Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Weasel Goes the Pop

(For a PDF version of this essay, go to The Worldview Annex.)

For John D. "Jack" Daniels:
Il miglior labbro

"Hoc sonitu oppletae aures hominum obsurduerunt; nec est ullus hebetior sensus in vobis, sicut, ubi Nilus ad illa, quae Catadupa nominantur, praecipitat ex altissimis montibus, ea gens, quae illum locum accolit, propter magnitudinem sonitus sensu audiendi caret."


I can specify to within a fortnight the date of my last purchase of an album-length pop [1] recording.  It was in the second half of August 2002, fewer than four months after my thirtieth birthday, and the recording (a CD) then purchased (by mail, from an inline vendor) was the KLF's Chill Out.  This purchase marked a quasi-allegorically fitting denouement to a pop record-buying career that had officially begun a scant baker's-dozen years earlier (with the tentative acquisition of R.E.M.'s Lifes Rich Pageant at the Musicland at the long-since-bulldozed Tampa Bay Mall); for the KLF had themselves famously renounced pop in a most spectacularly low-key fashion, by privately  literally literally burning in a million dollars garnered from sales of such early-90s chart-toppers of theirs as "What Time is Love?" and "3 A. M. Eternal," and disbanding immediately thereafter.  But the efficient catalyst or camel's-back-breaking straw of my desertion of the pop camp, the definitive sign that I would soon be obliged to throw in the towel on my longish struggle with the superheavyweight prizefighter that was my indifference to—nay, outright contempt for—the pop métier, dated from about half a year before the KLF purchase.  I was listening in a friend's apartment, for only the second or third time ever to "Pretty Good Looking for a Girl" by the then-super hot and super new garage-pop power duo the White Stripes.  For the second or third time, I noticed the main tune (or "riff")'s resemblance to that of "La Bamba," and mechanically penned a snippet of a no-less-inevitable-than-hypothetical Fresh Air or Rolling Stone review eulogizing the song's "masterful [sic] transposition of the Ritchie Valens fifties classic into a gender-bending early-oughties context."  This time around, though, I was reminded moreover of a much earlier song-auditing session, one that had taken place during the aforementioned annus mirabilis of 1989, in my bedroom, in the company of my piano teacher and fellow teenager Brittney W. (Oh, for a return to the blessed reign of George the First, wherein the forename Brittney did not yet axiomatically conjure up the image of the Sempiternally Pregnant One!); and that had centered on a different song, "Stand," authored and recorded by a different and much cooler ("cooler-more tepid" not "cooler-hotter") band, R.E.M.  "Did you ever notice," she asked, more in sorrow than in smugness, "how much this song sounds like 'La Bamba?'"  No, I hadn't, I had said truthfully, and then added untruthfully that now that she had come to mention it, I did.  But I sure as heck did notice it now, in 2001.  "Well," I said to myself (again in 2001): "That about settles it.  To quote 'La Bamba' once in a decade-and-a-half may be accounted a hummingbird's feather in some tunesmith-aster's cap; to quote it twice in the same interval smacks of lameness.  And to think of the no-less-inevitable-than-gargantuan huevos on that Fresh Air or Rolling Stone reviewer whose paeans to the Stripes' 'masterful refraction of R.E.M.'s transposition of the Ritchie Valens fifties classic into a late-eighties "Don't Worry, Be Happy" context through a frosted prism of early-oughties post 9/11 weltschmerz' I will doubtless have drilled into my ears starting tomorrow, at weekly intervals, over the next five years!  And what did the song have going for it, what more was there to it, than this vapid Valens-aping?  A throwaway boomer-fellating reference to Zeager and Evans's execrable '2525.'  Come to think of it, I asked myself, what did this dopey band tout court have going for it, apart from its lack of a bassist, and a female drummer who possessed neither sufficient chops to keep a beat going with more than one appendage at a time, nor more beauty "than without candle may go dark to bed"?   Whereupon, I stormed out of the room in what I pray witnesses have described as a huff.

My age at the time of this outburst (28 or 29) juxtaposed with that of the two Whites (22 or thereabouts) may at first seem to indicate an old, simple, familiar, and indeed shopworn cause: a resentment of the encroachments of the so-called younger generation on a theretofore unchallenged demographic monopoly of spirit.  If it had really or primarily had to do with that, though, I would simply have done as countless hippies, prog-rockers, headbangers, and punks before me had done and thenceforth confined all my future listening to tunes hailing from my particular sub-subculture and golden age-let of pop.  Instead, as I have already intimated, I renounced for good all aural commerce with pop past, present, and future; not only did I cease to buy and listen to new pop records by new pop artists, but I also ceased to buy and listen to old pop records by old ones, and indeed, to listen to the pop records I already owned.  I had to do so, for my conscience's sake.  For the vexation I felt while auditing "PGLFG" was compounded by a feeling that smarted much more keenly than vexation, a feeling much more unpleasant than bedwetter's shame if not quite as unpleasant as uxoricide's remorse, a feeling instinct with an awareness that I really had no right to complain about any of the intrinsic musical shortcomings of the oeuvre of the Stripes or of any other pop ensemble; inasmuch as my roots as a listener lay in a tradition that prided—nay, smugnessed—itself on its inviolable superiority to all modes, styles, brands, and genres of popular music from ragtime onwards.  I allude here, of no course, to the music-love that dare not speak its name among non-professional musicians under the age of eighty, to that unnatural proclivity catered to under the record industry-assigned appellation of classical music (which we longhairs occasionally dare to term without qualification music—albeit only sub-rosa, at our own private below-stairs gatherings, posterior to the donation of a c-note or two to the head of the local gendarmerie).  As a lay initiate into the mysteries of classical music, I ought to have known better than ever to be seduced by such blandishments as could ever be served up by the likes of Ritchie Valens or R.E.M. or the White Stripes; or ever to suppose that the difference between any two of them or among any gaggle[2] of their confederates could ever amount to the quasi-proverbial hill of beans.  And yet (I then reflected), for all of my experience of intrinsically superior music, I had not known better.  There were two explanations for my succumbation: either I had been (and possibly still was) a complete idiot or I had missed something that someone more intelligent than an idiot could be forgiven for having missed.  The second of the two possibilities I deemed not only the more flattering but also (or so I flattered myself) the more plausible of the two: in the very probably mortal words of whilom Husker Du front-man and present nonentity Bob Mould, "I knew I was—and had been—a reasoning guy."  Hence, my immediately subsequent cold-turkey renunciation of the Babylonian Whore of pop music and two-shouldered re-assumption of the cross of classical music fandom did not amount simply[3] to a Taliban-worthy off-selling of my pop CD and LP collection or a John Paul Getty-worthy binge of classical CD-buying.  It amounted additionally to a phenomenon or process or auto-fellationary exercise spiritually consubstantial with what the Austrians call Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which may be roughly Englished as "Trying-to-understand-how-my-convivial-and-only-mildly-anti-semitic-Uncle-Jurgen-could-once-have-been-a-gaschamber-switch-flipper-at-Auschwitz."  It required my sussing out and specifying those presumptive intrinsic qualities of pop music that were sufficiently seductive to lure a reasoning classical music-loving guy off the true path of classical-musical fandom and at the same time accounting for their insufficient efficiency in keeping him off it for good.  At long last, nine years later, I believe I have sussed out and specified these qualities and accounted for their insufficient efficiency, and I am ready—nay, eager—to descend from my lonely eminence and censoriously declaim from the massy tables on which they are enumerated and accounted for.

And why am I not content to remain atop my lonely eminence declaiming my oration to myself (preferably at library volume, into a combination microphone-headphone set), and leave everyone else the fudge alone?  I am not thus content in the first place because my lonely eminence is neither as lonely nor as eminent as I should like it to be; because at times it feels, indeed, rather more like a kind of vast, planar Dustbowl-period dirt-farm wherein I am repeatedly accosted by hyrdrocephalic hoboes adjuring me to appreciate the "genius" of this or that acephalic banjo-plucker, or upbraiding me for listening to "only one kind of music" and ignoring the dozens of other pseudo-kinds that in truth amount to but a single kind that cloys as quickly as a 54-pack of assorted pop-sicles.  Of course, in virtue of my sheer demographic disadvantage I cannot expect to keep my environs clear of such hoboes; nor in virtue of the contents of their respective crania can I expect to convert any of them.  But at the very least I think it worthwhile against my inevitable forthcoming trial for hobicide to have ready to hand some piece of mitigating evidence that will prove that my anger towards the hoboes was neither whimsical nor capricious, that it arose out of a long, extensive, and attentive acquaintance with both (and only both) kinds of music in question.  In the second place, I cannot but hope that somewhere out there, beyond the borders of Hoboland, there dwell other reasoning guys and gals who are worth trying to convert—or not so much convert as reassure; guys and gals on the model of Glaucon in Plato's Republic, who wanted to believe that justice was superior to injustice but who was reluctantly prepared in the absence of solid proof thereof to go over to the side of the injustice-boosters.  (If this not-merely-formal analogizing of classical music to justice and pop to injustice seems a trifle melodramatic or hubristic to your bleary Okie's okies, dear gentle hobo, well you can just go off and perform the biologically impossible act with your banjo for all I care.)  Not that I am hubristic enough to liken myself to Socrates, but that I am fanatical about the cause of classical music to think it deserves a Republic-sized defense.  But even if I were so hubristic as to fancy myself a Socrates, I would have to be downright mad to assume that my sympathetic reader was a Glaucon in the fullest sense—that is, a bosom pal of mine about whom I knew just about as much as one could about another person; and hence, to think that I could get away with presenting my defense as a game of 20,000 questions with him.  And of course I have already established that I am no Julliard-trained prof who can count on being expected by some detectable fraction of his readership to know what music is all about and hence in pacing, lapel-thumbing fashion to present his defense as a 20,000-point dictation exercise.  No: I am just a humble l'il ol' (and getting ol'er) lay listener and accordingly can get away only with describing what I have listened out for and either heard or failed to hear, and hoping that  some portion of my listening-history jibes with the reader's.  Accordingly, loathly, and almost immediately (albeit not permanently), I shall have to revert to the ignoble auto-hagiographical mode with which I opened.  My aim throughout, however, will be to adumbrate the respective Kantian Dinge an sich of the two musics—what actually is or is not present in each of them, and what one can or cannot listen to or for therein.


