Long live rock … and the classics

I may prefer the 1980s in entertainments, but I have pointed out here before that every generation of music has included badly done popular music, or music that never should have been recorded.

In the same vein, to be blunt, every generation has produced ideas that are stupefying in their stupidity, mind-numbingly moronic.

And so today let us consider Nebal Maysard:

My fellow musicians of color: it is time to accept that we are in an abusive relationship with classical music.

In my previous articles, I laid out my experiences and reasoning for coming to this conclusion. I started with “Am I Not a Minority?” to explain the everyday racism people of color experience and how it manifests on an institutional level. If you haven’t read it already, I encourage you to explore how institutions uphold their power by choosing which minorities to give access to.

The few scraps given to minorities are overwhelmingly white–occupied by white cisgender women or LGBT+ individuals. The few PoC who are given access to institutional space are most often light skinned and non-Black while also exoticised and tokenised.

And that led me to my second article, “Escaping the Mold of Oriental Fantasy“–a personal history of isolation and colonization, of how Western classical music participates in the act of destroying culture and replaces it with its own white supremacist narrative.

Finally, I shared my attempts at reviving my culture and my tradition, along with the barriers I faced on this journey. My third article, “I’m Learning Middle Eastern Music the Wrong Way,” chronicles the difficulties (and the near impossibility) of engaging with my own cultural musical practices in a proper, authentic way.

From three angles I shared my attempts at being an authentic composer. These articles bring to light the many ways in which the dreams of low-income people of color are obstructed in the Western classical tradition.

It’s not uncommon to love your abuser. I know the experience, and can understand how hard it is to leave. Despite all that classical music has done to me, I still can’t help but marvel at the religious splendor of Bach’s works for organ. Nor can I help but weep at Tchaikovsky’s raw expressive power.

I will forever love my favorite composers. It is possible to be critical about the way classical music is treated and to adore the individual works which inspire you at the same time. I am not making a judgment call on specific works in the canon, but instead their function in modern classical music institutions


And there is still the question of what to do about the skills these composers taught us.

I would like to return to the analogy of the abusive relationship.

Many of us have learned a lot from our abusers. Some abusers are even our parents. Their abuse can follow you wherever you go, and escaping them entirely may be impossible. Whether we like it or not, we are forever changed by our abuse.

This abuse can appear as a scar. We will need each other to heal from the trauma. But we also need to survive and nurture the spirit which requires us to create.

While most composers of color are responding to a calling, that calling is to create artwork in our own voices not to behold ourselves to the social construct of Western classical music.

We can do that using the tools we learned as classical composers without contributing to our own abuse. As I shared in my previous article, we can get to a better understanding of our own cultural traditions little by little if we just start exploring.

In order to leave our abusive relationship, we need a community.

Western classical music depends on people of color to uphold its facade as a modern, progressive institution so that it can remain powerful. By controlling the ways in which composers are financed, it can feel like our only opportunities for financial success as composers are by playing the game of these institutions.

It’s time for us to recognize that engaging with these institutions, that contributing to the belief that our participation in composer diversity initiatives is doing anything to reshape the institution of classical music, and that classical music is an agent of cultural change instead of a placeholder to prevent composers of color from forming our own cultures, is ultimately furthering colonization and prevents us from creating artwork capable of real, genuine expression.


Writing for an audience of rich white people is no longer a priority of mine. Instead, I want to create music for my community. Instead of contributing to white culture and helping them erase my own narrative, I want to use my ability to create art to keep my culture alive.

As long as people of color are making art, culture stays alive.

This mission is entirely against the nature of white supremacy, which seeks to replace non-white cultures with their own fantasies. Therefore, I will not find support in this endeavor.

Click on the link if you want to read the rest of that garbage, to which there is this perfect response in the comments …

As a black man, I believe it is troubling to compare one’s love of classical music to an abusive relationship. Classical music gives me joy, the same is the case with jazz, latin music, the music of Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Shirley Bassey, to mention a few. When it comes to music, no one should issue a prescription of what others (white or of color) should listen to. I’ve always been of the belief that if you don’t like it, then don’t listen to it. With all due respect, this perspective of classical music is simply arrogant. Where does it stop? What should we eliminate next? Western attire? Western books? Western food, technology, philosophy? Western medicine? Paintings, sculptures? One’s opinions should not become the norm for an entire people, whether they are white or of color.

… as well as:

Oh, my God. This is so ridiculous. Everything is eventually going to be white supremacy, isn’t it? Isn’t this a great way to make ppl want more POC to enter classical music? It’s blatant now. Identity politics is a part of a larger agenda to destroy western society. It has attacked every single cultural institutions, almost all of which have happily opened their arms to non-white ppl and have even prioritized their success in the field. There are groups helping POC to gain professional orchestral jobs. How’s that white supremacy?

