Category Archives: pop music

26 Dec

The sport of blasphemy

“When beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” We’re going to have to revise Shakespeare and for “princes” substitute “pop-stars.”

Another went down in the night. First thing I heard on the wireless on waking – accompanied by several sample blasts of noise. The air waves will be infested with hysterical “tributes” all day long.

The adoring journalists and broadcasters can’t quite get the nomenclature right though. They refer to these dead cacophonists as “artistes” and “musicians.”

That can’t be right.

Ah but suddenly they hit on the right word and describe their dead heroes as “iconic.”

Spot on. Blasphemous, yes. But still spot on. For an icon is something you may worship. And pop-stars are what the devotees of our debased culture worship.

And the object of worship says as much about the character of the worshipper as it does about itself. What we worship defines us.

Show me what you value, and I will tell you what you’re worth.

I think I shall show uncharacteristic reticence and say no more.

29 Jul

Prescribing the disease as the antidote

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

I’ve been reading about pop music again. To make matters worse, I have compounded my fault by reading a BBC preview about tonight’s “Bowie Celebration Prom.” Here is what it said:

“How to turn a David Bowie tribute from an evening of cover versions into something better? The key seems to be the Berlin collective Stargaze, a young group of post-jazz players who will be the backdrop against which a sequence of guest singers (including Marc Almond and John Cale) will perform Bowie classics. Earlier (7.30pm), veteran maestro Bernard Haitink conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony.”

I am having difficulties with some of the wording in that preview.

What is “post jazz”?

How can the word “classic” appear next to the word “Bowie”?

Blasphemously, the providers of this rubbish describe Bowie as a rock “icon.” In truth, he was an overblown representative of the trashy mass culture industry, which is not about music of any sort, but about advertising and money.

Remember H.L. Mencken: “Nobody ever lost money by underestimating public taste.”

I don’t mind – big of me, eh? – if those deprived of a decent education by generations of lousy state schooling and the dumbed down mass media want to get together to listen to trash.

But I do mind when the trash is imported into the realm of what formerly stood for quality. Classical music concerts are the antidote to the banal noises of pop music.

The devotees of pop music have hundreds of TV and radio stations which broadcast nothing but pop and rock.

Is it so unreasonable to ask that one station might remain clear of this disease?

(That review reveals very clearly the Beeb’s order of values: “Veteran maestro Bernard Haitink conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony” is appended as an afterthought.)

Furthermore, Father, I confess to being an elitist. But what’s the alternative – to be a mediocratist?

28 Jul

Defiling the stars

Evil communications corrupt good manners.

The brilliantly successful programme to land a spacecraft on a comet has come to an end. Contact has been lost with the module and there is no possibility of its being re-established.

So – the ineffably fatuous BBC Radio Four programme Inside Science, presented by Adam Rutherford, mourned this moment of loss, said how touching and evocative the whole experience had been

So – how does the BBC do “touching” and “evocative”?

By saying  goodbye to the spacecraft by means of five or six extracts of rock music

I thought; O music of the circling spheres, accept this audible filth, our only tribute

05 Apr

Music as junk food

The BBC call The Today Programme their “flagship news and current affairs” coverage, so we can confidently turn to it for serious comment and analysis of those things which matter most to the nation. And indeed The Today Programme does not disappoint: this morning, for example, they were discussing the burning cultural issue, “Which year was the best year ever for music?”

As a musical amateur I was captivated, turned up the volume and prepared to receive the experts’ learned assessment. Surely a contender would be 1727, when J.S. Bach first performed St Matthew Passion? Or perhaps  Mozart’s composing his last three symphonies – in E-flat, G-minor and C-major – inside six weeks in 1788. Another candidate would surely be 1805 and the first performance of Beethoven’s Eroica in Vienna? Chopin’s Twenty-four Preludes first delighted the world in 1839. Messiah given in Dublin in 1742. Schoenberg’s plunge into atonality in his String Quartet Number 2 in 1908 perhaps? Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony in 1941?

These are only a few memorable years from the abundant riches of European music, and chosen off the top of my head. Which year would the BBC experts choose as the pinnacle of musical creativity?

Nah, none of the above!

This is the BBC and its presenters faithfully represent the culture of the society in which they earn their daily ciabatta. So for them, “music” is pop music, aka crap, junk, rubbish, noise, fashion, trending, narcissism. Anything else is “classical music” – a niche for elitists and snobs. Tune in to any of the quiz shows and the category “music” will come up. But it will not be music as we know it. It will be “the charts.” The Corporation is in thrall to pop stars. Recall the way they cut short an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury to prattle everlastingly about the decease of of the great fraud and self-promotion guru David Bowie. Some years ago, when one of their very own presenters of pop – John Peel – died, the entire half hour of the 6pm news was given up to the subject. When Michael Jackson snuffed it, the coverage went on for three days. I turned on the TV and heard that he had died. I went out to dinner and when I came back they were yet talking about him. Next morning the news was, “Michael Jackson: still dead.”