First of all, to re-begin at the very beginning, I was being pragmatically and ever-so-slightly disingenuous when I said that my roots lay in classical music, at least if roots is obliged to mean what people usually take it to mean when they see it post-fixed to a masculine or feminine possessive adjective, namely something that you have piped into your ear or nose or other orifice other than the mouth at an age when that orifice is still habitually occluded by your mother's or wet-nurse's tit.  It is, in fact, statistically almost impossible that my roots in the musical sub-sense of this sense should lie in anything other than some form of pop.  Like every other child born in the developed world in and since the 1970s, I was fledged within a veritable aural cocoon—nay, tadpole's egg—of pop music.  From dawn to post-dusk of virtually every Saturday, for instance, pop was blared into my ears: first from the car radio en route to the mall, then from the public address system of every store we visited, and finally from the living-room stereo upon our arrival back home.  A comprehensive inventory of all of the songs I recall having heard by the end of my first half-decade would easily fill a 10-CD box set.

Yet no matter how many times I heard these songs (and to judge by how often I hear them and their ilkish descendants nowadays, in spite of the most sedulous efforts to avoid them, these times must have numbered in the hundreds per year) none of them ever coalesced for me into an aesthetic unit, into anything with a definitive beginning, middle, and end; or (to put it another way) into anything that I would have felt inclined to render into an a cappella-cum-one man band performance with interpolated guitar solos, backing vocals, and the like.  From an aesthetic point of hearing they were indistinguishable from the jingles of television commercials, memorable only a clause or two at a time, e.g.,—"Rocky Raccoon went back to his room," "They stabbed it with their steely knives, but they just couldn't kill the beast," "You deserve a break today," "That's why you'll love Love My Carpet."

As to when this pop-ular aural monotony was first punctuated by a symphony, overture, or concerto, I cannot say, for the classical-musical repertoire was and is likewise a part of our collective ineluctable soundscape.  In admitting as much I may at first blush seem to be doing something much worse than contradicting myself (although I may seem to be to doing that too), namely nullifying the whole raison d'être of my argument, of this essay.   For if classical music in our world and epoch really is as inescapable a phenomenon as pop music, it would seem that I have as little cause for complaint as an evangelical Christian obliged to concede that Jesus is after all-stroke-when all's said and done, as famous and beloved a personage as Satan.  At second blush, though, this parallel will not hold, or will hold only after substantial refitting.  For pervasiveness is by no means a prerequisite for inescapability.  I remember full well, for example, that in 1978, the year of the release of Saturday Night Fever, Ludwig van Beethoven was almost as inescapable a figure as John Travolta, thanks to the presence of Michael Murphy's opus 67-quoting club-thumper "A Fifth of Beethoven" on the film's soundtrack.  One not only heard "A Fifth" everywhere one went that year; one also heard the Fifth in many of those selfsame places.  No matter how ignorant you were of classical music at the beginning of that year, it was impossible to arrive at the end of it minus some sort of idea, however vague, of who Beethoven was, and of what an orchestra and a symphony were.  And yet I do not recall that any of Beethoven's other 150 opera got any extra air or mall PA-play in 1978 or the immediately succeeding years; and, indeed, probably the only artists featured on the soundtrack who got a lift sufficiently buoyant from it to carry them into the 80s were the Bee-Gees.  And yet again, by the end of that year in the minds of perhaps tens of thousands with sufficient patience, perseverance, and sheer goshdamn gullibility (specifically the gullibility of assuming that anything famous was at least supposed to be good by someone), the seed of classical curiosity had been planted and immediately watered via the briefest and most convenient of trips to a public library or record store.  Some phenomenon of this sort, whether The Three Tenors or Gregorian chant mania, makes a sweep of the mass listening public virtually every year, such that anyone who is not acquainted with at least a smattering of classical masterpieces has only his or her own indolence to blame.  I realize that there would be no practical point in saying this even if I were as rich as Gill Bates, as famous as Prad Bitt, and as universally beloved as Dora Squarepants; I realize that top-dollar fellators of the peasantry will be obdurately insisting on "the economic privilege requisite to an acculturation in the so-called classics" until season ticket subscriptions to the New York Philharmonic are given away on Times Square with complimentary hand-jobs.  Yes, I realize that even after having filtered out the hobos I am by default and perforce up against a mentalité, a Weltanschauung, a modus orbi spectandi, that holds that if a McDonald's restaurant is twenty yards nearer a publicly-funded housing complex than is an Alfalfa Sprout Emporium, it is incumbent upon the McDonald's corporation not only to issue to the residents of the complex unlimited vouchers covering the 4-cent price difference between a Big Mac and an Alfalfa Sprout Kingwich but also to provide free 24-hour-shuttle service to ASE—each on pain of footing the medical bills of the including ZIP code for the next half-century; nevertheless, in my capacity as a superheroic figure who has managed, so to speak, to do the cultural equivalent of hauling his relatively-underprivileged ass on foot those extra 20 yards and spending those extra 4 cents literally thousands (and figuratively millions) of times, I believe it behooves me to say it.  I first undertook this arduous trek in 1982, a very good year for connoisseurs of classical cheese, for it witnessed the release of not merely a single hit tune but a whole slew of LPs centering on a classical premise, and a particularly cheesy one at that.  These were the Hooked on Classics records, each of which consisted of a half-dozen or so medleys of classical tunes performed by the Royal Philharmonic to the continuo-esque accompaniment of a drum machine pounding out a disco-friendly backbeat.  I do not know in precise Billboard-ial terms how popular the Hooked on Classics records actually were, and I am loath to try to find out by the usual interwebbial methods, lest I discover that they register visibly nearer to Metal Machine Music than to Thriller on the unit-shifter-ometer (and accordingly catapult myself back into the inescapable morass of presumptive Economically Elite Fuck-dom).  All I know is that my parents owned the first HOC LP; that my fourth-grade public-school teacher, a woman otherwise given to entertaining us tykes by singing and strumming Dolly Parton covers, brought in a 45 RPM single culled from that LP for our listening edification; and that I managed to get hold of the second HOC LP at no tonier or more exclusive a music-purveyor than K-Mart.   I do not wish to overstate the seminality of HOC vis-à-vis the crystallization of my classical-musical fandom, to succumb to the temptation of setting down the all-too cutely paradoxical assertion that "Even my proclivity for the most stratospherically highbrow and esoteric compositions of the post-Webernian serialists may ultimately be traced to my initial infatuation with these pieces of hyper-lowbrow crap."  For I am virtually certain that HOC2 was not the first classically-dependent record that I bought with my own money, or rather money that had been given to me to spend as I pleased.  No: that record was Bernstein's Great Performances LP of the "1812," "March Slav," and the Romeo and Juliet Overture; and even though snippets from all three works were included in HOC1, I cannot quite be sure that this inclusion was the principal impetus towards my purchase of the Bernstein/Tchaikovsky LP, for I also recall that the 1812 was in heavy rotation on the car—or, rather, Econoline van—cassette deck during both arcs of the 300-mile round trip to the Daytona International Speedway for the 24-Hour Pepsi Challenge that I undertook with my father in January 1982.  But I do often wonder whether and occasionally even suspect that had it not been for HOC I might have been content to remain a specimen of that by no means uncommon animal in all walks of music-consumerdom, the homo unius disci, the philistine who is all too content to ignore all composers or records but his favorite one because he scarcely imagines that there is "a world elsewhere."  The compilers of the HOC records, you see, were considerate enough to annotate them with scrupulous catalogues of the constituent body parts of each of their cannibalizations; such that to be "Hooked on Baroque" meant that you could not get away with thinking that Bach or Handel was the only baroque composer,[5] and that you were aware of enough of the other ones to put together a 20-disc miniature library of Baroque music.  At the very least it is not implausible that had it not been for HOC I would not have learned any part of any Mozart piece other than Eine kleine Nachtmusik before the release of Amadeus in 1984, and virtually certain that I learned the principal themes of the "Jupiter" symphony and A Musical Joke from "Hooked on Mozart."  As it turned out, by 1983 I was already a homo multorum discorum in possession of numerous recordings of Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak, and Haydn in addition to Tchaikovsky. 

Hence, my initial assertion about my classical roots ultimately comes ebulliently down to this: that the first stretches of music that I ever went out of my way to have leisure to listen to repeatedly from start to finish were classical ones, and that having acquired that leisure in relation to one set of such pieces (viz. the Bernstein recording of the Tchaikovsky), I did not seek to acquire it in relation to any non-classical genre of music for the succeeding seven years.  I apologize for all the auto-hagiographical stove-time involved in boiling this assertion down to its proper pea-ish dimensions, but peasantry-fellators will make their assumptions about silver tuning forks and suchlike appliances, assumptions which must be nipped in the bud before one may proceed with a steady pulse to less navel-centric matters.               

Specifically, I should like now to proceed to the matter—an intrinsically non navel-centric one—of what I noticed in those first few pieces of classical music that I encountered in their entirety during my tenth year, of what it was about them (and not at all about me) that kept me coming back for more, as they say.  After much mental sifting and fact-checking towards the end of excluding everything drawn to my attention by somebody else or in a later year, I have determined that this hefty intrinsicality may be analyzed into three qualities, which I shall enumerate in the following three paragraphs. Insofar as my argument has a cornerstone or mainstay or load-bearing wall or what have you, the following list of qualities is it, inasmuch as these are the selfsame qualities that I preeminently appreciate in classical music today.  They are, in other words, the garden of Paradise away from which I was lured by the serpent pop, and in which I have subsequently resettled for good, such that if the reader by some miracle has yet to encounter that serpent qua serpent (as against qua bits of intrusive aural wallpaper), he has my blessing (as against my permission which of course he already had) to stop reading just before the "III" mark.  To be sure, there is plenty that he may benefit from in the last or fourth section of the essay, but as the whole of that section presupposes a fellow recovering popophile as its ideal reader, it will have to be heavily expurgated before it is fit to present to his uncorrupted eyes.


1) Its richness of sonority.  This quality accounts for the fact that even today, more than a half-century after the invention of the electric guitar and nearly a quarter-century after the perfection[6] of digital synthesizers, the soundtracks of most big-budget movies are recorded by real symphony orchestras consisting of a hundred-plus real, acoustic woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion powered by a hundred-plus pairs of living human arms and lungs (along with a pair or two of living human feet [one mustn't forget the tympanist and occasional pianist!]).  In point of sheer decibelage, no unamplified orchestra of whatever size can compete with one lonely electric guitar plugged into a puny hundred-watt practice amp; but the drawback of the electric guitar is that no matter how loudly you play it, it still sounds like a single instrument.  But may one not profitably compare the sonic resources of a full-fledged classic four-piece rock combo (voice, guitar, bass, and drums) to those of, say, a string quartet (first violin, second violin, viola, and cello)?  Surely there at least we have parity of sonority?  No, for in the case of the string quartet we are dealing with at least four instruments at any given time, whereas in the case of the rock power quartet we are never dealing with more than four, and usually with fewer.  (The significance of this cagily gnomic pronouncement will become clear in due course.) 

