November 01, 2003

The Only Thing 'in the Vici...

Bell Curve infame, fired off this cranky bit of bullshit in a recent interview with UPI's Steve Sailer:

Q. You found that per capita levels of accomplishment tended to decline from 1850 to 1950. Would you care to speculate on post-1950 trends?

A. I think that the number of novels, songs, and paintings done since 1950 that anyone will still care about 200 years from now is somewhere in the vicinity of zero. Not exactly zero, but close. I find a good way to make this point is to ask anyone who disagrees with me to name a work that will survive -- and then ask, "Seriously?" Very few works indeed can defend themselves against the "Seriously?" question.

As Will Wilkinson comments, "Ah, nothing like the Scientific Method!"

Reminds me of a time in 10th grade, when to pass the tedium of listening to my English teacher prattle on about Lord of the Flies, I attempted to scientifically "score" every Led Zeppelin song on a 1-to-10 scale, 10 being best. "I've proved it!" I told a fellow Zep freak. "They almost never had a song that goes below 7, except those boring blues marathons!" And yes, I think our grandkids' grandkids will still be listening to "Stairway to Heaven," hopefully while playing drums on their prom date's back during the kick-in part. Seriously? As seriously as someone who rates the lasting artistic quality of the Beatles as "in the vicinity of zero."

Posted by at November 1, 2003 02:18 PM
Comments

I hope someone 200 years from now does perform some kind of assessment to see how far off Murray's statements are. But I think the number of people who even remember who Charles Murray was 200 years from now will be somewhere in the vicinity of zero.

Posted by: Bill Herbert at November 1, 2003 03:03 PM

Pop creations are perhaps not the best examples of what Murray is talking about. Probably the lasting substance of pop music will be to become a rather rich, post-copyright, soil-like foundation (and collective consciousness memory) of folk harmony and melody and rythym as well as themes for some new generations of musicians and composers to intuit and bring to life as something new.

As for the specific pop song creations themselves they will probably become like the hit 1830s tune 'Jenny on the Porch Swing'.

(Of course, IMHO. I'm capable of genius-level observations and analysis and insights; and I'm capable of pure idiocy. Decide for yourself.)

Posted by: ct at November 1, 2003 03:12 PM

ct -- That might be well and good, but it was Charles Murray wot said "songs." 1950-2000 might go down in the annals of history as the Golden Era of songs; the time when recording technology and mass media and new levels of middle-class wealth combined to allow what was once old folk stuff to be re-energized, revolutionized, & put down for Posterity, rather than merely handed down in an oral tradition (or expropriated by Liszt and Dvorak)....

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 1, 2003 03:55 PM

An interesting thought experiment along these lines would be to see if you can name ANY popular culture from 1750 to 1800 that we still care about. All I can think of are Die Zauberflöte (and its debatable if that was popular art), and Soldier’s Joy (folk song from the American Revolution). After you perform this experiment yourself, try to explain why you think that today’s popular culture has any more staying power than earlier popular culture. I must admit that my view of the longevity of Beatles tunes for 200 years is an egregious example of Baby-Boomer hubris. A more interesting question is what high art in the last 50 years will someone living in 2203 care about?

Posted by: Paul Homchick at November 1, 2003 04:08 PM

I'm a music-conscious idividual myself. Piano lessons from 5 years of age. Guitar. The historian of my age group for all things rock and roll. Plus I had alot of dorkier influences from youth like Burt Bacharach and the Carpenters (the only albums my dad would buy me when I was 5 to 8 or so years old (ok, until I was 10 maybe), and I mean actual Burt Bacharach albums, his OWN albums he put out)... Boots Randolph too! And Ferranti and Teichert (both probably misspelled!). My dad was/is a huge Sinatra fan (and a dozen other similar singers) so I got a good dose of 20th century song. (Some Matt Monroe anybody?)

I agree there is a sometimes underrated or taken-for-granted high level of inspiration in the best pop music of the 1959-2000 era, I just don't think it is art (or influence) of the level that is even supposed to transcend its era and survive. Music has to be somewhat more pure and not as anchored by reference and context to it's times to survive the critic and vetter Time.

But if Murray said song then he'd have done better to stick with 'literature'... Even if they don't last 200 years song of our era is certainly (weeding out the chaff of course) of a uniquely high inspriation...

Posted by: ct at November 1, 2003 04:27 PM

I didn't mean to write '1959-2000'. Typo. I agree with Paul Homchick. And I also don't think Mozart can be considered pop level. Perhaps Shostakovich's 15 string quartets (composed generally speaking in the last fifty years) will maintain a life by 2203. Maybe for reasons that go beyond just music...they sort of capture the horror of their century...

Posted by: ct at November 1, 2003 04:34 PM

"And yes, I think our grandkids' grandkids will still be listening to "Stairway to Heaven," hopefully while playing drums on their prom date's back during the kick-in part."

I can get along just fine without having to read your dire post-apocalyptic visions of the future, thank you very much. If that's the future, then our great-grandchildren should be pre-emptively titled "The Lamest Generation."