The west is absolutely the least racist and most tolerant society on the planet and, most likely, in all of human history. It’s opened itself to outsiders of all different backgrounds, so much so that in some nations the very demographics are shifting to a white minority. How’s that racist? The west were who abolished slavery worldwide and enforced it, many white ppl losing their lives for it. Hundreds of thousands of whites died in the American civil way to end slavery. How is all that racist? How long can you hound someone for a mistake that they didn’t even make, that their predecessors made? Westerners aren’t allowed to celebrate the good of their ancestors, so why tf should they be condemned for the crimes of their ancestors? That’s illogical and a double standard. And it shows the true intentions behind identity politics.

There’s not much need for identity politics in the west anymore, everyone is equal under law, and that’s why IP has become absolutely corrosive to society. Look how divided we see now. That wasn’t the case until identity politics became a dominating force. It is nothing but authoritarian and totalitarian. It is never satiated. And it’s a losing ideology, and if you can’t see it, then you are blinded. The track it will go is pitting everyone against everyone else and everything against everything else. It is toxic. Once whites are fully shoved off into a corner, where they will certainly fall back on uniting finally along racial lines, finally your beloved white racism, identity politics will then pit the next two groups against each other on claims of who had it worse, and then again and again until everyone is 100% divided. It will eat itself and destroy western society.

Why not go and tackle REAL RACISM where it really is elsewhere in the world, because it certainly is rampant in the world; slavery still exists in the world! But it’s not really about opposing racism, is it? It’s about opposing western society (which many ppl of all different backgrounds are and can become a part of, it isn’t exclusionary racially). That’s why my LGBT community say NOTHING about the twelve countries that still execute LGBT ppl. Because it’s not white countries doing it, they’re all Islamic countries. Yet they will endlessly demean and attack western society despite western society being the only place on the anet where ppl like me can marry whom they want and become just as successful as anyone else. Instead, the LGBT community even covers up and excuses Islamic countries killing their own gays and lesbians and trans ppl.

It’s become too blatant, and that’s why trump is in office. Ppl were with the supposed betterment of the live of POC and LGBT in our nation’s. Ppl were very on board, but they’ve seen that it isn’t really about that and it’ll never end, they see that it is only becoming more and more authoritarian and totalitarian. I mean, any criticism is called racism and banned. That’s fascistic. That’s very anti-individual and freedom of thought. And that’s why ppl are turning against it and the left in droves. I’m an alienated liberal. I’m gay, and I ahbe to oppose my own community often because of their radical, dangerous ideology.

No doubt my comment will be removed for some racist violation, even though I’m mixed and my argument supports racial harmony and is against racialism, which is no different than the Klan or white supremacists. It’s just the other side of the coin. But go ahead and practice the authoritarianism that is inherently a part of modern identity politics. Go ahead, destroy peace, harmony, and beauty some more.

Then there is this cheeriness from Damon Linker:

Rock music isn’t dead, but it’s barely hanging on.

This is true in at least two senses.

Though popular music sales in general have plummeted since their peak around the turn of the millennium, certain genres continue to generate commercial excitement: pop, rap, hip-hop, country. But rock — amplified and often distorted electric guitars, bass, drums, melodic if frequently abrasive lead vocals, with songs usually penned exclusively by the members of the band — barely registers on the charts. There are still important rock musicians making music in a range of styles — Canada’s Big Wreck excels at sophisticated progressive hard rock, for example, while the more subdued American band Dawes artfully expands on the soulful songwriting that thrived in California during the 1970s. But these groups often toil in relative obscurity, selling a few thousand records at a time, performing to modest-sized crowds in clubs and theaters.

But there’s another sense in which rock is very nearly dead: Just about every rock legend you can think of is going to die within the next decade or so.

Yes, we’ve lost some already. On top of the icons who died horribly young decades ago — Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, John Lennon — there’s the litany of legends felled by illness, drugs, and just plain old age in more recent years: George Harrison, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Tom Petty.

Those losses have been painful. But it’s nothing compared with the tidal wave of obituaries to come. The grief and nostalgia will wash over us all. Yes, the Boomers left alive will take it hardest — these were their heroes and generational compatriots. But rock remained the biggest game in town through the 1990s, which implicates GenXers like myself, no less than plenty of millennials.

All of which means there’s going to be an awful lot of mourning going on.

Behold the killing fields that lie before us: Bob Dylan (78 years old); Paul McCartney (77); Paul Simon (77) and Art Garfunkel (77); Carole King (77); Brian Wilson (77); Mick Jagger (76) and Keith Richards (75); Joni Mitchell (75); Jimmy Page (75) and Robert Plant (71); Ray Davies (75); Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74); Roger Waters (75) and David Gilmour (73); Rod Stewart (74); Eric Clapton (74); Debbie Harry (74); Neil Young (73); Van Morrison (73); Bryan Ferry (73); Elton John (72); Don Henley (72); James Taylor (71); Jackson Browne (70); Billy Joel (70); and Bruce Springsteen (69, but turning 70 next month).

