In which The Author writes a eulogy
(Written Conway Inn, Aberdare, 20 October 2009, 9.30ish)
For most of my life I’ve loved music, as you’ll probably have gathered from my earlier entries. But over the last couple of years I’ve begun to hate it. I don’t mean music per se. Not the visual arrangement of centuries-old notation on a stave, nor the clever juxtaposition of chords and harmonies to please the ear, nor the pleasure of hearing of a well-crafted (but long-forgotten) tune for the first time since you were young.
No, I mean the sheer ubiquity of the stuff. You can’t go into a pub, or a shop, or a café, or even a train carriage, without having someone else’s choice of ‘music’ inflicted upon you against your will. Most of it isn’t even ‘music’ in the accepted sense of melody, rhythm, harmony and counterpoint, skilfully combined for aesthetic reasons.
My friend Mike C. is in the pub tonight. He’s a very accomplished euphonium player. He and his brothers were in top-flight brass bands when they were younger. If we gave Mike a sheet of music for any of the great musical standards of the first half of the twentieth century, he and his brothers would be able to play them without a moment’s hesitation. As I type this, Iggy Pop’s hit ‘The Passenger’ has started up on the jukebox. I would defy Mike or any of his brothers to even find a melody line in this particular song, let alone transcribe it for a brass band.
I hereby expand this challenge, and invite real musicians everywhere, from whatever style and tradition, to transcribe the most recent Number One by Dizzee Rascal for their particular instrument. To my knowledge, it can’t be done. If you’re reading this and you’re a musician or a musicologist, please feel free to prove me wrong. Sibelius Scorch files are pretty universal these days.
In a series on BBC Radio 2 at the start of the millennium, Paul Gambaccini described the musical development of the twentieth century as ‘the triumph of rhythm over melody.’ And he had a valid point. The current generation of recording artists who have embraced the ‘dance scene’ have taken Mr Gambaccini’s words to heart. They’ve sampled and overdubbed any aesthetically-pleasing elements out of music altogether. All they have left is the rhythm. It may come from computers, rather than from real instruments, but we’ve reverted to the stage before Neolithic humans even learned to blow through bones.
And it’s not just the ‘dance’ scene which is complicit in this reversion to pre-civilised levels. There have been precious few ‘pop’ songs over the last decade or so with anything resembling a proper melody. It’s just thumping and banging. You can’t whistle them in the bus queue, or sing them in the bath.
Today’s children believe that this is what ‘music’ consists of. You couldn’t confront them with any complex compositions. They couldn’t listen to Handel, or Mozart, or Stravinsky, or Charlie Parker, or even The Beatles’ later recordings. They wouldn’t know what to do with them.
Many years ago, the late Keith Waterhouse wrote a famous piece in which he fulminated against the curse of Muzak. Whereas Muzak represented the watering-down of music almost to the point of invisibility, the current millennium represents the death of the composer’s craft altogether. So it is with great regret that I report my long love affair with music to be over. We’ve lived in each pockets for over thirty years, and now we’ve decided to go our separate ways. Please don’t try and involve me in conversation on the subject any more. It’s too painful. And please don’t suggest that I listen to ‘new’ bands. You will get the same response as a Jehovah’s Witness knocking Professor Richard Dawkins’ front door. Please, just leave to my memories and my nostalgia for my lost love – and please don’t tell me ‘there’s plenty more fish in the sea.’
They used to say that about cod.