Tuesday, April 3, 2007

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "Is Classical Music Better than the Music of Today?"

Violin-playing Mitchell Johson will argue yes, occasional pop producer Christopher Maguire will argue no, and the audience will vote. (In addition to organizing these events, I host, and the very same man who is the able webmaster of ToddSeavey.com, Michel “The Brain” Evanchik, moderates.)

The clash of the rockers and the rococo happens tomorrow night (Wed., April 4 — 4/4, fittingly) at 8pm at Lolita Bar, at 266 Broome St. at the corner of Allen St. on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop). Free admission, cash bar.

This is a question of some genuine and vexing philosophical interest to me, since I think many people share the simultaneous but contradictory intuitions that:

(a) aesthetic judgments are subjective, and

(b) Mozart is much better than Britney Spears.

No matter which way you lean, this issue remains pretty baffling. One could argue that aesthetic judgments are objective in that they are “relativized” only in so far as human nature varies, leaving us with plenty of (ultimately) biologically-rooted generalizations to make about what sorts of rhythms will likely appeal to normal human brains — but even then, we are left wondering whether language such as “good” and “bad,” applied to aesthetic products, should be used to connote that which most people (normal people) like or, say, that which very smart people with highly developed taste like (and if the latter, why? and how how much must they know?).

William F. Buckley’s fascination with the harpsichord has perhaps been historically decisive in turning the already loaded question of aesthetic objectivity into a heated moral dispute, with classical ostensibly aligned with traditional virtues and rock n’ roll, plainly, the source of our mid-twentieth-century moral decline (not an entirely absurd position any more than it’s absurd to posit that TV encourages bad behavior — it’d be odd if art didn’t have an effect on our psyches). Buckley, I should note, moderated his anti-rock views rather quickly, going from declaring the Beatles the “High Popes of Anti-Music” to embracing them later in an essay called “How I Came to Rock.”

Anyway, even if we accept that moral issues have to be factored into our aesthetic judgments (though how much is another thorny side issue), we could have endless debates over exactly what moral purposes art should serve: making us smarter? making us nicer? making us better able to appreciate subsequent works of art? perhaps making us less nice? perhaps making us more resistant to appreciating subsequent works of art?

The whole topic’s a big philosophical mess, so thank goodness I’m only hosting and don’t have to take sides. And come to think of it, are there even two clear sides? What if I think Mozart is a thousand times better than Britney but also think “Runaway” by Del Shannon is better than, say, Pachelbel Canon? And that the band Trans Am is both brilliant and ass-kicking? Beats me. And being baffled doesn’t even justify coming down on the subjectivist side, since that might just be an instance of giving up too easily.

Luckily, whatever our debaters and audience conclude, we have culture rich and complex enough to contain both high art and brazen trash like, say, Grindhouse, the Tarantino/Rodriguez movie coming out this week that I inadvertently convinced an aspiring minister to go see by telling him it features a fabulous babe who’s an amputee with a machine gun mounted on her leg stump — a pitch the minister-to-be, who’d been gently criticizing Tarantino over the violence in his films, greeted with enthusiasm, surprising me by detaching his own prosthetic lower leg. True story.

P.S. Unable to resolve the musical-taste question in my own mind, I can at least savor some of my own favorite musical moments with the help of YouTube: Take the Go-Go’s, for instance. They’re best remembered for “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” but their best song, no matter what anyone tells you, is still “Head Over Heels,” and I’ll bet watching this video would be nearly as effective as antidepressants for many sufferers of clinical depression (though I don’t claim to have done double-blind trials and all that stuff we recommend at my real job at the American Council on Science and Health). In the highly unlikely event I am ever suicidal — but you think I’m worth saving — remind me that this video exists: problem solved:


P.P.S. And as a few of you know, I’m pleased to have this song, taped off-air, on a mix tape from a decade and a half ago, followed by a WBRU DJ saying, “Aw, the Go-Go’s, what a wild and nutty bunch of babes, going out to Todd over at Brown University!”

P.P.P.S. I am also pleased, albeit somewhat embarrassed, that around that same time I requested an arguably dumber song, off UConn’s WHUS, using a hastily-thought-up alias to conceal my shameful, uncharacteristic heavy metal sympathies, resulting in me having a mix tape featuring a far more gravely-voiced DJ saying: “Judas Priest’s ‘Free Wheel Burning,’ goin’ out ta Dirk in Voluntown, from WHUS…”

And then, on the tape, you hear the following operatic bit of lunacy (it really takes off after 1 min. 50 sec., I think — it’s like Mel Gibson driving a truck after the apocalypse but in your ear — and he’s drunk):


P.P.P.P.S. And if anyone cares enough to still be reading and is thinking “Todd likes that Judas Priest song?!?” keep in mind you’re dealing with someone whose favorite song in the whole world may be “Synchronicity II,” which may have more sophisticated lyrics than the Judas Priest song — about the Loch Ness Monster as a metaphor for urban decay — but is still, any way you slice it, a song with the Loch Ness Monster in it (and a video that sort of looks like live-action anime, it occurs to me twenty-four years later, and it holds up very, very well):


Several people told me my dad looked like Sting back then, so I was sort of banking on looking like Sting in this video when I grew up, in part because progress in aesthetics would lead to everyone more or less dressing that way (and living in buildings that looked like sets from Max Headroom, of course), but it didn’t quite work out on any level.

P.P.P.P.P.S. In fact, what happened is that I got old, Dad got older, and various “hip hop” and “dance” bands took over the planet. On the bright side, sometimes the alternative rock folk strike back, like Alanis Morissette doing this brilliant cover (and parody video, pointed out to me by CuddleParty co-director Marcia Baczynski) of the Black Eyed Peas’ goofy “My Humps” song:


P.P.P.P.P.P.S. And while I’m at it, just for the hell of it, here’s David Bowie at odds with Ricky Gervais. Now I’m done:



Alyssa said...

I have not yet watched the Go-Go’s “Head over Heels” video, but I must thank you for the link to the “Synchronicity II” video, which certainly made me crack a gleeful grin. Lookit Sting vamping for the camera! I think the set, toward the end, starts to resemble Jennifer Connelly’s room in “Labyrinth,” after the junk lady has visited it.

Also, I had choice lyrics from that song taped to my wall, junior year of college.

Alyssa said...


Sorry to spam your blog, but I just watched that Go-Go’s video, and I’ll definitely remind you of it if I ever see you out on a ledge.

Furthermore, it’s kind of disorienting to see a woman dressed in Martha Stewart sweater plaid slamming it on the drum kit.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Now the blog is starting to sound as bloggy as your e-mails always have!

Christopher said...

I second Jacob. I am now entertained.

JD said...

“Freewheel Burning” is a great song. And that’s all I have to say about that.