And even the BBC’s music station, Radio Three has been poppified. All gushing chat and golly-gosh as the presenter tells us how much some piece “made me tingle.” Everything reduced to sentimentality and me-me-me. No evaluation, no enlightening comment. No critical apparatus at all. All most unmusical.

So which year did they nominate for the great accolade, the best year ever for music?

Was it The Beatles’ first LP? Or the year when The Rolling Stones chucked all them tellies out of the hotel window? Or the memorable year when Bob Dylan decided that henceforth he would always “sing” with a peg on his nose, so to elevate his pretentiousness to a height previously un-scaled even by that prince of doggerel-mongers? How about the year we were given the shuffling nihilism of John Lennon’s Imagine? An offering from Freddie Planet of the Apes? The Boomtown Saver of Africa? Or something by the most suicidal pop-junkie ever to smash a guitar?

Actually, I can’t tell you. I’ve forgotten. 

13 Aug

Hey dude, Mozart never got downloads!

At last that upstart Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has been put in his place. Following something that was billed as A late night Ibiza prom, became the most downloaded of all thirty-five proms so far this season, “disc-jockey” Pete Tong was heard to exclaim “Take that, Mozart” after conducting a rendition of Cafe Del Mar, the 1993 Ibiza classic by Energy 52.

One aficionado of this work of inspired genius cooed:

“Tong kicked off proceedings with Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now, a dance classic with a whole lot of violins. Other tracks included ATB’s Till I Come, The Shapeshifters’ Lola’s Theme, and a host of other ‘90s and ’00s house music classics. If you’re an Ibiza regular or you remember the days when your legs worked properly and you could down a pint in seconds rather than hours, then this particular Prom will provide goosebumps, neck tingles, and perhaps even a tear or two.”

I confess that, after having listened to only a few bars, I shed many tears. In fact, I couldn’t stop weeping.

“Our arm muscles were burning… but we didn’t care,” said violinist Kerenza Peacock in an interview for the BBC’s Newsbeat. “That was during the epic rendition of Insomnia by Faithless, one of the most iconic dance tracks to ever grace Ibiza’s shores.”

We must be glad of such progress in our aesthetical assessments. In Mozart’s day we had to rely on hearsay and the mere opinions of fogeys such as Joseph Haydn who told Mozart’s father, “Before God and as an honest man, I say your son is the greatest living composer.”

But heck, what did Haydn know? His was just one opinion – and the opinion of a notorious elitist fuddy-duddy at that.

At last – led by the BBC Proms’ brave DJs and other innovators – we are emerging from centuries of stuffy pseudo-musical appraisal into a truly scientific, and genuinely democratic, method by which to judge the quality of music. I speak, of course, of what will surely come to be referred to as the Democratic Phenomenon of the Oiks’ Download (the D-POD).

The beauty of this is that, when it comes to forming a judgement, no musical understanding whatever is required. The D-POD ingeniously by-passes the issue of quality and provides us with a method which is purely quantitative and thus truly objective.

And, as we have belatedly recognised, this is the only way to arrive at valid aesthetic judgements.

In future, don’t ask of any piece of music, “How good is it?” Just count the downloads.

And, if further proof of the superiority of the new method is required, just think of this: Mozart didn’t get any downloads, he never went clubbing in Ibiza and was never known to down a pint in seconds.

Thanks then to the BBC for providing us with what will become our one true Centralised Register of All Performances (CRAP)

20 Jul

Just a little point, Ms Klein…

Something has gone very wonky with the BBC Promenade Concerts series. These summer concerts used to consist entirely of music, but now they contain material which is hostile to music..

For example, this summer when you tune-in to the Proms, you might find you’re hearing “The Ibiza dance party” presented by the “disc-jockey” Pete Tong. This is billed as “a musical homage to Ibiza, home to hedonistic dance clubs for twenty-five years or more.” If that is not quite to your taste, you can catch a RadioIXtra Prom programmed by the BBC’s “urban music station” and featuring the “rappers” Wretch 32, Stormzy and Krept & Konan in “a grime symphony.”

I suggest that this programming amounts to false pretences. The Proms, since their founding by Henry Wood in 1895, were always meant to provide musical excellence in a variety of styles – from Monteverdi to Anton Webern – but to exclude stuff which isn’t music at all.

You are perhaps offended by my outrageous elitism? Certainly, Suzy Klein, a presenter on Radio Three, disapproves of me. She says, “Classical music listeners who criticise the diverse line-up are self-elected snobs and scaremongers.”

