that” is utter nonsense. In fact, that’s the laziness I feel has led us to be so mired in trying to find new genre tags so as to create a sense of faux-originality.
There will always be room for fresh, big ideas—unless we actually are apart of the gyre; but I really, really doubt that. Sorry, Yeats.