A few of these legends might manage to live into their 90s, despite all the … wear and tear to which they’ve subjected their bodies over the decades. But most of them will not.

This will force us not only to endure their passing, but to confront our own mortality as well.

From the beginning, rock music has been an expression of defiance, an assertion of youthful vitality and excess and libido against the ravages of time and maturity. This impulse sometimes (frequently?) veered into foolishness. Think of the early rock anthem in which the singer proclaimed, “I hope I die before I get old.” As a gesture, this was a quintessential statement of rock bravado, but I doubt very much its author (The Who’s Pete Townshend) regrets having survived into old age.

It’s one thing for a young musician to insist it’s better to burn out than to fade away. But does this defiance commit the artist to a life of self-destruction, his authenticity tied to his active courting of annihilation? Only a delusional teenager convinced of his own invincibility, or a nihilist, could embrace such an ideal. For most rock stars, the bravado was an act, or it became one as the months stretched into years and then decades. The defiance tended to become sublimated into art, with the struggle against limits and constraints — the longing to break on through to the other side — merging with creative ambition to produce something of lasting worth. The rock star became another in our civilization’s long line of geniuses raging against the dying of the light.

Rock music was always a popular art made and consumed by ordinary, imperfect people. The artists themselves were often self-taught, absorbing influences from anywhere and everywhere, blending styles in new ways, pushing against their limitations as musicians and singers, taking up and assimilating technological innovations as quickly as they appeared. Many aspired to art — in composition, record production, and performance — but to reach it they had to ascend up and out of the muck from which they started.

Before rock emerged from rhythm and blues in the late 1950s, and again since it began its long withdrawing roar in the late 1990s, the norm for popular music has been songwriting and record production conducted on the model of an assembly line. This is usually called the “Brill Building” approach to making music, named after the building in midtown Manhattan where leading music industry offices and studios were located in the pre-rock era. Professional songwriters toiled away in small cubicles, crafting future hits for singers who made records closely overseen by a team of producers and corporate drones. Today, something remarkably similar happens in pop and hip-hop, with song files zipping around the globe to a small number of highly successful songwriters and producers who add hooks and production flourishes in order to generate a team-built product that can only be described as pristine, if soulless, perfection.

This is music created by committee and consensus, actively seeking the largest possible audience as an end in itself. Rock (especially as practiced by the most creatively ambitious bands of the mid-1960s: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and the Beach Boys) shattered this way of doing things, and for a few decades, a new model of the rock auteur prevailed. As critic Steven Hyden recounts in his delightful book Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock, rock bands and individual rock stars were given an enormous amount of creative freedom, and the best of them used every bit of it. They wrote their own music and lyrics, crafted their own arrangements, experimented with wildly ambitious production techniques, and oversaw the design of their album covers, the launching of marketing campaigns, and the conjuring of increasingly theatrical and decadent concert tours.

This doesn’t mean there was no corporate oversight or outside influence on rock musicians. Record companies and professional producers and engineers were usually at the helm, making sure to protect their reputations and investments. Yet to an astonishing degree, the artists got their way. Songs and albums were treated by all — the musicians themselves, but also the record companies, critics, and of course the fans — as Statements. For a time, the capitalist juggernaut made possible and sustained the creation of popular art that sometimes achieved a new form of human excellence. That it didn’t last shouldn’t keep us from appreciating how remarkable it was while it did.

Like all monumental acts of creativity, the artists were driven by an aspiration to transcend their own finitude, to create something of lasting value, something enduring that would live beyond those who created it. That striving for immortality expressed itself in so many ways — in the deafening volume and garish sensory overload of rock concerts, in the death-defying excess of the parties and the drugs, in the adulation of groupies eager to bed the demigods who adorned their bedroom walls, in the unabashed literary aspirations of the singer-songwriters, in mind-blowing experiments with song forms marked by seemingly inhuman rhythmic and harmonic complexity, in the orchestral sweep, ambition, and (yes) frequent pretension of concept albums and rock operas. All of it was a testament to the all-too-human longing to outlast the present — to live on past our finite days. To grasp and never let go of immortality.

It was all a lie, but it was a beautiful one. The rock stars’ days are numbered. They are going to die, as will we all. No one gets out alive. When we mourn the passing of the legends and the tragic greatness of what they’ve left behind for us to enjoy in the time we have left, we will also be mourning for ourselves.

First, as long as people are listening to music — rock, classical or something else — that music isn’t going to die. The classical and classic rock artists prove that.

Classical music didn’t die out (Maysard’s wishes notwithstanding) when Beethoven, Mozart and Bach died, anymore than country music died out when Hank Williams and Johnny Cash died.

These sound like rock bands to me.

They may not to be your taste. I’m not aware of this, but maybe these bands are as corporatized and homogenized as previously mentioned here. Of course, music of every kind in every area has been criticized by someone who didn’t like it for valid and spurious reasons.

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