2) Its biblio-analogical interest.  By this I mean simply an interest that parallels in intensity and durability the interest that a book-length-ish thing, be it a book (and be this book in the generic form of a novel, a play, a history, or a philosophical treatise), a stage performance, or a movie, is capable of engendering.  According to my nine-year-old lights, the signal characteristic of songs, whether of the pop, folk, or nursery variety, was that they went a certain way, such that if someone asked you how "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" or "Rocky Raccoon" went, you would simply sing as much of it as you could remember, and there was an end on't—I mean an end to your interest in the song.  The idea of sitting around for a half an hour or so and thinking through the song from beginning to end, as I might have done and did do with the plot of A Christmas Carol or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, never occurred to me; whereas it seemed the immediately obvious thing to do in connection with, say, the 1812 Overture.  Not that the sorts of things one noticed or became curious about while engaging in this exercise were the same in the case of the music-pieces as in the books.  In the books one mainly noticed that certain things happened to certain characters, and the main thing one wanted to figure out in thinking through the story was why—that is, in virtue of what plausible natural, efficient, vaguely "real-world"-ic cause—these things had happened.  The main things one noticed in the music-pieces were that certain parts of them repeated whereas other parts of them did not; and that the parts that did repeat sometimes repeated exactly and at other times in an altered fashion.  I noticed for example, in the 1812 Overture that the most famous part, the marchy part (whose opening notes to me suggested the words "Pull the trigger and the airplane flies") turned up only at the end (measures 380-422); whereas the slow and drab and boring part for strings at the very beginning (measures 1-33) turned up again just before the famous part, but this time tricked out in plenty of raucous brass and percussion (measures 358-380).   Intervening like the filling of a club sandwich were at least two other parts that one heard once or twice each, the "From the Halls of Montezuma" part (measures 123-127 and passim) and the "Belly-dance of the green-skinned woman from Star Trek," part (measures 207-215 and 299-303), in not very markedly divergent instrumental guises.  The question of what one was curious about in such pieces was—and is—rather more difficult to answer.  Of course, in the specific case of the 1812 it does not seem particularly hard to answer at all, inasmuch as in this work we are dealing with a piece of so-called program music—i.e., a piece that is allegedly trying through musical means, and none too subtle ones at that, to tell some kind of a story; such that provided that one knows what that story is (and I did know what it was,[7] thanks to several abundantly annotated record-jackets), one ought to be reflecting on exactly the same sorts of things vis-à-vis it as one reflects on vis-à-vis any novel.  The moment one tries to apply the analogy, though, it crumbles to bits.  The most obvious narrative elements are the themes, which seem to correspond pretty tidily to characters: with the "Marseillaise" (a.k.a. "Montezuma") representing the French, "God Preserve Our Russian People" ("boring"/"raucous") representing the Russians, and so on.  But just imagine Dickens trying to rewrite A Christmas Carol along 1812-ian lines: Scrooge would not have a line of dialogue between the first ten pages and the last page but ten; he would be visited by Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Present not once but twice apiece; and the final tableau of the book would depict not Scrooge triumphantly blindsiding his nephew et al. at Christmas dinner, but rather, say, the delivery urchin of the penultimate scene triumphantly marching up and down the pavement in front of Scrooge's house hand-in-wing with the famous "largest turkey he could find."  Obviously musical themes behave like characters only in certain respects and command only a partly character-like interest.  Where characters in a novel or play act on each other largely by doing something—whether to each other or to objects of shared significance to them in their shared world—themes in a piece of music act on each other largely by simply existing in sequential juxtaposition with each other.  They are like hyper-neurotics who can literally be scared out of existence by the presence of certain other people.  Thus, in the 1812, for "God Preserve Our Russian People" to return at all after a half-dozen appearances of the "Marseillaise" over the course of ten minutes, is a triumph in itself; it has earned its stentorian orator's pipes and tintinnabulatory trimmings.  Another oddly un novel and play character-like attribute of musical themes is that, as if in gracious compensation for their neurotic shyness, they have no need to hog the limelight—or even to be on stage at all—once their ascendancy over their rivals has been established.  Thus, "God Preserve"'s yielding of the melodic line to "Pull the Trigger" is not tantamount to the victory of the new theme over the old one, but rather to a continuation of the old theme's triumphal procession, inasmuch as the new theme retains the old theme's triumphal character (in a non-personal, extra-novelistic cum dramaturgical sense).  All of these facets of musical structure I was aware of and interested in, as I said, well before my tenth birthday; and—I cannot make this sort of point often enough—any reader of mine who has listened to a piece of instrumental music no shorter or less complicated than the 1812 will also be aware of and interested in them.  Naturally (I say with insufferably smug, fingernail-scrutinizing detachment) by my eleventh birthday, I had moved on to much more upmarket listening fare, largely consisting of non-programmatic, purely so-called abstract genres of composition: the symphony, the concerto, and whatnot, doncherknow.   But the precipitous spike in mean ground rent of auditory real estate had hardly been paralleled by a correspondingly great leap forward along the biblio-analogical listening vector.  To be sure, in these more prestigious types of compositions, the structure was a bit tighter: for example, whereas in the 1812 Tchaikovsky had divided his assertion of the Russian Tongeist between two themes of completely different melodic constitution (i.e., "Belly Dance" and "and "God Preserve Our Russian People"), and accordingly had leaned rather heavily on the listener's extra-musical awareness of their shared Russian-ness, in his fifth symphony, he had managed to embody the spirit of fate—or something vaguely fate-like (vagueness is, after all, the hallmark of abstraction)—in a single theme reiterated in dozens of guises throughout four movements, and relied solely on the listener's intrinsically musical ability to spot the theme whatever appearance it might assume.  Accordingly, I found that there was a bit more to listen out for than there had used to be.  But only a bit; and truth be told, that bit has not been appreciably augmented in the twenty-seven years since, such that even today I often find my biblio-analogical reflections on a given work terminating in the vaguest intimation of a trans-sectional affinity of mood.  The clownish finale of Haydn's Symphony No. 54 in G major, for example, seems to me to be deliberately evoking the circusy atmosphere of that symphony's first movement; but my naked ear has as yet been unable to discern any material basis for the evocation, which is to say that none of the themes of the one movement sounds to me at all like any of those of those of the other.

3)  Its simultaneitudinousness.   The second word is admittedly ungainly, but its meaning should be instantly clear.  Simultaneitudinousness is nothing less or more (but anything more would be very much a muchness indeed) than the capacity and tendency to have more than one intelligible thing going on at one time.  My earliest memory of this capacity-cum-tendency tout court may be traced to the inexhaustible 1812 (I must not let slip an opportunity of boosting a lowbrow classic), specifically to those butcher's dozen measures (388-398) abutting on the coda, when "Pull the Trigger," was joined by a second melody identified by the jacket-annotators as "God Save the Tsar."[8] But my discovery that it could mean something I ascribe for want of an earlier example to the final scene from Wagner's Götterdämmerung (specifically to George Szell's recording of orchestral highlights from the Ring as issued in CBS's Great Performances series).  This scene, as any half-assed semi-Wagnerian knows, begins with the bearing of Siegfried's body to the funeral pyre and concludes with the immolation of Valhalla, the hall of the gods, in the flames ignited in this same pyre.  So, broadly speaking, there are two sections to the scene: the funereal part and the apocalyptic (purists would say "ragnarockian") part.  But of course Wagner gives us a hint during the funereal part that this isn't just some routine sendoff at Bakem and Plantem's, that the very Weltallordnung is at stake in these here obsequies, and his principal means of dropping that there hint or two was simultaneitudinousness, specifically his interpolation of the theme marking the destruction of Valhalla into the interstices of the funereal episode.  On the whole, I have to say, simultaneitudinousness has taken something of a back seat to biblio-analogousness in my conscious listening history.  On the whole, it has served as a kind of straggling junior partner to B-A, such that on the ninety-seventh listen-through of Symphony X (not "ten" but "ex") in only a quarter as many years, I happen to notice that some theme in whole notes buried way down in the double-basses is the same one that I heard whistled in sixty-fourth notes by the piccolo ten minutes later during listen-through number three; such that in turn I acquire a newfound respect for the former Mr. Piccolo of the sort one acquires for, say, the Earl of Kent in one's fourth read-through of King Lear.  It is not that I do not esteem simultaneitudinousness, but that I have a hard time perceiving it—at least in any way that I can make practical sense of.   I am trying to improve my perception of it, and my practical application of that perception; but it is still pretty rough going.