Seriously, though, no one can accurately predict what people 200 years from now will remember from our time. My guess is they'll remember and care about about very little.

One thing's for sure: All the things we're living through, though they may seem to us as being exciting, daunting or thrilling, are really just another few paragraphs of dusty facts for some future bored student to memorize for a test.

Posted by: Paul at November 1, 2003 04:51 PM

Okay, I agree: classifying Die Zauberflote as popular music is the same as classifying Prokofiev's score to Alexander Nevsky as pop.

Posted by: Paul Homchick at November 1, 2003 05:23 PM

Perhaps we are getting away from what I think is Mr. W's main point: Murray's aesthetic judgements are his, and he can live with them.
But, while I disagree with his taste, that disagreement falls a very distant second to my vehement opposition to his insistance that his opinions represent some type of objective finding about culture, or cultural developement, in world history.
Murray's rankings are fucked, sure. But anyone taking a slide-rule to all of human achievement to determine what is an "advance" and what is a "decline" in culture would be ridiculous even if Murray "played drums on [his] prom date's back during the kick-in part" of Stairway to Heaven.

Posted by: George Cerny at November 1, 2003 08:14 PM

Okay, so how many of you boomers actually play all those cds you bought to replace your vinyl 60s library?

Posted by: Bill Quick at November 1, 2003 08:36 PM

The concept of 'lasting' art is tricky and what 'lasts' often doesn't or does so only with long periods of neglect between the periods when it's hailed as 'lasting'.
To make this point a little clearer. As a fan of opera, I've noticed that many commonly performed operas of today where virtually never performed 50 years ago. One example - 50 years ago Handel's operas had failed the "test of time" and been stuffed in the trunk-in-the-attic and dismissed as obscure curiousities, now they're all over the damned place. That is just one example I can give many, many more of individual operas or entire repetoires that alternate between periods of neglect and appreciation.

That brings me to my main question: Who the fuck cares what people 200 years from now will think of our taste in music?

The purpose of art is not to satisfy critics 200 years later. I will carefully not state what I think the real purpose of art is and segue into my contention that the fact that some art does satisfy critics (and real human beings too) 200 years later is grastoric and current - and mostly western - good rock and roll and not by the standard of a slavophile who's had his passport stamped in those countries and now feels a righteous claim to defend all things about them) then I stand corrected.

Posted by: ct at November 4, 2003 03:10 PM

The only central/east european country whose rock (as opposed to other kinds of music) I know anything about is Poland. (caveat, I've never been a fan of 90% of rock but I do recognize the real thing when I hear it) Yeah, there's lots o' crap in Polsih popular music (I can't stand Ich Troje, the most popular group of the last two or three years) But, if it comes to rock I will say that I think that Poles _get_ it (from the creative side) in a way I've never encountered in any other non-English speaking country. Most continental rock I've heard remind me of female impersonators - surface imitation without any of the internal hardware. But Poles have the right mixture of scrappy industrial heritage, attachment to folk traditions and tendency toward over-indulgence in hard liquor and hopeless dreaming for what's not to be (not to mention first-hand experience with _real_ oppressive authority) that they've been able to internalize the principles of US/UK rock and makand whose music you probably wouldn't appreciate across the language barrier (actually Poles do sometimes try to sing in English but it sucks all the life right out of them).

Posted by: Michael Farris at November 6, 2003 07:42 AM
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ase choose
a) name give some concrete examples of "eastern european" rock that sucks and explain why,
b) admit you don't really know what you're writing about,
c) shut the ---- up

Though, as everywhere else, in Central Europe, rock is giving way to the poison pill that is hip hop.

Posted by: Michael Farris at November 4, 2003 06:18 AM

I obviously have some impressions from somewhere. Probably from seeing Russian garage/apartment bands covering Kansas tunes or something. If there are some hidden gems (by the standards of historic and current - and mostly western - good rock and roll and not by the standard of a slavophile who's had his passport stamped in those countries and now feels a righteous claim to defend all things about them) then I stand corrected.

Posted by: ct at November 4, 2003 03:10 PM

The only central/east european country whose rock (as opposed to other kinds of music) I know anything about is Poland. (caveat, I've never been a fan of 90% of rock but I do recognize the real thing when I hear it) Yeah, there's lots o' crap in Polsih popular music (I can't stand Ich Troje, the most popular group of the last two or three years) But, if it comes to rock I will say that I think that Poles _get_ it (from the creative side) in a way I've never encountered in any other non-English speaking country. Most continental rock I've heard remind me of female impersonators - surface imitation without any of the internal hardware. But Poles have the right mixture of scrappy industrial heritage, attachment to folk traditions and tendency toward over-indulgence in hard liquor and hopeless dreaming for what's not to be (not to mention first-hand experience with _real_ oppressive authority) that they've been able to internalize the principles of US/UK rock and make something new out of it instead of producing hollow imitations.
I won't bore you with a list of names you've never heard of and whose music you probably wouldn't appreciate across the language barrier (actually Poles do sometimes try to sing in English but it sucks all the life right out of them).

Posted by: Michael Farris at November 6, 2003 07:42 AM
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