Thursday, March 25, 2010

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup (The Beatles)

Good friend Greg sent me an interesting email recently that got me thinking. He was venting about the lack of appreciation of modern culture by high culture (his description used the term arty-farty people). This is something that I remember discussing at university (probably with Greg!). The something is the low art vs high art debate which is a close cousin of the populist vs niche art debate.

Greg's contention is that 'there are musicians today who may write pop or rock music but they are every bit the genius the art-snobs claim Mozart to be. And there are lyric writers who are, as poets, every bit as good as Byron and Shelley were'.

This is a classic low art vs high art situation. I can love and appreciate poets like Walt Whitman and William Wordsworth (high art) as well as modern poets in all but name like E (from The Eels) and John Lennon. But Greg's saying that art-snobs won't allow me to bracket Whitman and E together. A spurious argument, I think (and so does Greg) because that judgment's based on something that has not been correctly understood. Someone who only listens to classical arias and ignores Jackson Browne doesn't know their elbow from their arsenal (literally). It is therefore a false argument. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

On the other hand - there are plenty of sub standard musicians who give the art snobs ammunition for their argument. For every Beatles or Miles Davis there is a James Last or Hollywood Strings. I love the Big Band jazz sound of Glenn Miller et al but they didn't shift as many units as Hooked On Swing.

On the whole, though, I agree with Greg. An example? While I was typing this a Patti Smith song (Easter) emerged from the p-pod shuffle.

Patti Smith is someone who blurs all sorts of boundaries. She's a visionary poet, a performance artist, a writer, a critic, a singer, a mother, a guitarist, and, amongst other things, a force to be reckoned with.

Here she is doing Easter - a song that has a great lyric and contains a poem (you can tell where the poem is). It's also a beautiful piece of music. Is it great? Not sure, but I certainly like it and reflect on it. It's original. It's haunting. It contains a personal set of resonances. It contains an interesting theme and viewpoint, and it does so with a memorable set of images. She named the album after it so it must be important to her.

Easter Sunday, we were walking.
Easter Sunday, we were talking.
Isabel, my little one, take my hand. Time has come.

Isabella, all is glowing.
Isabella, all is knowing.
And my heart, Isabella.
And my head, Isabella.

Frederick and Vitalie, savior dwells inside of thee.
Oh, the path leads to the sun. Brother, sister, time has come.

Isabella, all is glowing.
Isabella, all is knowing.
Isabella, we are dying.
Isabella, we are rising.

I am the spring, the holy ground,
the endless seed of mystery,
the thorn, the veil, the face of grace,
the brazen image, the thief of sleep,
the ambassador of dreams, the prince of peace.
I am the sword, the wound, the stain.
Scorned transfigured child of Cain.
I rend, I end, I return.
Again I am the salt, the bitter laugh.
I am the gas in a womb of light, the evening star,
the ball of sight that leads that sheds the tears of Christ
dying and drying as I rise tonight.

Isabella, we are rising.
Isabella, we are rising . .

In the spirit of celebrating some more low art here is one of my favourite poems. It's called Across The Universe...
Words are flowing out
like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither
wildly as they slip away
across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of
are drifting through my open mind,
Possessing and caressing me.

Images of broken light
which dance before me like a million eyes,
They call me on and on across the universe,
Thoughts meander like a
restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe

Sounds of laughter, shades of life are ringing
Through my opened ears, inciting and inviting me,
Limitless undying Love
which shines around me like a million suns,
and calls me on and on
Across the universe John Lennon.

1 comment:

  1. It changes all the time too. jazz and blues performed in bars, drunk crowds and so forth. Low culture. Now of course these forms of music are revered, played on trendy radio stations, studied in universities. secondly, I wouldn't want to listen to anything that could be correctly understood. Where's the fun in that. Lastly, the internet and the dissemination of music through its various forums and channels challenges that whole high/low dichotomy in interesting ways, as the audience consists mostly of jerk gen-y'ers who think they exist in some kind of warped continuum where the rules don't apply. maybe. anyway. breakcore and venetian snares - see what you think. keegan