So these were the qualities that I had learned to appreciate in classical music by my tenth year through simply pointing my own two ears at a handful of orchestral warhorses, and without consulting any of the so-called literature on the subject apart, perhaps, from a hundred lines of LP sleeve-jacket commentary.  By and by, however, as any youngster who takes a shine to a subject will do, I sought out the tuition of my elders; and as none of the elders with whom I was personally acquainted seemed to know much about classical music, I was obliged to obtain this tuition from the publications of the Classical Music Appreciation Industry (referred to hereafter in these pages mainly and simply as the Industry).  By the Industry, I mean not-so-simply that vasty sea of publications pitched mainly if not exclusively by professional students of music to children and non-musicians.  To leave my description of the Industry at that is inevitably to leave the reader picturing to himself a library of For Mouth-Breathers and Before Your First Colonoscopy-style guides chock-full of trivial factoids and orts of gossip that would perforce be of little use or interest to their authors in their non-dumbing down professional lives.  On the whole, though, they were of a higher level of quality and sophistication than that.  True, The Oxford Junior Companion to Music seemed to interpellate its ideal reader as a twelve-year old schoolboy barely out of his short pants, in its consistent maintenance of an insufferably British "Mummy-promises-to-buy-you-an-extra-large-iced-lolly-if-you-finish-your-tea" sort of tone, but all the while it also seemed to be grooming this selfsame schoolboy to be the doyen of British music, the next or Lord Benjy Britten or Sir William Walton, as witnessed, for example by its introductory section on "The Music Manuscript" ["You will need a decent ruler, with a beveled edge (look along it and make sure it is straight!)…Note heads should be slightly oval.  They must be absolutely central on the line or in the space…Stems and heads must be joined.  Nothing looks worse, or is more difficult to read than this kind of thing…When writing rests, make sure the hooks go in the spaces and not across the lines" (OJCM, p. 17)]

As with Hooked-On Classics, mutatis mutandis (abbreviated hereafter in these pages simply as MM), it is tempting for effect's sake to overstate the depredations visited on me by the Industry, to exclaim here something to the effect of "Would that I had continued my explorations of the repertoire on my own, Émile-style, untrammeled by the officious interjections of a cicerone!"  But the truth is that I cannot quite or even half-quite throw out such an ejaculation in good faith; for on the whole-stroke-in the long run, the Industry has been very, very good to me, and I dare say I shouldn't know the difference between allegro and col legno or an English horn and a French one by now had it not been for its enlightenment.  But there is no denying that along with that enlightenment it also imparted to me a great deal of superstition that greatly facilitated my conquest by the pop-ular ravisher, and on this account I cannot help harboring for it something more than a soupçon of ressentiment to this very day, hour, and minute.  "But why," queries the reader in bemusement (or perhaps even alarm, while glancing at the shelved spine of his own copy of the Oxford Junior Companion to Music as at a package rumored to contain an explosive device) "should any thing or group of people called after all the Classical Musical Appreciation Industry be interested in getting young people and non-musicians interested in any form of popular music)?"  In all candor, DGR, I cannot say.  Indeed, in all hyper-candor, not being an Industry insider, I cannot even swear that it/they do have such an interest.  In all HC, I must admit that in sheer G****e-able terms, the Classical Musical Industry was very aptly named, that the proportion of its print-foot devoted to any sort of discussion of popular idioms and genres of any sort was pinkie toenail-sized at grossest, and that in tone much of this commentary was jaundiced (i.e., fungoid) and disapproving.  I can only comment on the effects of my ingestion of the Industry's precepts on my organism, which were in the long run, as I said before, to make me more receptive to pop.  Now, on rare occasions when the gloves are off, when the door is locked, when I have a jigger or ten of Jim or Jack in my belly, or when have you—when, in other words I am allowed to speak not merely in all candor, but in all frankness, I can be induced to admit that I suspect that the Industry's uppermost ranks have long since been infiltrated by pop-ulist saboteurs who have deliberately strived to conceal from the masses those elements of the classical repertoire that set it cubits above the dross of pop-ularity.  But this is all, to be sure, strictly on the Dee-Ell/entre nous, DGR, and even on such occasions of frankness I cannot fathom their motives.   

It is also tempting, mostly for the sake of compassion for the reader's patience, to pretend that agency-wise my enlightenment-cum-corruption by the Industry did not overlap by a single pica with my pure enlightenment by the Great Ones (see Section III below), that every single one of the authors and texts of the Vergangenheitsbewältigungepoche was a fresh discovery for me, that the Industry really was and may still be an industry in the full and smoothly rounded-off sense of the metaphor, that even at a pinch I could supply here an Index of Prohibited Books and Writers on Music the possession of which would spare the reader much if not all of "the bitterness that has colored my life gray."  All self-back-patting aside, during the epoch of partial corruption, I read as deeply and extensively about music as I could, and along the way I came across some pretty dry and technically-involved stuff, for example, Hans Keller [q. v.]'s article on Shostakovich or Donald Mitchell's books on the oeuvre of Gustav Mahler.  It is even quite likely that within such texts I encountered some of the full truths that I would later, during the Vergangenheitsbewältigungepoche, hold to be self-evident, full truths that manifestly contradicted and hence should have corrected the superstitions of those adolescent years, and hence have obviated the very eventuation of the Vergangenheitsbewältigungepoche tout court. On the whole, though, for whatever reason, these texts did nothing to dispel the pall of superstition imparted to me by the Industry, the same pall the reader is statistically bound to encounter if he turns to the Industry in search of musical enlightenment.  Conveniently enough, this pall, like its afore-delineated unsuperstitious analogue, is amenable to tripartite itemization, which will constitute the next section of my likewise tripartite argument.  (The reader will simply have to take my word for it that this scholastic tidiness [not unlike that of the syntax of the present sentence] is accidental and organic rather than artificial and imposed.)  Of these three sections, qua argument, this next one the most architechtonically peripheral, the most vestigial crenellated flying buttress of a Victorian Gothic revival cathedral-like; such that the reader who is naïve or shrewd enough to take my word on classical music as the last one—who, in other words, expects never to be tempted to crack the spine of a single Industrial publication—may as well now proceed directly to Section IV, where he will learn, inter alia, the true identity of the elements of the classical repertoire that set it cubits etc.  It is likely to appeal most of all—if at all—to the connoisseurs of autohagiography, particularly those non-white meat savoring pervs among them who like best the gamy episode recounting the future saint's collision with the (or is it "a"?) so-called rock bottom.  But I believe that even as a piece of pure intensive musical pedagogy it has its uses, inasmuch as, to judge by what I have chanced to hear emanating from the Industry's main broadcasting organs, BBC Radio 3 and American public radio, over the past decade, it is still up to its old tricks and has not learnt many new ones; such that the reader skeptical enough not to take my word on classical music as the last one, and yet shrewd enough not to be easily persuaded to take anyone else's for it either, will learn what he may expect from the competition.           

1.  The most worldview-changing of all of my Industry-derived discoveries was that of tonality, of which the biblio-analogical appeal that I prized so highly was a mere superstructural epiphenomenon according to the Industrial scribes.  At its kernel, tonality was indistinguishable from a phenomenon that I had known about since at least as far back as my mall piano-lesson days: namely, that of key, the centering of a string or cluster of notes around some particular note-letter.  More saliently, though, it was about the relation of keys to other keys within a particular piece of music, and about the shifting or modulation therein of one key into another, and then yet another, and then another still, and so on.  According to the Industry, only the very shortest and simplest pieces—pieces too short and simple even to be worth writing down, essentially—stayed in one key from beginning to end.[9]  Stasis of key was, in fact, the kiss of death to musical interest, and the longer a piece was, the more often it had to change keys, to modulate, in order end up being better than wretchedly unlistenable, let alone any damn good atoll.  Correlatively, the longest and most complex and hence (from a biblio-analog-ophile point of view) best pieces were perforce those that modulated the most often and contained the greatest total number of modulations.  At times it even seemed as if from the Industry's point of view the repetitions and transformations of melodic units that I had been listening out for were akin to consciousness as conceived in relation to brain activity by materialist philosophers: mere epiphenomena of the music's subcutaneous harmonic logic; and that if I were really paying attention to what was really going on, I would be listening out for the modulations alone.  

2.  The second-most important quasi-discovery I owed to the Industry was that of dissonance, which, like tonality, did partly correspond, albeit negatively and not by name, to something I had been familiar with for some time, namely the complementary notion of consonance.  From my piano lessons I had learned that a piece invariably ended on a chord or note-cluster that both comprised no more than three letters (e.g., C, E, and G) and sounded right as a final chord; and my subsequent education as a listener, although it could not confirm the bit about the three letters in the absence of scores, had resoundingly reaffirmed the bit about the right-sounding, in that none of the overtures, concertos, and symphonies that I admired—and very few that I had ever heard—had ended on dissonant chords, chords that sounded as though they were not of the C-E-G type.  Why anyone would want to use a chord with wrong notes in it, let alone end a piece on such a chord, quite escaped me; but the Industry assured me that many worthy composers had done both things, and that, indeed, many of the best and longest and most complex pieces were chock-full of wrong-note-ful chords and a few of these many had, yes, ended on them.  The difference between these hyper-dissonant pieces and the merely hyper-modulatory ones mentioned earlier was that most of them had been written fairly recently—well, fairly recently by classical-musical standards, meaning since about 1910, meaning in turn that as long as I confined my listening diet to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as I managed to do for a fairly long time, I could ignore the matter of dissonance altogether.  

3.  The third and last important discovery I owed to the Industry (NB: I do not term it the "third-most important discovery," as it is probably tied for "second-most"-place with dissonance) was that of counterpoint.  In one way, counterpoint seemed to correspond exactly with simultaneitudinousness, in that it was said to equal nothing more or less than (but anything, &c.) the playing-together of mutually distinguishable melodies.  In another way, it seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with simultaneitudinousness in that the art of it had apparently died out along with its master-practitioner, J. S. Bach, in 1750, and most of the pieces in which I had detected simultudeneous elements dated from 1820 at the earliest.  So the most salient thing to be remembered about counterpoint was that it was old-fashioned and outdated: from 1750 onwards forward-looking composers simply had not "done" counterpoint except as an occasional arid academic exercise bordering on pastiche.