I own up: I am an elitist – because I’d rather be an elitist than a mediocratist.

It is said – nay, bleated – “everyone has a right to their (sic) own taste.” Indeed they have. But that does not mean that everyone’s taste is as good as everyone else’s. As there is literature, to be contrasted with pulp fiction, so there are standards in music: and it is precisely the great composers who determine what these standards are.

Ms Klein adds, “Fondness for classical and grime genres is not mutually exclusive. I love dancing to an addictive club anthem as much as I adore listening in the stillness of a concert hall to a Brahms symphony.”

With the utmost respect, Ms Klein, that is not the point. Of course it is logically – though not, of course, aesthetically and critically – possible to enjoy both Brahms and “an addictive club anthem.” But we do not look for these things in the same place.

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask for bread, will he give him a stone?

The fact is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of radio and TV stations which provide pop and rock music 24/7. The rubbish is inescapable. Every TV documentary, every sports programme, every Hollywood movie, is stuffed full of it. Why is it too much to ask that music lovers should be allowed one sane repository – Radio Three in general and the Proms in particular – which remains free from this noise?

Ms Klein says that, because she likes both Brahms and “an addictive club anthem,” that it’s acceptable to feature them both in the same concert series.

No it isn’t. I’ll tell you what, Suzy, you wouldn’t ever get that the other way round: I mean, you’re never going to hear a Brahms symphony on a rock music station.

So, if there are indeed “self-elected snobs and scaremongers,” there are also self-elected oiks and philistines.

Filth is everywhere.

12 Nov

Lily Allen and the bishop’s balls

A bishop has praised the pop star Lily Allen for her feminist songs and claimed that misogyny is “still very evident” in the Church of England. The Rt Rev’d Martyn Snow, our youngest bishop, said Allen’s lyrics on the single Hard Out Here “poignantly” capture society’s sexist double standards. He commends the song to his thirteen-year-old daughter.

The edifying ditty goes like this:

“If I told you ‘bout my sex life you’d call me a slut / When boys be talkin’ ‘bout their bitches no-one’s making a fuss… Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits / It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard out here for a bitch.”

Just the thing for the bishop’s pubescent offspring to sing along to.

Bishop Snow refers to Allen’s lyrics in what he calls an “essay” reflecting on his daughter, Roxanne’s thirteenth birthday. This “essay” is worth quoting at length, not least for its literary merits: 

“The passing of this particular landmark has caused me to reflect a little on the world my daughter is entering and in particular the effects of the so-called feminist revolution.  In 2010, Lily Allen won an award for her song The Fear which brilliantly captured the manipulation, insecurity and fear which is at the heart of consumerism. Four years and two babies later, Allen has returned with a song  which angrily and poignantly captures how far the feminist revolution has not brought us.  Allen highlights the double standards in private sexuality and public work. It’s fine for men to boast about their sexual conquests while women are blamed for being loose and free.”

He concludes: “None of this is new, of course. Indeed, it is depressingly familiar. But it is worth stopping to think about the way the feminist revolution, while bringing huge gains in some areas, has had almost no impact in others. Far more women may go out to work now than they did fifty years ago, yet a woman is paid £82 for the work a man will be paid £100 for. By now, you may be asking how a bishop in the Church of England would dare to write about feminism. After all, it has taken us twenty years to accept that women can not only be vicars but can also hold senior leadership positions in the church.  We are hardly the model of equality. And my female colleagues are very clear that even as the first woman is appointed as a bishop – expected in the next few months – misogyny is still very evident in the pews of our churches. So the church is no better than the rest of society but at least we are moving in the right direction.”

Can I play at teachers and pupils for a minute and mark the lad’s “essay”? 

First, it has not taken the church twenty years to get around to ordaining women. It took 2000 years and many wonder why it was ever attempted.

Secondly, the phrase “We are moving in the right direction” is a meretricious slogan where reasoned argument would be more meritorious: who says we’re moving in the right direction?

Thirdly, “It’s fine for men to boast about their sexual conquests, while women are blamed for being loose and free.” Hasn’t the lad noticed that scores of women journalists fill the papers with reminiscences of their sexual exploits, and get well paid for it? There’s a word somewhere for that profession.

Fourthly, has he considered the spectacular success of Lily Allen by which she becomes the living refutation of the feminist manifesto?

But the most amusing aspect of the lad’s “essay” is the remark about the church’s alleged misogyny. Hasn’t the lad also noticed that actually the church has become terrifically feminised? Or did I only imagine that I have had to sit through all those services – ululations, more like – conducted by women and featuring night lights, mawkish prancing about the chancel and God addressed as “She”?

What more can I say? Beta minus, Snowy lad.

And end by adapting a line from the great Lily Allen’s song: Forget this balls and grow… Grow what?

How about Up?