Monday, February 01, 2010

Music, Politics, and Me

I have always been fascinated by music. When I was young, I wanted to be in a rock band (in those moments when I wasn't sure I would be starting for the New York Yankees, of course). I sang constantly. I tried taking up numerous instruments, though I've never succeeded with any of them. I took music theory in high school, which I loved and would like to take a refresher course one of these years. I took a history of church music course in college, and I enjoyed it thoroughly despite my lousy grade.

And I have always appreciated music. What the Lord didn't give me in musical talent, He gave me in spades in the realm of music appreciation. From a very early age I was exposed to various kinds of music. We listened to "classic" rock in the car when I was a child. We were treated to classical music in grade school. I started listening to country music when I was on vicarage in rural Missouri. We had a fine organist at my home church, and when I worked in the chapel in college I was treated to student organists (and their teachers!) who graciously allowed me to do my work while they practiced. I have over a thousand compact discs now, and I've got a lot of some things and a little bit of almost everything.

But these days, I haven't been listening to a lot of what's new. And I think I know why. When I was younger, I could listen to music for the sake of the music--in other words, I could listen to the melody and harmonies, the rhythm and percussion, and appreciate it apart from the words or the artist. A fine example of this is Ani Difranco. Her (ultra-liberal) politics, her (lack of) religion, her (somewhat ambiguous) sexuality--I could overlook these things because of her superior musicianship. And sometimes, mixed in with the ideological crap, there are nuggets of pure gold.

But as I've gotten older, it has become difficult to separate the music from the mess. Looking at the list of this year's Grammy nominees and winners, I see a bunch of names of artists and groups whose political leanings and political music I find, frankly, disgusting. One such nominee this year was Green Day, whose 2004 song "American Idiot" on the album of the same title denigrated conservative Americans by saying that we're part of "a redneck agenda", living in "the age of paranoia". Add to the list from this year's nominees Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Bono from U2, and Dave Matthews, people with political, religious and social ideologies radically different from my own. Now, most of those listed are older artists, but their influence continues, and their message is incendiary. I won't even read Rolling Stone magazine anymore, considering their distrust of anything conservative and their ridicule of Middle America.

Maybe I'm missing out. Despite my dislike of what has become so popular today--American Idol's over-produced big voices with too many frills--that's not all there is out there. Maybe I'm influenced too greatly by pop music's impact on the pap that is excruciatingly popular in so many churches today. Maybe I let the politics of the artists and the politics of their music carry too much weight. Maybe I should just shut up and listen to the music.

Then again, maybe I'm on to something. But if you'd like to recommend some music that won't make me want to throw my iPod against the wall, I'm all ears . . . so to speak.

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