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Music and Meaning

I love music but I hate music. That may sound contradictory and of course it is. What I mean to say is that I’m passionate about music but I hate music that wastes my time. Lyrics that are shallow, music that is mass-produced with little soul – these are a few of my un-favorite things.

I also have a loathing for “American Idol” and such programs. There is a reason for that – and it’s not just because it’s so popular, although I grant you that the underdog-lover and music snob in me make that true, but the reason I really hate it is because it is symptomatic of society as a whole.

My biggest issue with music in general is that it has become a cult of personality – it’s all about the singer and not the song. In other words, what is being communicated has become less important than who is doing the communicating. That drives me bonkers. We see contestants on “American Idol” in trying to put their own spin on a song add all sorts of vocal gymnastics and blue notes in order to sound more “soulful.” They also very often adopt styles like the flavor of the month, be it Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera or Garth Brooks.

I used to be a big fan of pop music – I love the melodies, the harmonies, the hooks that were part of the pop music essentials. Unfortunately, there is less and less music that is popular that I can get behind. Sure, there are exceptions – there always are – but for the most part, when I hear a Grammy-winning pop hit there is nothing that grabs me or touches me.

That bothers me. Music is a very personal thing and what touches one person may not affect the next in the same way. I am also well aware that to say “one song sucks” or “this genre sucks” is lazy and stupid – because music is so personal, it is impossible to say “Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’ sucks” because one person may find some meaning in it; to say the song sucks is to say that person’s life sucks.

The fact of the matter I that there is a lot of great music out there but it generally receives less attention from both the mainstream media and the general public. And while I do have a loathing for “American Idol,” I recognize that plenty of people love it and some of them are touched in some way by the songs that are sung.

My objection is to what “American Idol” represents, placing more emphasis on the singer. It is symptomatic with what’s wrong with American society, the emphasis on the individual. It’s all about me, me, ME in modern society and the rest of the world can stick it where the sun don’t reach.

That is a catastrophic way of thinking.  It has led our planet into ecological and economic disaster. It’s the kind of thinking that allows the very rich to feel entitled to more than their share of the wealth, that allows businesspeople to think that profits comes ahead of people and politicians to feel that getting re-elected is more of a priority than getting things done. Conscience has become an endangered species in our world.

The truth is it is about the song, not the singer. The world is our song, the creatures that live in it the singers. Our voices rise in a single choir, although lately we have been discordant in our song. The harmonies we used to have are lost in each of us trying to sing our own song louder than the rest.

The singer is the least important part of the equation. In music as in life, the singer is but an instrument in a larger orchestra or band. The singer is a conduit for what is truly important – the song. Whether the purpose of the song is to express some sort of insight into life or love, or merely to move you to dance, the singer is mute without a song (while it is true that a song is mute without a singer, there are always musical instruments that may substitute).

We cannot go through life thinking that we are more important than the rest of the people inhabiting our rock. Our needs are no more urgent than those of the person next to you. While courtesy and compassion are lost arts in the miasma of today’s cultural landscape, they need to be re-addressed. We need to change the tide from “all about ourselves” to “all about each other.”

The planet is our birthright and our song our responsibility to it. When we become callous and self-centered as a species, it means the rest of the world suffers. Every time we put ourselves ahead of everybody else we murder the world a little bit. It doesn’t mean you have to be a Buddhist monk, nor do you have to be Mother Teresa.

It’s not about giving your life to service, only to not putting yourself on a pedestal and worshipping your own awesomeness. We’ve made a culture of self-image, placing an emphasis with our children of building it. Unfortunately, we’ve done too good a job. Instead of boosting the ego, we’ve made it the be-all to their world view.

Music needs to have meaning and none more so than the music of our souls. We cannot afford to put the emphasis on the singer any longer; it is the song that needs tending to. If we were to harmonize together, how sweet would it be? Unfortunately, the discordant mess that we have created threatens our economy and our very planet. When will we realize that only through that harmony can we accomplish anything? Truly, the music we could make together could make a song our children and our children’s children would be proud to sing.


2 Responses

  1. True true true. We had stopped watching AI years ago however when they changed it this year with Steven Tyler and J Lo, we watching and saw a very different show. No more making fun of people, which was ugly and distracting. Oh my goodness do I LOVE Steven Tyler, I wanna take him home with me. And we love J Lo’s movies, she is a kick, did you see her with Jane Fonda, ROFL…..but I do know what you mean. Like, stuck on you uh huh…eeewwwwww. {{{{{}}}}}} Carlos

  2. I finally found you, worth looking for, I agree and I don’t watch programs geared to minuscule, full of sound and fury signifying nothing

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