Musing #6: Musical Taste (Again)
Think of your top ten favorite musical artists (or if you’d rather: your top ten favorite albums or songs). Do you think there’s another person you know whose list would exactly match yours? My guess is, probably not. How about someone you don’t know? There are about eight billion people on the planet. Surely there would be one who would agree with you 100%. Wouldn’t there have to be?
But what if you did your top twenty? Or top 100. I’d be willing to stake my whole career that there is not another person on the planet whose top 100 would match mine (no matter what order). And I don’t think my taste is particularly eccentric.
We could discuss it and come up with a myriad of answers as to why this might be, but I prefer to leave it as one more part of the great mystery that we call Music.
With the realization that we truly are alone with our unique musical tastes (in the sense that there is no exact carbon copy of that taste), I see no reason to scoff at, look down upon, or feel superiority over another’s taste in music.
Musing #5: Easy Does It
In the late 1990s, I twice traveled to India. I plead guilty to having fallen under a spell somewhat akin to that which seemingly captured the Beatles and others of that generation: I wanted to get beyond/beneath the material world in a way that seemed impossible through the means presented to me in my own country. It seemed like one could transcend to a higher plane just by setting foot in India.
One evening in India, while visiting the holy city of Varanasi, I was wandering around the ghats next to the Ganges: a sacred place where innumerable souls had been cremated through the centuries; a place beyond my petty comprehension and to be respected more for that. What a shock I experienced when I stumbled across a young Westerner, about my age, strumming the guitar and singing to (what I presumed to be) an impromptu gathering of Indians. Why the shock? Because he was singing Lionel Richie’s “Easy” (ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh, I’m easy like Sunday morning…) For me this was sacrilege. Lionel Richie!? Here!? How dare he befoul this place with such tripe?
(I mean, he could have at least sung the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” or “Within Without You”.)
I stormed away in disgust.
How to explain what happened after that?
Over the coming years I grew to love that song – cheese and all. Not only did I grow to love the song, it became one of those rare and precious songs that helps me experience some of that transcendence I’d been seeking in India.
I’m not trying to say that that young man in India was a guru-wolf in sheep’s clothing, but some kind of alchemy occurred within me: the mix of the song, the memory, and my reaction to it has turned that cheese into gold.
There’s definitely a lesson there. How to define it? The best I can come up with is: remember to stay as “easy as Sunday morning”.
Musing #4: The Great Unifier
I read that during Soviet times, for their “Moment of Silence” on Victory Day (the day when the Soviets commemorated the end of the war we call WWII), they would broadcast a choral version of Träumerei by Schumann.
What, you might ask, is interesting about that?
Well, considering the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had just traded blow after merciless blow in what has to be considered one of the most brutal wars ever fought on the planet – the fact that after all that the Soviets would chose to sing a song composed by a German (Robert Schumann) on the holiday commemorating that war, I think helps demonstrate (among other things) that music really does have a mysterious and transcendent power.
Of course some music can be quite nationalistic and some even be used as a tool for spreading propaganda. Also, there certainly seems to be much folk music for which the appeal doesn’t reach particularly far outside the boundaries from that place where it was created. But some music does seem to transcend and defy being chained to any time, place, or people. Or to put it another way, I quote Sarah Dessen: Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.
From a less lofty position, I think of my own travels across the globe – my guitar as my sidekick. So many smiles, so much warmheartedness as the guitar was passed around and we played and sang for one another. Often we couldn’t understand the words of one another, but through the music we connected in what felt like a very meaningful way.
On this, Election Day, we’re all very aware of how divisive things have become. I’d like to believe there’s a song or two that could transcend the divisiveness. I’m not naive and idealistic enough to imagine a Kumbaya moment where we’re all singing together, arm-in-arm. But I feel fairly certain that if we of opposing views were all in a room together and listened to some neutral musicians play a song or two we liked in common, at the very minimum some of that edge of anger and distrust toward one another would be lessened. Seems like a place to start. If only that concert could be arranged…