It will be seen that none of these three discoveries was applicable in any practical way to my personal phenomenology of listening.  My aural sense of key was barely wide enough to encompass those non-modulating ten-bar ditties scoffed at by the Industry, and would probably not have been even that capacious had I not learned to play a few such tunes.  The Industry's description of key-changing neither rang a bell nor struck a chord in relation to anything I had ever listened out for in a piece of music.  To be sure, like all of my fellow aforementioned non-communists and non-Eskimos, I had always had a preternaturally keen nose (sic) for mode, for the difference between major or happy keys and minor or sad ones, such that I was fully attuned to the whole ex aspera ad astra thing—the grueling ascent from the depths of despair to the heights of joy—in such works as Beethoven's and Tchaikovsky's respective Fifths, which began in the keys of C minor and E minor, respectively, and ended in the keys of C major and E major (respectively).  But my appreciation of the upward-sloping grade of this cursus almost certainly would not have been disturbed had some musicological gremlin swapped the key signatures of the finales of these works prior to my first audition of each of them, such that the one ended in E major instead of C major and vice-versa; and, indeed, for all I know, I might not pick up on such a switcheroo even now that I have heard each piece through dozens if not hundreds of times.  If I had been more assiduous in seeking out the scores of my favorite works, or more thorough in my study of the half-dozen or so I did get hold of over the course of as many years, it is possible that I might have trained myself to detect modulations by ear, and thereby have acquired a hefting sense of the form-imparting powers of tonality—such that I would now know, for example, exactly what proportion of the circus-y continuity of Haydn's 54th symphony was owing to the continuity of G-major-ness as against the continuity of other elements.  But let us put a period to this tiresome, hand-wringing, if-my-aunt-had-balls-ist digression.  As for dissonance, its contribution to the biblio-analogophilic listening vector was if anything even more elusive and seemingly contingent than that of tonality, inasmuch as it was an apparently intrinsically disruptive force, something apparently bound to obscure rather than highlight relations between temporally disparate episodes of musical material.  Happily, though it might have been elusive it was at least temporarily eluctable, finitely postponable to the moment of my ultimately ineluctable first recce into the short twentieth century, inasmuch, as far as I knew, none of my eighteenth or nineteenth century pals had ever penned a work containing a single dissonant chord.  Of course, I was mistaken: in truth dissonance was as integral to the compositional technique of Haydn as to that of Hindemith or Henze, but my discovery that the arsenal of dissonant chords included not only such skyscraping monstrosities as the quadruple-forte ten-noter at the climax of the first movement of Mahler's Tenth Symphony, or the quintuple-forte twelve-noter in the final scene of Berg's Lulu, but also such innocuously low-slung cowboy chords as the affable old four-note dominant seventh, had to wait until the Vergangenheitsbewältigungepoche.   For the pre-millennial decade-and-a-half long moment, dissonance was coeval with and tantamount to musical modernism.  And when I finally got round to making that recce into the short twentieth century—whose spoils consisted almost entirely of orchestral and chamber works by such moderately modern masters as Shostakovich and Britten–the most favorable thing I found to say (to myself, naturally) about dissonance was that that in virtue of its disruptive strangeness it tended to make it a bit more of a challenge to follow the argument of the pieces in which it was most prevalent; but to say that one owed one's understanding of the piece to its high dissonance quotient seemed a bit like attributing one's pleasure in solving a smudgily-printed crossword puzzle to its constituent ink and paper.  Finally, counterpoint was a kind of symmetrically negative complement to dissonance, something that I could afford to put off learning to understand until I got round to making a recce backwards into the early eighteenth century; but this recce, unlike its twentieth-century counterpoint, erm, counterpart, could seemingly be postponed indefinitely, inasmuch as the great contrapuntal masterpieces of pre-1750, unlike the great dissonantal ones of post-1900, were apparently devoid of biblio-analogical interest.  For generically speaking counterpoint basically meant the fugue, and no fugue that I had ever heard had gone on for longer than ten minutes, nor had any collection of fugues that I had ever heard amounted to anything even superficially as coherent and dramatic as a symphony.

So this about sums up my musical credo circa (not anno domini) 1987: the greatest music, as far as I knew or was concerned, was harmonically restive, dissonant, and non-contrapuntal.  And of course, it very much was a credo, inasmuch as none of its articles had yet been satisfactorily demonstrated to me; and so, in the absence of aural proof, I "managed a leap of faith, as the theologians say," as the great Glenn Gould once said in reference to not dissimilar circumstances, and trusted that eventually I would be able to hear what modulation, dissonance, and non-contrapuntality were all about, to hear at rivulet resolution their contributions to the Mississippian grandeur of each and every one of my favorite symphonies-fleuves.  Corollarily, like most other credos, this one protected the believer against the temptations proffered, whether deliberately or involuntarily, by rival faiths.  As yet, I had not been even faintly allured by the dry-ice and aerosol-incensed ceremonials of the mid-eighties church of pop, but if I had been I would surely have immediately availed myself of the following fiend-proof exorcist's incantation: "Harmonies [in rock music] can be complex and dissonant, but whole pieces are often based on one or two chords."[10]  What more fittingly concrete antithesis of harmonic restiveness could be desired, after all, than a piece based on two chords, nay (semi-often-ly) a single chord?  But what about that first clause, the one emphasizing the Industry-endorsed qualities of dissonance and harmonic complexity?  Therein, alas and indeed, what the Industry took away from the incubus of pop with one hand, it gave thereunto with the other.  So long as I remained even vaguely predisposed to regard harmonic restiveness as the cardinal article of my faith in classical music, that faith was impervious; but if dissonance were ever promoted to first place, it would be instantly toppled by my first encounter with a single example of dissonant non-classical music.

The first and probably most decisive assault on the citadel of my faith, however, came not from without but from within, and moreover was not even directed at the credo but rather at the more primal, pre-credal binding tie that was biblio-analogical interest.  The reader may have noticed a striking lacuna in my musical-educational CV; he may have noticed that I have so far made no mention of a single work of vocal music.  This absence is hardly accidental, in that throughout the period under discussion I was essentially ignorant of the entire classical vocal repertoire.  No less hardly was the ignorance itself an accident.  In part it sprang from a pre-primal revulsion from the classical singing voice, a revulsion that I have not managed to quell completely as of the present spring of 2010.  I did not care for the sound of the human voice as used by the likes of Messrs. Pavarotti and Domingo and Mistresses Sills and Norman, and when it was laid atop a hundred-plus real, acoustic woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion, it seemed rather to detract from than to contribute to the richness of that ensemble's sonority.  Another disincentive was the manifestly un-biblio-analogical character of vocal music's flagship genre, the opera.  At present I can see how, of course, from a certain wrongheaded point of view, opera is the most biblio-analogical of all musical genres: I mean, for fudge's sake, one of its indispensable constituents is a certain item known as a libretto, literally a little book, which includes all of the elements proper to that sort of book known as a play.  But the integrality of this here libretto was (and still is) just the problem with opera, inasmuch as the argument provided by the onstage human drama seemed to let the composer off the hook of providing anything analogous in his music—and if, like Wagner, he perversely insisted on being kept on the hook, he ended up perforce [11] producing a work that was best heard in ignorance of the libretto and with the vocal track set to zero.

But in the autumn of 1986, a one-off brush with a queer vocal genre known as the lied (a.k.a das Lied, a.k.a. the art song) suggested the possibility that not all sung music need be inherently ridiculous and devoid of biblio-analogical interest.  The encounter was quite undeliberate and accidental, an epiphenomenon of my purchase of a double-length cassette of Rafael Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra's recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 5, to which had been appended as B-side filler GM's quasi-juvenile Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (or "Songs of a Wayfaring Lad/Fellow/Dickhead"), as sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (and backed by Kubelik and his band).  Two-edged-swordically, the j-card did not include a lyric sheet, such that, in my almost total ignorance of German, I could be neither drawn into Mahler's schematic narrative of jilted love nor repelled by its broad topical overlap with many an opera libretto.  On the face of it the lied eo ipso was even more deserving of a biblioanalogophile's scorn than was the opera, inasmuch as at three minutes' average duration it was barely long enough to fill out anything analogously more spacious than a pamphlet.  But LefG was not merely one lied but a collection of lieder that occupied the better part of a half an hour, the length of a Haydn symphony; it was, moreover, not a collection merely thrown together at random but one conceived and ordered as a whole, a cycle as it was officially called.  So, too, it might plausibly have been objected, was the assemblage of arias, ensemble pieces, choruses, and dances comprised by the ditziest opera in the bel canto repertoire, but in LefG the strictly musical integrity of the thing was much easier to perceive.  To be sure, there was no apparent motivic continuity between or among the constituent units—for example, the principal melody of the first song, "Ging heut' morgen" sounded nothing at all like that of the second, "Ich Hab ein glühendes Messer" (although, to be sure, this also seemed to be true of many Haydn symphonies); but for all that the rudest outlines of an argument could clearly be discerned at the resolution of mode and tempo: 'Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht" was fairly slow and minor-moded, "Ging heut'" was fairly fast and major-moded, "Ich Hab ein glühendes Messer" was very fast and minor-moded, and finally, as befitted a cyclical form, "Die Zwei blauen Augen" was minor-moded like the first song, and even slower.  So the whole structure of the cycle looked like this: (s/m, f/M, F/m, S/m).  An attractive schema, no?  I mean, it's hardly the Mona Lisa, let alone Beethoven's Fifth or Mahler's First, but you wouldn't kick it out of bed for eating crackers, would you?  And if a schema of this sort is sufficiently pleasing to you, so very likely will be that of any pop album, from the most intellectually upmarket prog-rock classic (e.g., King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King) to the most critically-decried piece of preteen-targeted persiflage (e.g., B******y S****s' Whoops I Did it Again); this not of course because either Robert Fripp and co. or that fairly famous record producer who compiled the B***** S*****s album are compositional geniuses on the level of Gustav Mahler but because aesthetic patterns of this sort and resolution have not a tendency but an implacable will to emerge whenever songs or songish things are deliberately grouped together.  Please note approvingly, dear reader, that I have not succumbed to the vulgar elitist temptation to presuppose an absence of intentionality in any pop artifact—that I am not identifying the typical or even exceptionally bad pop album with the strawmannish "collection" of songs "thrown together at random" outlined in silhouette a few sentences ago.  I said deliberately grouped together and I meant deliberately grouped together, and in point of fact I really do believe that at this level of composition if no other, the pop musician brings to bear as much presence of mind and organizational mastery as the classical composer.  Certainly, the results suggest as much: even after all these years and despite my total disaffection from the pop idiom, I still appreciate how the quiet acoustic rusticism of "Wendell Gee", the last song on R. E. M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction forms the perfect counterpoise to the loud electric moodiness of that album's first number, "Feeling Gravitys Pull."  And I am sure that the young Athenians spent many hundreds of minutes ordering, reordering, and winnowing the twenty or so tracks they had recorded for that album before settling on a group and sequence of twelve tracks that sounded right to them.  But the fact remains that they had only about twenty songs to choose from; and so does the probability that that this round score was the product not of long deliberation about the kind of album they wanted to "write" but merely of a yearlong spell of piecemeal song"writing."  Hence there can be little if any question of assimilating the organization of either a classical song cycle or a pop album to either of those inescapable mythic topoi of artistic so-called creation, the Kantian flash of inspiration wherein the work of art qua thing-in-itself is revealed to the artist at one go, or the Michelangelinian forearm-workout of disclosure, whereby the artist gradually and laboriously chips away everything superfluous to the finished work which is held already to be standing fully formed at the center of the block of marble (or cow-dung or what have you).  Howbeit, there is and was no disputing the efficacy of this low-level artistic activity—a plausible analogue to, say, the color-coordination of fabrics by fashion designers or of paints by interior decorators [and no, Rollo, fashion design and interior decoration emphatically are not arts]—in supplementing aesthetic interest either unprovided-for or unnoticed at higher levels.  A case in point (the pivotal one of this essay, as it happens): from my zygotehood onwards, like each and every one of my contemporaries (barring yet again the accursed eskimoes if not the hippies), I have been bombarded day in and day out by hours of electrified pop music, but the first fifteen years of this bombardment made almost no impression on me, because it was uniformly applied and hence remained perceivable only via the bite-sized medium of the individual pop song.  And even when, at that ridiculously tough and long-in-the-toothish age of fifteen, I was finally first bitten by the pop pubic louse, it was merely at the epidermal level of "cool-soundingness," and within this level at the non-blood-drawing sub-level of vocal timbre, inasmuch as my principal feeling was one of relief at hearing for the first time non-classical vocalists sing rather than shriek like banshees (chiefly of the non-Siouxsiean variety).  For nearly two years afterwards, my pop fandom held static at the level of a lukewarm curiosity that, as I recall, manifested itself principally in my occasionally tuning in to the two hours of so-called alternative rock offered on my local classical-and-jazz radio station, which in turn prompted me more occasionally to query my more passionately pop-affecting friends about the provenance, history, migratory pattern, or what have you, of this or that pop band.  It was only after one of these friends, Annalynn A., finally responded to this curiosity by lending me an album-length CD, Big Plans for Everybody, by one of these bands, Let's Active, that I began to develop a full-fledged craving for pop music.  Only after, but also immediately after: for it took only two or three listens-through to this collection to make me feel every bit as much at home in its particular Ordnungsgeist as I had come to feel at home in that of LefG two years earlier, and as I was at the very same time coming to feel in Mahler's longest and only album-length song cycle, Des Knaben Wunderhorn.  There was something imponderably reassuring in the thought that Big Plans would always open with the jubilant "In Little Ways" and always close with the rollicking psychabilly instrumental "Route 67," and be divided exactly in half by the moody "Talking to Myself"—the very thought of availing myself of the shuffle function on my player would have touched off in me a frisson of horror.

