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Omnes Deteriores Sumus Licentia: Too Much Freedom Debases Us

Elton Beethoven

Elton Beethoven

(This is reposted from Site Of Sound)

What inspires creativity? Where lies the catalyst for musical ingenuity? Beethoven’s Fifth wasn’t simply an act of spontaneity, nor did Cobain write “Nevermind” because he was bored, and it just so happened that heroin was doing it for him that day. What was Dylan musing about when he hopped trains to New York City, armed with his “fascist-killing,” guitar and the ghost of Woody Guthrie? Did Johnny Rotten actually want Anarchy in the U.K.? Pink Floyd’s, The Wall isn’t actually commentary on England’s archaic and abusive schooling methods after World War II, nor was Waters trying to draw parallels between repression-induced traumas and metaphorical bricks in the wall, its all coincidence, right? My search for the source of these genius creations has led me to reflect on my own generation’s music, to find the source of creativity.
Before I go into weighty detail comparing and contrasting the sources of inspiration between the music of past generations and the music of today, I’d just like to justify the fairness of this contest. All songs and artists included will fall under the category of popular music, although this genre is extremely broad, my comparisons are relative in the sense that each artist held similar popularity during their respective careers, i.e. The Rolling Stones are to the 60’s as One Direction is to 2010’s. My comparisons lie within the quality of music and the hypothetical determinant of what the specific artists’ inspiration was or is.
What determines fame in today’s music industry? The number of YouTube views? Top five on the ITunes best selling list? The amount of times you’ve appeared on talk shows? Do radio charts even matter anymore? Record sales? In today’s industry less is more, we’re (from a generational standpoint) not asking for albums with 10 or more tracks, we don’t need a world tour with a live album/dvd combo set for $49.99 on, we don’t even need to see you live, in person, all you have to do is lip-sync on the Today Show and maybe appear on some New Year’s Eve special. It’s okay if your lyrics are written by someone else, and if you do decide to go “off the beaten path” and write your own songs, it’s okay if the chorus is the repetition of one word over and over, and over again because all the listening/viewing population really needs is to “get down on Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday”(Black 2011). As for musical ability, well that’s up to the “artist,” if you can play a little guitar that’s pretty cool, but we’d prefer it if someone else handles the production of your music, and when they do produce it, try to exclude as many organic instruments as possible; that includes the electric guitar, don’t try to pull the wool over our eyes, Lil Wayne!
I’m going to be frank; I don’t have any interest or remote connection with the popular music of today. The popular music listener might assume that because I don’t listen to Ke$ha, I must fall into the hipster category, a crass accusation formed beneath the clash of popular subcultures; a stigma I hope to squash. Piggybacking-because I don’t listen to, Flo Rida or the gamut of YouTubers, rappers and trendsetting, dark lipstick-wearing, side-of-head-shaving, abusive-relationship-returning, butt-implanting, Barbie-doll/robot-idiosyncrasy-whining, spending, debasing, shaming, misplaced-popular-influence-pissing pseudo-performing pop stars, that I must like the whole other spectrum of shitty music (today’s indie genre). So there are two sides to this rusted coin: pop-music and the counter-culture or “alternative music scene,” (and yes, it’s a “scene”), of which both are just as much a byproduct of this vapid, materialistic, lost generation I belong to. If you haven’t figured out that I’m a nostalgic cynic; I’m a nostalgic cynic, but mind you, I’m only like this in the context of this article. My pertinacious attempt to expose the vexations and tribulations of the modern music industry has brought me to a perpetual state of nostalgia, fused with an undying, longing to live in the 60’s. This is no reason to think less of me as a dude, man, and moonlight-comedian. So if the music of today is a representative byproduct of social, cultural and environmental influence, than their lies the source of artistic inspiration. Therefore if plausible, this theory can be translated and applied to any era of post-classical music. One form of evidence backing my theory is found within lyrics, which aptly mirror social events taking place in that given time; for instance in Bob Dylan’s, The Times They Are a-Changin’ track, he gives voice to a generation plagued by racism, hate and violence,

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand
Oh the times they are a changin’
(Dylan 1963).

In this particular verse Dylan is shedding light on the generational gap between the youth and parents, both experiencing the American, cultural transformation of the 60’s. Dylan draws a clear line between the two groups, but deliberately emphasizes the need for change. Dylan, at the time, was considered to be part of the folk music genre, a genre typically consisting of artists producing work that represented a national cry for peace.
So if the social issues of the early 60’s we’re manifested by Bob Dylan standing up to the man with his “fascist killing” guitar, with the ghost of Woody Guthrie, than who is our cultural white knight spearheading the fight against the social adversity that plagues our daily lives? The answer is, there is none, not because no one has the ability or talent to do so, (though the ITunes top selling chart may prove otherwise) it’s just that we haven’t experienced the same suffrage as generations before us. What’s so important about this suffrage? It’s the tangible muse that inspires artists to create work not for money or fame but for change, unfortunately due to these catastrophe-free, dark ages, we’re left with sub par, baseless, plastic icons producing work that holds less weight than the anorexic, charlatans in which they actually are.
To digress; how could I sit here and claim that today’s artistic vacuousness analogically corresponds with the lack of pressing social issues in the 2010’s? If your offended by my malcontent and critical dissection of the Justin Biebers, Carly Raes and Katy Perrys, know that my intention is not to deem popular music as “bad”, it’s just that it’s not as “good” as it used to be. Dylan (God) willing, the pendulum will swing back, history always repeats itself, there’s always a bigger fish, I can’t keep up with the Kardashians, and unfortunately, the music industry and the fulcrum of quality it so madly balances on, is out of my control.
The production of significant music today isn’t completely dead, there is hope, just not for the US. Seldom does foreign music make it past the gantlet of fat cat record executives and into the pastures of international fame, reason being the monopoly of American record labels dominating the market. Die Antwoord is a rap group in South Africa that bears the torch for the struggling lower class, counter-culture of the South African youth, and does so with boisterous, wild and controversial performances, armed with antagonistic and gritty lyrics I’m not proposing that Die Antwoord is a better group because their cultural circumstances prompt more meaningful and impactful lyrics and sound, no, what I’m saying is that their struggle for social change heightens their creative spirit, consequently raising the overall quality of music.

1 Comment

  1. Susan Rooney on September 7, 2021 at 2:03 am

    Thanks. Enjoy your point of view, and vocabulary. You make a good point. But your punctuation and misspelled prepositions…

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