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.