From Let's Active it was an easy, albeit costly (and therefore slow) transition to their more illustrious contemporaries and subcultural brethren (R. E. M. the Violent Femmes, and the Pixies), and thence to their subcultural progenitors (the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, and Wire), and finally to their poor but critically-esteemed first cousins, the unreconstructedly blokey but flagrantly pretentious hardcore noise rockers of  the American  mid-west and mid-Atlantic (Fugazi, Big Black, and Sonic Youth).  All the while, from the spring of '89 to the summer of '91, I continued to augment and broaden my acquaintance with the classical repertoire, suspecting from the skin of my heart inwards that my love affair with pop was "too hot not to cool down," that it "might last but surely couldn't," that even the most sophisticated achievements in this register were "too moronic for words."  But in this last cohort, that of the American noise-rockers, my classical faith finally met a fiend that was something of a match for it.  These noise-rockers, you see, were the first pop musicians whose work I had ever heard described as "dissonant" (as distinct from such musically-neutral qualifiers as "aggressive," "loud," and "insufferable"); the first popsters who had discovered, as apparently neither Haydn, nor Beethoven, nor Brahms had done, that music need not be harmonically centered on the simple major and minor common chords.  Why, on no fewer than two occasions I had even heard the dreaded-yet-venerated a-word—no, not asshole, but atonal—bandied about in connection with one of them.  And that was really saying something in/to my ears; for dissonance I had already encountered aplenty by then on the classical side courtesy of the works of the aforementioned moderately modern masters, but atonality was a somewhat different kettle of immeasurably bigger sharks, one that I had barely dipped my toe into (yuck!/ouch!) via a handful of works by the purportedly unwilling—and hence anodyne[12]—atonalist Alban Berg.  If these noise-rockers really were churning out album after album of atonal masterpieces, then they were clearly decades ahead of virtually every classical composer whose oeuvre I was yet acquainted with.  "What a pack of squares those eighteenth and nineteenth century longhairs were," I sneered to myself with young-Brando-esque smugness, and I wasn't talking about cigarettes or agoutis.

But there was worse obloquy in store for these longhaired squares.  College, especially the early part of it, is pseudo-traditionally a pseudo-epoch for experimentation, and in my freshman college year I got into my head the wildly experimental (for me) idea of studying music systematically, under the tutelage of a real professor with a real Ph. D.  Actually, I think Steve M., my music theory professor, only had an MA, but never mind that—the point is that what with his being a music professor and therefore a professional musician of sorts and this course of his's being an official college course pitched at prospective music majors rather than some Industry-sponsored series of chautauqua lectures pitched at the goshawful little old lady from Dubuque, I was inclined to regard pretty much all of his ex-cathedra musical-theoretical pronouncements as field-voidingly authoritative.  So when on one fine or foul day towards the end of the semester (for I took only one semester of the course), he breezily averred that "There's nothing wrong with simple I-IV-V-I chord progressions—for goodness's sake, Mozart never used any others," I immediately concluded that from a harmonic—and hence, definitive—point of view, the entire eighteenth-century component of the classical tradition was indistinguishable from the most willfully moronic strain of pop; that essentially, your average or even very best Haydn or Mozart symphony was just a kind of shorter Ramones album.

At this moment I instituted a kind of open immigration policy in my music library, a policy that while being fair and impartial in principle could not fail of favoring the unwashed and ever-pullulating masses of pop albums in practice.  For, having at last essentially succumbed to the wantonly, satanically latitudinarian position that it was "all just music, mohhhn," I ceased to be influenced by any thought of a preemptive obligation to the classical repertoire and allowed my choice of new recordings to be governed entirely by mere unreflective curiosity—and how feeble perforce was the attraction exerted on that faculty by a one-opus wide gap in my acquaintance with the Beeethoven symphonies, or the Shostakovich quartets, by comparison with my twenty CD-spanning ignorance of the entire discography of Shitty Shit and the Shitfucks, to say nothing of my criminal benightedness on the score of 497 of the 500 bands responsible for the spluffle revival movement of the late-mid-1980s!  By the time of my graduation, in early 1994, the pop section of my library was almost twice as large as the classical one.

All the same, being at heart (as I now realize) more of a Kantian idealist than a Deweyian (?) pluralist, and retaining as I did an affection and esteem for the classical works I had grown up with, I could not manage to renounce the idea of a truly comprehensive aesthetics of music, one that would not only have room for both Mahler and R. E. M., but would somehow manage to show that they, along with all of the other greats both pop-ular and classical, were essentially roommates and happy to be such.  This will to unearth a musical Ding-an-sich manifested itself in a number of ways and media; for example, in the sequencing of a car stereo mix-tape so that Joy Division's "Ceremony" immediately followed the first Ricercar from Bach's Musical Offering, the better for bringing out, as I thought, the specifically ecclesiastical spirituality of the pop track.  Its most ambitious manifestation, however, was surely my design to compose and perform a rock arrangement of the entirety of Schubert's double-LP length song cycle Die Winterreise.  In a certain not- uncommonsensical register this arrangement seemed at once needful, logical, and practicable.  It seemed needful because none of the many classically-derived pop tunes that I was aware of had ever amounted to a proper cover-to-cover cover of its source; each of them, rather, had simply cannibalized that source, extracting the catchiest motif or melody thereof therefrom and then milking it for all it was worth, as they say, into the standardized milk-bucket that was the conventional Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-type pop song.  It seemed logical because the Winterreise was, after all, like a pop album, composed of songs that were meant to be both sung and played rather than of movements that were meant to be merely played.  And it seemed practicable because Schubert (1797-1828) had been a near-contemporary of Mozart (1756-1791), that same Mozart who had never used anything but I-IV-V-I chord progressions, the sorts of progression that were palpably executable on a guitar even by a beginning student of the instrument such as I, who was then making my willfully unassisted way through level one of the Mel Bay guitar course, the pop guitarist's equivalent of Teaching Little Fingers to Play.  To be sure, I knew that with my untrained and pretty much untested voice there could be no question of rendering the vocal line with any of the technical finesse of a professional lied singer—"Fischer-Dieskau war ich nicht," as Lenny Bernstein would have said—but at the same time, I could not fathom how such technique could impart anything genuinely indispensable to the rendition of a what was presumably and essentially a I-IV-V-I pop song en avant la lettre.  And so I sat Injun-style on the bongwater-stained and cigarette-burnt, puce and black houndstooth-patterned 55/45 Orlon/Dacron-carpeted floor of my dorm room[13], Universal Edition or Schirmer pocket score butterflied under my bare toes, and audaciously tried to bash out a rough draft of a performance of my cover.  But from the very beginning, well before the entrance of the voice, there was simply nothing doing.  To be sure, the chords were all readily identifiable, but there was no way of playing them that could be made to sound remotely like the opening measures of "Gute Nacht," as I had heard them sung and played on record.  It was obvious that the anticipation of the vocal line in the soprano register of the accompaniment, while not changing the identity of the chords, somehow effected a salient transformation of their texture and character.  To do full justice to this transformation on the git fiddle, I would have had to play one six-note chord after another rooted in the vocal line, an absurd maneuver that naturally would have made mincemeat of the harmony.  Obviously, I then thought, there was something to be said for paid lessons with a professional guitarist beyond the first-grade Mel Bay level.  Little did I then suspect, let alone know, that the impassable hurdle to the realization of my lied-covering scheme was sited not in my technique but in the pop idiom itself, or that this selfsame hurdle would eventually prove the most material barrier to my enjoyment of pop tout court.


From this point onwards, for the next ten years, the history of my relations with music are like that of the world since 1914: exceedingly, even spectacularly, unpleasant, but also remarkably unremarkable in point of genuine novelty.  Let us accordingly fast-forward a decade to 2002, to the beginning of the Vergangenheitsbewältigungepoche.  I had no set method for bewältiging that there vergangenheit, apart from trying to get back into to my old pre-collegiate habit of acquainting myself with reputedly great or seminal works that I did not expect to like much, and to be something nearer to a completist this time round.  So this time round I did not allow Alban Berg to stand as a synecdoche for the entire Second Viennese School: I forced myself to listen to Schoenberg and Webern; nor did I allow Haydn's paternity of the genre of the string quartet long to remain a rumor: I forced myself to call on all 80-plus of his quartet-children one triplet or sextuplet set at a time.  All secondary literature of a general music-appreciative cast I eschewed like the pox, for I had been burned badly once before by the Industry and was inflexibly determined not to "get fooled agin" thereby.  So: no What to Listen for in Music for Me, let alone (yes) Classical Music for Mouth-Breathers or 10,000 Classical Recordings You Simply Must Listen to before Your First Colonoscopy this time round.  Monographs on specific works, composers, schools, or periods, however, were not off-limits, provided that they bore titles sufficiently stuffy and uninviting to prove that they were not pitched at a general audience; and by keeping within these ascetic limits I eventually became acquainted with the core critical canon of the Great Ones, comprising A Companion to Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas by Donald Francis Tovey, The Great Haydn Quartets by Hans Keller, and The Classical Style and The Romantic Generation by Charles Rosen.  I do not pretend even now to have comprehended a fraction of the knowledge and wisdom contained in these profound and difficult books, but even from my very first skimming of them, I learned a good deal that demolished my encrusted Industry-derived idees recues and corollarily demolished a number of the notions about pop that I had derived from them in turn. 

