Nothing for those slooow summer days like another round of “everything sucks/everything’s fine” wars… Courtesy of The Guardian, Joe Queenan kicks it off with an article on how he just can’t take any more, what we “high priests of music” have been pawning off as art these last couple-three generations or so… While Tom Service tells Joe he needs to unbunch his underwear a bit… Or is that Tom getting in a bunch over Joe’s blow-off?… Read both sides; and there’s plenty of room in the comments both here and there, to thoroughly reach no consensus or conclusion whatsoever. Ah Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…

Update: A propos this little dust-up, and also related to Frank’s opera post just above, venerable art-imp-rocker David Byrne caught Zimmermann’s Soldaten and writes about it on his blog. Along the way, he echoes a few of Joe Queenan’s criticisms.

18 thoughts on “Let the Ennui and Angst Begin”
  1. Sorry, I meant to quote Tom Deplonty`s final paragraph in those tags at the top my last post but its gone all HMTL on me, i`ll post it below instead.

    ‘One sees this over and over again: people who may be educated about, and enjoy, modern art and literature who have negative attitudes, and not a lot of knowledge, about modern music. Why is this?’ (Tom DePlonty)

  2. <>


    ‘..Painting in those days was something to be talked about; at any rate, aesthetics, philosophy, reflection, taste – and politics, as I recall – felt they had a right to say something about the matter, and they applied themselves to it as if it were a duty: Piero della Francesca, Venice, Cezanne, or Braque. Silence protected music, however, preserving its insolence.’

    Michel Foucault: ‘Pierre Boulez, passing through the screen’; Aesthetics Vol 2, Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984.


    Neither situation is ideal, getting a lot of attention from mainstream art culture or having a strange sort of freedom by virtue of being ignored (more or less). If people start paying attention to contemporary music then great, if things continue as they are, great (looking at it optimistically).

  3. To me, both Queenan’s article *and* Service’s answer were far, far less intelligent than the comments that followed. This seems to be happening more and more –at least to me. Perhaps two things are happening: the kind of people who used to add comments to articles because they like seeing their name on the Internet have found new toys to play with; and many people who enjoy talking to each other in intellectual terms are finding the comments section of various blogs –this one, NMB, the Guardian, Soho the Dog– good, friendly places to sit around and chat. Which sounds impossibly naive, but there we are.

  4. One comment I still don’t understand is that he says that compared to classical, jazz is ‘literally dying’. They’re both looking a little sickly, why jazz more than classical?

  5. I think the best comment was when a person wished that people would stop talking about what classical music should be, and would start thinking more about what it is. I think everyone who frequents sites like S21 can agree that new music has its fair share of bad compositions, just the same as everything Mozart wrote wasn’t gold. The only thing a musical fascist like Queenan lacks is imagination. Too bad for him.

  6. “Modern composers, their stories largely unknown, cannot compete with all this romance and drama” …

    hmm, let’s see … I know a little more now about Philip Glass and Nadia Boulanger and Ravi Shanker and Chuck Close and Dennis Russell Davies and JoAnne Akalaitis and Holly and Zachery; and his plumbing and cab-driving day jobs into his forties; and his subsequent work with outstanding directors, filmmakers, and writers; and his spiritual practices and near-death experiences … And isn’t he the one who set the ‘opera’ libretto that went something like “1,600,758 to Arf-Arf the Chalet Ate My Banana”?

    And wasn’t K-H Stockhausen’s mother a victim of the Nazi’s euthanasia policy against the mentally ill; and didn’t he want to blow up opera houses and falsely claim that Crimean Tarters (already resettled from the area on orders of Josef Stalin) had rescued him during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine and Crimea; and that he was from the brightest star in the night sky; and that one should try the “European/New Age” life-style of living with two women simultaneously; and that the World Trade Center attacks of September 2001 represented the greatest act of artistic achievement conceivable to mankind?

    I can’t [can] wait for the film: “K-H Stockhausen’s Twentieth Century: The Movie.”

  7. Because it hurts. New music actually hurts. It’s a physical thing. You’ve got to have a pretty damn compelling immersiveness to get around that. And that’s rare and requires immense talent.

