Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday Long Read: The Music-less Man

This week's Sunday Long Read sees the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik argue that Hollywood and pop culture's refusal to play Trump inauguration is a deeply disturbing sign that our next president's heart and soul is deaf to anyone but himself.

One of the pleasures of music-streaming services is that, day after day, they remind you effortlessly of the almost incredible wealth and beauty of American popular music—from the blues and Tin Pan Alley to jazz, R. & B., country, rock and roll, and on to hip hop—and of its strange, snaking unity. The great critic Kenneth Tynan once wrote that, sometime in the nineteen-thirties, the “ ‘serious’ music tradition finally withered, curled up and died,” and what took its place was American song. It became the century’s sublime, achieved sound, and the beat, as the song says, goes on. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s duos bring one back to the jazz duets of Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden, whose choice of familiar tunes then leads one to the great singers of the first songbook of standards, Ella singing Gershwin, and on and on. In this context, Bob Dylan’s award for the Nobel Prize in Literature must seem, even to doubters, earned, especially if it’s seen, so to speak, as an award to Frank Loesser and Duke Ellington, as well—as a tribute to the entirety of those American words and music.

This music was often made in protest, and frequently made best by the most oppressed among us. And so politics and our political life have always wrapped and unwrapped around that music, left and right and in between. Back in the sixties, Dylan seemed to state the times they were a-changin’, and Merle Haggard sang out for the Okies from Muskogee—and then Dylan ended up learning more from Merle than Merle did from him. The intertwining of country music with the George W. Bush years—“Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” for example—was as credible and deeply felt as any of the enwrappings by, say, Springsteen of Obama.

And so the inability, so far, of Donald Trump to get any significant musicians from any of those traditions, rock or country or blues or Broadway, to sing at his Inauguration is not a small comic detail but a significant reflection of this moment in history. It reminds us of just how aberrant Trump and Trumpism is. When the Rockettes have to be coerced to appear at your show—or you’re left to boast of the military bands, directly under your orders, who are playing—one is witnessing not just some snobbish hostility on the part of “Hollywood” entertainers but a deeper abyss between the man about to assume power and the shared traditions of the country he represents. There is no music in this man.

I'd argue the opposite: he has music in his soul, but it's basically John Williams' Imperial March.

Seriously, I don't think we've ever witnessed anyone so blatantly authoritarian, elected by a minority vote of a minority vote. We will come to regret his election, some of us more than others.

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