In the first place (I learned), non pace Professor M., neither Mozart nor either of his two most illustrious contemporaries, Haydn and Beethoven, had confined himself to I-IV-V-I chord progressions.  In point of fact, the work of all three masters fairly pullulated with an often-literally dizzying array of other relations—to mediants (IIIs), submediants (VIes), supertonics (IIs), and leading tones (VIIs), and the naked Ramonesian I-IV-V-I progression was in fact seldom or never heard in a Haydn or Mozart or Beethoven symphony.  At the same time, the harmonic logic of the eighteenth-century sonata-form masterpieces was an equally far cry from a free-for-all everything pizza-esque manifestation of abbondanza attributed to them, and a fortiori, their nineteenth century successors, by the Industry. 

Secondly, the period of 1770 to 1820 had not amounted to one big, half century-long consonance-fest.  To the contrary, it had been a veritable golden age of dissonance; nay, the one and only golden age thereof, the first and as-yet last time in the history of music when that element exerted a determinant, shaping force on the large-scale structure of works rather than merely imparted expressive color in short bursts to individual passages.  True, unlike Richard Strauss, Haydn would never have ended a piece on a fortissimo quartet of superimposed minor ninths, but there was more to dissonance than mere noise.  Indeed, the essence of dissonance was not intervallic harshness in the abstract, but movement away from the tonic note; such that in a passage in C major a plain old A major triad could turn out to be effectively more dissonant than a C minor ninth chord, inasmuch as it contained no Cs, and more unabashedly asserted the claims of a rival tonic center.   

Thirdly, the art of counterpoint had not died with J. S. Bach, and remarkably little of the music composed after 1750 could have been without great license termed "homophonic."  In point of fact, the eighteenth-century classical masters were all perfectly capable of bashing out a competent fugue in their respective sleeps, and all of them wrote a good many excellent ones, mostly as finales to string quartets and piano sonatas.  Their greatest contrapuntal achievements, though, were to be found in non-fugal essays—in minuets and rondos and scherzos and first-movement allegros and single and double-variation sets—and were dependent on a marvelous prestidigital technique unknown to Bach, and known (to Haydn first, and then others) as obbligato accompaniment, wherein "the accompanying voices, while still subordinate to the main voice, are created from the same motifs that make up the principle themes" (Rosen, Classical Style, xiii).  Here was solved the mystery of simultaneitudinousness.  It was neither my fault nor the composer's that I sometimes found it hard to tell whether a particular stream of notes was really a melody or not, for every non-melody was always on its way to becoming a melody, and vice-versa.

Holding together this whole marvelously new-modeled kit-and-caboodle, at an even more elemental level, was apparently something called voice-leading.  I say "apparently" because none of my sources ever went so far as explicitly to assign such a mucilaginous purpose or function to VL.  Rather, they seemed to take its essentiality as well as its essence for granted, in that they referred to it only parenthetically or by happenstance while addressing some other topic, as in the following constructions: "While the dramatic interest of this passage would be enhanced by an ascending sequence, voice-leading demands a descending one," and "For all of his iconoclasm, X was in many ways a very traditional composer, as witnessed, for example, by his consistently impeccable voice-leading," and "Upstairs, Mr. X, we have household appliances.  (Mind you don't get your voice-leading caught in the escalator)."   To this day, I have not been able to find a definition of it in any lay or professional reference work.  The closest I have come is the 1983 edition of the International Cyclopaedia of Music and Musicians, which to its credit at least has an entry for VL.  To the right of the lemma for that entry, one reads: see COUNTERPOINT.  When one subsequently turns to COUNTERPOINT one observes that while there are scads of appearances of the words "voice" and "voices," there is not a single one of "leading," or of any other inflection of "lead."  And so I have had to define it myself, as follows: "Voice-leading is a comprehensive term for all of the ways whereby one insures that that there is no contrapuntal dead wood, so to speak, in the audible texture of a work; that each individual part or voice in a composition can be distinctly heard from one beat and measure to the next."  Each of any two or more notes sounded simultaneously is a potential voice, but only through competent voice-leading can one insure that it is realized as such in the next sounding of an equal number of notes, that the musical equivalent of A, B, and G followed by N, E, and O spells out AN, BE, and GO rather than, say, AE, BO, and GN.  As for the enumeration of the aforementioned ways of and in which competent voice-leading consists, well, sheer ignorance in combination with some moribund ghost of a regard for the reader's patience prevents me from supplying anything like a comprehensive list thereof but I can think of two of them.  The first is harmonic thrift.  One must think of the harmonic spectrum comprised by the treble and bass clefs as precisely analogous to the radiophonic spectrum of the airwaves: there is room for one voice only at each line or space, such that if the melody played by one instrument is heading towards a place already occupied by a melody played by another instrument, there is nothing for that other instrument to do but to get out of the way if it wants to continue to be distinguishably audible (as against being drowned out like WBJC by W**Q).  But what if the most obvious line or space for it to occupy is in its turn already occupied by a melody played by a third instrument?  Why then, that third instrument has to step aside, and so on.  Hence, one is well-advised qua aspiring master voice-leader to keep one's manuscript as uncluttered by black dots as one can manage.  If you are writing a song for, say, soprano human voice and orchestra and you start out with a flute solo Such competent practice involves above all else the avoidance of certain parallel intervals, notably fifths and octaves.  "And what exactly are parallel intervals," the reader asks?  [Sigh of exasperation mingled with sympathy.]   Alas, my sources have been even less forthcoming in defining this term than in defining voice-leading for me.  And alas-squared, probably because they have been less forthcoming, I am not really capable of supplying a definition on my own.  Mercifully, though, I am pretty sure I know what parallel intervals are, and that in place of a definition I can provide a set of instructions that will do just as well, and on top of that hook the reader up with a folk etymology for the peculiar sense of parallel that is employed in the term.  Anyway, here are your instructions: On an ordinary five-line music staff draw a vertical line between two dots separated from each other by two or four of the horizontal staff lines, in other words, by a fifth or an octave.  Now, to the right of this line, and beginning at any higher or lower level of the staff, set down two more dots separated by the same number of staff lines as the first two, and connect this second pair of dots with a vertical line.  Finally, draw a pair of diagonal lines connecting the top and bottom points, respectively of the two vertical lines.  The figure that you have just described is of course a parallelogram, and that is exactly the sort of constellation you will want to avoid outlining pointillistically as a would-be competent voice-leader, opting instead to set down the vertices of trapezoids and those things that look like lopsided bowties, to compose progressions in which gaps of a fifth or an eighth are constantly dwindling or increasing to larger or smaller-sized gaps.  You will want to do this for two reasons. Firstly, because, however attractive a parallelogramesque progression may look on paper, in performance it will not come across as a progression of two voices at all, inasmuch as in the course of it the four pitches involved in it do not progress at all relative to each other, any more than do the images of two stationary people on a television screen when one shifts the entire set a foot to the right or left.  Good voice-leading thus ensures something more than merely analogous to the sense of motion one gets from watching a dramatic scene acted within a stationary frame.  Secondly, because melodies, like people, do not routinely move in giant, flight-bridging leaps but in modest ascents and descents of one or two steps each; and persistent fifths and octaves tend either to annihilate such melodies by barging into them, or leave them high and dry by skulking off to some remote part of the clef.  

In the absence of competent voice-leading, neither the virtues of classical music that I appreciated as a youngster, nor those that I have come to appreciate as adult, may be consistently realized.  The obbligato accompaniment defaults on its obligations and leaves the overstrained outer voices to keep the show going as best they can like a pitiful soprano and tuba duo.  Earlier, I likened voice-leading to glue, but perhaps it would be more apt to figure it as the circulatory system of composition, so much does all sense of movement in any direction and in any register depend on it.

Of course, to most of the classical masters voice-leading was second nature, but there is a reason we call such rudimentary skills—from voice-leading, to spelling, to shoe-tying—second nature, namely, that they are all to [sic / e.g.] vulnerable to pre-emption and even obliteration by our fallible first one, such that we should not be unduly scandalized to hear tell (as I have) of a set of parallel fifths' or octaves' occasionally insinuating itself into the autograph of no less magisterial a master than Bach or Mozart; nor of the very odd genuine bust-worthy classical Pantheonite (i.e., Hector Berlioz), who never quite got it in any of the usual senses; nor, finally, of an entire—ahem—school of music to whom the very idea of it was and is virtually unknown.  In this last item I am of course alluding to pop, and thereby finally pointing up obliquely and ever so gently what is ultimately so objectionable, and indeed anathematizable, about it. 

