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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Musical Fascism... not all it's cracked up to be.

My brother’s university radio show is called ‘Musical Fascism’, a trend which is now common, particularly amongst students. We’ve all met the musical fascists; and if you hate all things Blunt, Gray and Melua and obsess over ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and Sigur Ros then you probably are one.

Okay, they’ve got a point. There’s a lot of crap music around. And there are a lot of people who don’t give a crap how crap it is. People who claim to ‘like everything’, with a qualifier: ‘except for garage/house/techno’. There’s no passion for music anymore. You can’t imagine people having a life-changing experience to ‘Call on Me’ now, can you? Unless it involved conceiving or developing the need to have your stomach pumped, I suppose.

That’s what the musical fascists have got right. They love music. They’re obsessed with it. It matters to them; it’s not just there to entertain, to be a background noise; it’s there to be savoured. And there’s nothing wrong with that; music is one of the best parts of life. Music can reach parts of your soul that nothing and no one else can.

Yet the love of well-crafted music has been exchanged for a love of little-known music. Nowadays, a band is only credible amongst some people if less than fifty people have heard of it and their name involves at least one word that you don’t know how to pronounce. Obscurity is the name of the game.

But this means that fascism turns to fickledom. One minute these people like a band because you can only download their music from; the next they’re saying ‘Urgh, they’re soo mainstream’ as soon as the band becomes successful.

Do bands suddenly become of poor quality because they are liked by more people? Bands that are good will be liked by lots of people. Musical fascists seem to forget that many of the artists they hold dear were extremely popular and, dare I say it, mainstream in their day. The Beatles, Hendrix, Otis Redding, David Bowie, Joy Division, T-Rex, The Who: the reason we know them as the greats today is precisely because they were so widely-liked.

Music is not bad just because a lot of people like it or because it can be described as ‘catchy’. Nor is it good just because you’re the only one who’s heard of it, the artist wrote it themself or because it involves the use of a kitchen implement as a musical instrument.

Despite any flaws musical fascists may have, they’re right about many things as well. The love of good music, and particularly the love of poignant words blended with beautiful, suitable melodies, is a fading past-time. I’d have Paul Simon over Sean Paul and the 10,000 Maniacs over 50 Cent any day. I’ll finish with a Nick Hornby quote from A Long Way Down:

“I thought I couldn’t go wrong with Nick Drake, especially in a room full of people who’ve got the blues. If you haven’t heard him… Man, it’s like he boiled down all the melancholy in the world, all the bruises and all the fucked-up dreams you’ve let go, and poured the essence into a tiny little bottle and corked it up. And when he starts to play and sing, he takes the cork out, and you can smell it. You’re pinned into your seat, as if it’s a wall of noise, but it’s not – it’s still, and quiet, and you don’t want to breathe in case you frighten it away.

‘People don’t want to hear it, do they? This is how I feel, every day, and people don’t want to know that. They want to know that I’m feeling what Tom Jones makes you feel. Or that Australian girl who used to be in Neighbours. But I feel like this, and they won’t play what I feel on the radio, because people that are sad don’t fit in.’”


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