    So, we blame the audience! Rationalize all you want. I content, it’s the music’s fault. People LOVE music. They hate OUR music. It’s not a question of education, or lack of $$, or lack of rehearsal time. They actually hate it. Hmmm… why is that? That’s the question.

    Without academic networking and support we’d be nowhere. It’s all a function of a buddy buddy system, like the cronyism of the republicans and corporate lobbyists. We’re corrupt and this corruption infects our imagination. We’ve painted ourselves into a box that the public hates and we can’t get out because that would betray the past. And our masters, Academia will not allow that.

  8. The concept of not selling out to the masses goes against the corporation and western society norm. Eventually someone calls into question the motivation of this and concludes it has to be because of elitism and to push away connoisseurs of old classical works (what they term accessible). It couldn’t be composers compose atonal or new methods for connoisseurs of their music, because those particular listeners are outnumbered by the aforementioned. When the world realizes that is the case, then they should see it is apples and oranges. One work goes into a museum “art gallery” and one work is displayed in the new art gallery. There will always be a large space designated for historic classical music. Just look at how people go crazy for the Mona Lisa, like a rock concert. But its history nonetheless.

  9. Steve H. — I’ve been reading Byrne’s blog for several years now, and I think his writing about art and culture is usually quite insightful. The last post was interesting because of the contrast to his own frequent writing about avant garde visual art, which is generally engaged and sympathetic.

    One sees this over and over again: people who may be educated about, and enjoy, modern art and literature who have negative attitudes, and not a lot of knowledge, about modern music. Why is this?

  10. Dan wrote: Though this line cracked me up: […] “the final score will be 1-0 or 3-2 or even 8-1 – but definitely not 1,600,758 to Arf-Arf the Chalet Ate My Banana.”

    And as regards me and rugby, Aussie football or cricket, the score might as well be…

  11. Hmm..why does the guy go to so many concerts if he (apparently) hates music so much? Liszt is shmaltzy, Pictures at an Exhibition is crap, new music is horrible.

    Reminds me of Grampa Simpson.

    Though this line cracked me up:
    The reason the sports analogy fails is because when Spain plays Germany, everyone knows that the game will be played with one ball, not eight; and that the final score will be 1-0 or 3-2 or even 8-1 – but definitely not 1,600,758 to Arf-Arf the Chalet Ate My Banana.

  12. There’s a book out now by Drew Curtis entitled “It’s Not News, It’s Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap As News”; the basic premise is that when the media gets tired to talking about actual news and the public is sick of hearing about their hard-earned tax dollars being used to level an entire nation, they center on cyclical news events like:

    — How heavy traffic will be around Memorial Day Weekend …
    — A public interest story about the neighborhood homeless guy sitting in as Santa …
    — and many, many more …

    It would seem to me that these flame wars above are just a further manifestation of that same phenomena. Why bother to try to actually lead an enlightening discussion about the music and the context in which it was created when we can start a firestorm of two-months worth of editorial rebuttals!

  13. What I thought was interesting about this particular version of The Old Familiar Complaint was that he actually made two different criticisms. The first was a familiar one about atonality, which is by now very old news. The second was a newer one about quality — the idea was that even the tonal works of contemporary composers pale in comparison to the very best music of the past.

    Without wanting to defend Queenan’s article itself, this seems like a more interesting issue. You could mention a lot of things here — including the breaking of the oral tradition by which the tricks of the (extended) tonal trade were passed from teacher to student, or the general weirdness of a musical economy in which the very best music of the past is juxtaposed with the occasional new piece.

    Anyway, I won’t go into it farther, but that’s what struck me about the article.

  14. I’m not being a pain in your ass, Steve. 🙂 I saw the Queenan article the other day, rolled my eyes, thought about how unimaginative and dead on the inside you’d have to be to find “Sinfonia” boring, then moved on.

  15. “There is a childish, fairytale quality to their infatuation with the classics: Beethoven’s deafness, Chopin’s tuberculosis, Brahms’ fixation on Clara Schumann. Modern composers, their stories largely unknown, cannot compete with all this romance and drama.” guardian

    I, personally, hope that tragedy isn’t a criteria of the ongoing “fairytale” of classical music, among the other hilarious notions gleaned from that article…

  16. Eternal vigilance and strong defense of our right to be difficult and obscure is just the price we have to pay to uphold our way of life, Alan… 😉

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