Friday, 21 November 2008

Lighten up, Erik

"Jazz is screaming its sorrow in our faces and we don't give a damn about it."
Erik Satie, 1866-1925

"Do you not hear that terrible screaming all around you, that men usually call silence?"
Georg B├╝chner, 1813-1837

Really? I'm like, whoah, lighten up, guys.

@ Erik: maybe if jazz backed off a touch and got out of our faces we might give a damn. Or recommend a therapist. What jazz are you listening to, anyway? A lot of people find Kind of Blue quite soothing. On the other hand, if we could just talk for a minute about Harrison Birtwistle...

@Georg: Yes, I do, actually. My doctor tells me that they usually call it tinnitus, and there's nothing much to be done about it. It's nature's way of telling you that you have been to one too many VERY LOUD gigs.

I shouldn't be so flippant, I know ... But there's a certain brand of doom-laden solemnity that has cast a pall over a lot of the artistic endeavour of the modern world. Someone (wish I could remember who) once referred to this as "heavy breathing", which is spot on: it's a rather humourless and creepy way of insisting on the significance of your work. "I have penetrated the veil of bourgeois hypocrisy to glimpse the Complete And Utter Futility of Life, and will now proceed to share my pain with you. No, please, don't put the phone down ..."

It's a very adolescent, masculine worldview: Heavy Metal and its various hysterical variants are its crypt-kicking apotheosis. The word "screaming" is a bit of a signature: a voice turned up to 11, with nowhere further to go. And what better Heavy Metal album cover was ever painted than Edvard Munch's risible The Scream?

Talking of risible, you may have recognised the title of yesterday's post. It comes from a famous passage by Cyril Connolly, written in the last issue of Horizon in 1950:
“It is closing time in the gardens of the West and from now on an artist will be judged only by the resonance of his solitude or the quality of his despair.”
You've got to admit that's funny, Eeyore in a tweed jacket fiddling portentously with his pipe. Of course, at the other extreme there is the infuriating equanimity of John Cage:
"The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason."
I think I feel a scream coming on ...

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