13 December 2010

We Wanted to Be Important

I was listening today to a podcast interview with Bruce Springsteen--Edward Norton was asking the questions (they're friends apparently) and he did a good job--and Bruce was asked quite a bit about ambition and if he wanted to really "say something" with his music and at one point near the end of the interview he simply said, "We wanted to be important." In other words, he wanted what he said/sang to have resonance, to have meaning to others--to be meaningful; but also, I would guess, when we're dealing with ego, HE wanted to be important. And in this case, I'd say he wanted people to think that what he said/sang mattered.

Okay, be that as it may, I have tell Bruce that it's not important; that what he says/sings doesn't matter...that seeking after a voice via popular or rock music is in reality self-aggrandizement (sure, blogging is too! but nowhere near as cool or powerful); that music does nothing in this world except--at the most--palliate the pain of reality.

Now that said, it sounds like a big deal and a good thing, but, as I said earlier about comedy--it will make nothing happen and it will serve to gloss over the need for action, perhaps substitute for thinking and acting.

I promise you that I WANT it to have meaning--that I want it to MEAN so much. But pop music is only a business and Bruce's art is in the end only record sales. The only meaning in music is local--is on the street; in the home; in the local bar. And it's NOT for making "popular" noise--it's for connecting. So it CAN and should have deep meaning and resonance...but where and how it does is not on the radio or the iTunes or the MTVs (that ain't workin').

I'll draw two parallels...First,Auden's famous poem for Yeats where section 2 has the famous line "For poetry makes nothing happen:" (and really, read the whole thing--undeniably great and worth talking about deeply in this particular context).


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

Then there is this:

Gorky recorded Lenin’s very characteristic words spoken after he listened to Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata: “I know the Appassionata inside out and yet I am willing to listen to it every day. It is wonderful, ethereal music. On hearing it I proudly, maybe somewhat naively, think: See! people are able to produce such marvels!” He then winked, laughed and added sadly: “I’m often unable to listen to music, it gets on my nerves, I would like to stroke my fellow beings and whisper sweet nothings in their ears for being able to produce such beautiful things in spite of the abominable hell they are living in. However, today one shouldn’t caress anybody - for people will only bite off your hand; strike, without pity, although theoretically we are against any kind of violence. Umph, it is, in fact, an infernally difficult task!”

So, music, poetry, what can it do? Is the impulse in Springsteen just simply the wrong one--the drive to prominence, importance--and that this undercuts what the music can do? Or is there an issue of scale here--or "capitalist" mode of rock and roll?

Lots of questions--what can the arts DO?

Of course, I think Marx's primary goal was to free all people from the deadening burden of labor so that we might all be simply artists.

Springsteen interview

In Memory of W.B. Yeats

Lenin on Beethoven


  1. Ambition and art are two very different things.

    Beethoven was a genius and was not driven by the quest of fame or power. He was an artist for an artist's sake; he heard music in his head that he had to get out. Even after he lost his hearing he still heard and, and still composed.

    There is a very capitalistic drive to rock n' roll, i.e. "I want to be rich and famous." Springsteen is not a musical genius, nor a lyrical poet. We accept blase pop music as "art." This does not speak highly of most people in terms of artistic integrity.

    If art stands alone for art's sake, does it have to do anything? It's when we confuse a capitalistic venture for art that we have to start questioning it. Yes, poetry makes nothing happen, but it does make us human, and it creates meaning out of the nothing? The arts CAN unify people, and there is real power in that. Sharing the beauty of Beethoven, for example. Allowing people to express themselves as a creative species. Isn't this our defining trait?

  2. So, true, it's a stretch to compare Springsteen with Auden and Beethoven...but the greater question holds, and maybe it's not really a question with a universal answer. Arendt contending that Eichmann was "unthinking" and that evil is banal in that way it can simply be perpetrated mechanistically. But then you have Heidegger--one whom many would argue was the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century--who was consciously a Nazi.

    And I recall the most harrowing scene in Schindler's List is when Ralph Fiennes character (I've forgotten his name) who is in charge of a concentration camp listens to classical music as he shoots Jews at random from his balcony. (Is this "art" saying "art" has no meaning in the face of this evil?)

    So, we must likely conclude that art is somewhat irrelevant (is "beyond" good and evil?) in terms of the human...or perhaps we simply say that beauty is sublime and sublimely terrible. Odysseus had to plug his ears from the Sirens' song (likely beautiful to hear, no?) in order to avoid destruction.

  3. This is conflating too many things. Juxtaposing art over a nazi murdered says nothing about the art or its role in human life. You did, after all, reference a movie, i.e. an interpretation of the event. The music served a cinematic purpose, AND the film is an art too.

    Art is beyond good and evil. It isn't necessarily an expression of something that can be categorically determined to be either, and even if it is this act is very, very subjective.

    Maybe it's the commodification of art that is evil, when humans try to use art for anything other than what it is.

  4. Art is communication, sometimes with words, sometimes without.

  5. ah, conflation--it's what I'm good at!

    making noise and structuring sound is "art" in the form of music.

    speaking words "artfully" is often "poetry".

    Art is clearly an ordering of something--images, words, sound, noises, etc.

    And I would like to agree that ART is what makes us most, or maybe the highest kind of, human.

    All these things that are "art" are also found in destruction. And beauty is indeed found in the terrible.

    So humans "make" in order to "be" or become.

    What then?