In this article, Joe Queenan makes the same generalizations about contemporary music as most classical-centric conservatory freshman: ie. it is not immediately engaging, the most far-out modern works will never be as revered as the most complex classical masterpieces (um, duh…), the ‘white hairs’ don’t like it and will never like it. The thing is, these are age-old arguments about modern music. In fact they are ancient arguments about modern art, indeed what teenagers tend to think upon viewing the most established works of abstract art.
So why would The Guardian print the article? Well, because I’m writing about it right now, and you’re reading about it right now, and chances are you clicked on my link and generated a few cents of income to the advertisers on The Guardian page. It’s like our quandary of dealing with the Ann Coulters of the world. We want to ignore them, but their arguments are so childish, so brazen, so offensive that not responding seems to be an act of appeasement.
So when Queenan writes:
Would contemporary music attract more listeners if a truly great composer came along? The last time the American public got excited about a living composer was when Leonard Bernstein was in vogue; but Bernstein, a superb conductor and Broadway tunesmith, never developed into a great composer. At present, the American public seems most taken by anachronisms (Henryk Górecki, Arvo Pärt), infantilists (Glass), eclectics (Corigliano) and atmospheric neo-Brucknerites (John Adams). Even when the public embraces the new, what it is really looking for is the old. It is hardly surprising that so many composers simply throw in the towel and compose music that will be ignored in their own lifetimes, hoping it will find an audience with posterity.
What? Wtf?? He called Adams an “atmospheric neo-Brucknerite”??? What does that even mean? How is Adam’s music anything like Bruckner’s, just because it is repetitive?? And he honestly believes that there have been no “truly great composers” in the last century?? Where to begin?
See, don’t you feel the urge to pound out a response right now, email the article to your contemporary music-lovin friends of yours, put Joe Queenan on your New Music Dartboard? Yeah, that is what he wants. Just as when Ann Coulter said that in response to 9/11 that ‘we should invade their countries and convert them all to christianity’ or whatever, you have to stop and think, “oh, wait, she’s a clown. She’s not to be taken seriously.” Same thing with Queenan. He is exactly like that 18 year old drunk trombone player at the party who drunkenly slurs that good music ended with Wagner. You can argue with him all you want, all you’re going to end up with is about an ounce of Natty Ice periodically spat onto your face.
But, if you’d like to, like my misguided ass, post a rant of your own in response, feel free to do so. Tom Service wrote an interesting response. Just remember the cardinal rule of the information age:
Do not feed the trolls.