By way getting a palpable sense of this shortcoming, let us return to my half-assed jab at covering Schubert's "Gute Nacht," and in the most succinct and least jargon-ridden terms possible, attempt to describe what was actually in those first few measures of the score, and what portion of it I was capable of realizing on the electric guitar, through the use (however maladroit) of state-of-the-art pop methods.  The first measure of the song consists of four eighth-note iterations of a three-voiced D minor triad in 1-3-5 position—that is, with the tonic note D in the lowest register, the dominant (5th) note, A, in the middle, and the mediant (3rd) note at the top; on the fourth iteration it is joined by an extra F at the top of the treble clef.  To my very mild embarrassment, I now see that this chord can very nearly be played according to Mel on the guitar: taken up an octave or three and minus an extra D interlarded between the A and the F, it corresponds exactly to the default D minor chord formation to be pricked out and strummed on the upper four strings of the instrument.  The chord I am pretty sure I played in lieu of this one, though, was the much more resonant A-form D-minor bar chord, which consists (and consisted) of six pitches and was (and is) framed by two As at the top and bottom.  But even if I had been playing the right chord, the classic four-voiced D minor chord, in the first measure, by the first beat of the third measure I would have found myself running smack dab-cum-Wile E. Coyote style into the pathetically impenetrable voice-leading barrier of my idiom.  You see, on that beat the triad switches from the 1-3-5 position to the 1-5-3 one; that is, the position in which the middle note, F, is actually in the middle, and the top note, A, is actually on top.  On the piano, the change could have been effected by minutely displacing two of the four fingers involved in the performance and leaving the other two in place.  On the guitar, by contrast, I would have had to move every finger in my hand up a full seven frets to play the next most commonly- used D minor triad (the wrong one in any case), thereby actuating one of those parallelogramesque pseudo-progressions described earlier.  The whole point of the shift from the 1-3-5 chord to the 1-5-3 chord is to make room for the melodic line that anticipates the entrance of the singer in the seventh measure; a descending line that begins on the high F of the treble clef in the last beat of the first measure and that by the second beat of the third has dropped far enough down to have need of the A formerly occupied by the middle note of that 1-3-5 chord.  From a strictly harmonic point of view—a chord's eye point of view, as it were—there is absolutely no movement in these three measures: each of them spells out a root-position D minor triad.  But of course the score-reader, the pianist, and the listener all alike perceive that something quite salient and dramatic happens here, namely that a melodic line beginning on a high F descends to a middle F along a (melodic) minor scale, beginning against the background of a lower-registered D minor chord, and ending by being absorbed into that background.  These three measures say, "We are in D minor.  But aren't we perhaps going to be in F major perhaps?  No, we are in D minor after all."[14] For the first measure I chose the most commonly-used and most resonant of all pop-configurations of the D minor triad, the A-form bar chord at the fifth fret.  As the head of a "Gute Nacht"-ian voice-leading chain, this chord has several shortcomings.  The one that I cannot avoid mentioning is that in contrast to the root-position triad in the score, it is a chord of the second inversion, one in which the note of the fifth position, A, is lowest in pitch.  But probably the most vitiating one is its intervallic over-laden-ness, its consisting of six pitches as against the three of Schubert's original.  Here, for example, the soprano register that must be occupied by that high F in the final beat of the first measure is already occupied by a high A.  And when one switches, as I did at the beginning of my (ahem) version of the second measure, to the next-most-common D-minor configuration, the E-form bar chord at the tenth fret, things do not get any better.  Now there are still too many pitches: six as against Schubert's four.  What is more, and just as bad, the progression from to this chord from the last (i.e., first) one has described a veritable set of parallel fifths and octaves, a skyscraping pancake stack of redundant intervals.  Essentially, the second chord is the same as the first one, minus the lowest A and plus an extra D at the top, such that one hears the transition between the two as a two-and-a-half octave wide leap across a river of monotonous minor-hued sludge.  With that switch from the A-form to the D-form chord I effectively exhausted the pop guitarist's range of playable D minor triads, and as the first stress-bearing chord of a different root did (and does) not occur until the 16th measure, with the abrupt change to F major at the beginning of the second stanza, I was (or would have been) obliged to pound out these selfsame two chords in alternation (or succession: it would make precious little aural difference) for the best part of a minute before getting any relief from them.  No wonder I gave up.

Aficionados of the guitar are bound to point out to me that I did not avail myself of the tiniest fraction of the voice-leading capabilities of this noble instrument, perhaps even that there are numerous remarkably faithful transcriptions of "GN" for voice and guitar.  This first indication I know to be true, and I should not be at all surprised if the second one were true as well.  But neither of them is in any way germane to my polemic, inasmuch as whether "composing" his own songs or arranging those of others no self-fellating pop singer-guitarist ever seeks to exploit any fraction of his instrument's voice-leading capabilities, and hence no remotely faithful transcription of a classic Lied such as "Gute Nacht" would ever be of any use even in the most pretentiously arty pop setting.  The pop singer-guitarist has nothing to work with but bar chords and must accommodate himself to their voice-leaderly limitations.  Owing to the bar chord's perfidious tendency to trail parallel fifths and octaves like so many paired wads of chewing gum or toilet paper,[15] he is obliged to change root-notes as often as possible, ideally once per measure.  (As the stopwatch second-hand flies, most pop songs are halfway over and have cycled through more than a dozen root-note changes by the time they reach the moment of the first root-note change in "Gute Nacht.")   And owing to the bar-chord's mammoth, impermeable, die-cast six-layer featherbed vertical structure, he is obliged to confine his vocal line to an unobtrusive and melodically redundant seconding of each root note.  Of course, if he is a competent scale-player (or yodeler for that matter) who has a hankering for writing full-fledged stepwise-moving melodies, he can get this urge out of his system during the traditional break for the solo.  But however intricate or tuneful this solo may be, it will perforce bear scant formal relation to the remaining three-quarters or nine-tenths of the song; at best and most cogently, it will faintly suggest what might have been done within that majority fraction if every participating voice thereof had been forced to proceed so scrupulously.

Ultimately and of course, though, I am concerned not with the plight of the pop guitarist, but with my own plight as a listener, and towards my extrication from this plight voice-leading has proved a veritable philosopher's stone—or, to employ a more current if less precise metaphoric vehicle, a panacea.  First of all, I now understand how it was possible for me, a reasoning classical-music affecting guy, to be seduced at the age of sixteen by the banal blandishments of pop.  Yes, pace the Industry and Professor M., the overwhelming majority of pop tunes that I was about to hear, like the overwhelming pieces I had already heard, were nominally tonal or diatonic in nature, in that they all made use of blocks of sound that were analyzable as major and minor triads; but no piece of classical music with which I was familiar, no symphony or concerto or two-minute bagatelle for solo piano that I had heard, had dared to fly its tonal colors with such purity and expedition, or with such brazen indifference to every vestige of contrapuntal decorum, as R. E. M.'s "Stand" or the Violent Femmes's "Blister in the Sun" or the Ramones's "Glad to See You Go."  Such that for the first two or three years of my study of the pop catalogue, I was indeed making the acquaintance of a compositional practice that was genuinely new to me, and therefore not unworthy of my reasoning-guyish attention.  Secondly, I now understand why my infatuation with pop could not last.  There are, after all, only so many ways of getting from Montevideo to Peking in Flatland.  Thirdly, I now understand how my more ancient affection for classical music could not only last but, in contrast to the cursus of my pop-ular education, deepen as my familiarity with its repertoire increased.  Yes, the more symphonies and quartets and concertos and bagatelles I listened to, the greater number of echoes of familiar melodic figures I detected.  Yes (for example, I have noticed), the opening melody of Haydn's Seven Last Words of our Savior on the Cross does sound a great deal like the opening melody of Mozart's "Haffner" symphony.  But this is a resemblance that in point of aesthetic singularity-annihilation can hardly be likened to that of R. E. M.'s "Stand" or the White Stripes's "Fell in Love with a Girl" to "La Bamba."  For neither the "Haffner" motif nor the "Seven Last Words" one is a riff in the pop-ular sense, neither is a modular block of bar chords that can either be repeated ad nauseum  detached and transposed into the pseudo-living tissue of some other composition without fear of rejection.  Each of them, rather, is linked by contrapuntal arteries, and through the magic of voice-leading, to melodic material of a very different character— in the case of the "Haffner," the aorta, so to speak, is supplied by the first violins, who continue by playing a jaunty little syncopated melody on their own, piano; in the case of the "Seven Last Words" motif, it is supplied by the cello (at least in the version for string quartet), which leads the rest of the tutti into a doggedly unsyncopated trudge up the side of Calvary.  Fourthly, I now know exactly how much store to set by dissonance and chromaticism as indices of musical complexity and progressivism, in either a positive or a negative sense: namely, none.  Where I once assumed that I would never come to hear any of Schoenberg's implacably dissonant compositions as anything but essays in effectual chaos, I now know that thanks to his mastery of voice-leading I am in safe hands, that with repeated listening to his violin concerto the motivic resemblance of the soloist's line at the very beginning of his violin concerto to the trombone part at the very end will eventually become clear—or, at any rate, detectable.  Complementarily, I know that mere intervallic dissonance is no guarantor of significant musical progressiveness or complexity, that no matter how many times I listen to Sonic Youth's "She's in a Bad Mood," I am never going to be able to derive any kind of musical sense from its cacophonous guitar harmonies; that its entire musical argument, such as it is, rests on the positively antediluvian principle of the dynamic arch, that it is preeminently a piece that starts out soft, grows gradually louder, and then grows soft again; and that the simplicity of that argument is unalloyable by the discovery that the song's opening chord is some stuffable specimen of harmonic rarity such as an inverted diminished Neapolitan 19th.

The intellectual serviceability and moral exigency of voice-leading qua such a philosopher's stone for the reader will naturally vary in direct proportion to the proximity of the reader's musical-appreciative history to my own.  If, like me at 16, he has already come to appreciate a goodly sampling of the classical repertoire but is essentially ignorant of pop, he may perhaps be forgiven a year or two of Prince Hal-ish rioting in the pop-ular stews, as it is hardly to be expected that he will immediately perceive the dearth of contrapuntal texture in the pop-ular soundscape, however thoroughly and competently I may have apprised him of it.  If, like me at 16, he has already become acquainted with a goodly portion of the classical repertoire but has managed by luck or industry (as against the Industry) to learn of the ineluctability of voice-leading on his own, and has accordingly steered clear of the pop section of the record store all along, why then, he perforce has no need of my counsel.  But if, like me at, say, 25, he has become acquainted with a goodly portion of both the classical and pop-ular canons and is yet unconvinced by my screed; if, upon reading the preceding pages, he still fondly imagines he can shuttle freely between the two at will, if he is at this very moment traipsing his merry way through an *-*** play-list composed in near-equal measure of Bruce Springsteen LPs and Beethoven symphonies (the lot having doubtless been "party-shuffled" beforehand into the disjecta membra of individual movements and album tracks), then woe betide him, for he is an unregenerately wicked soul indeed!  "But surely, mohn," this anthropomorphic turd has the temerity to rebut, "there's more to music than the notes that are written down on de paper, mohn (speaking of paper, I must remember to buy more rolling ones).  What about soul, what about passion—what about expression?"  To which I re-rebut, "What, you weed-addled git, do you think I have been writing about for the past twenty pages if not expression?"  The capacity of western classical music for the complementary, stepwise movement of multiple melodies afforded by voice-leading is its expressive capacity; all of its other expressive virtues are either contained within or issue from this master-virtue.  A performance by, say, a pianist is properly deemed "expressive" when the performer, mainly through long brooded-over choices of fingering, pedaling, and tempo-marking, manages to allow all of the essential individual voices of the piece he is performing to be heard; and properly deemed inexpressive, or insufficiently expressive, largely on the evidence of the performer's obscuring of essential voices as a result of having not brooded long or thoughtfully enough beforehand over such choices.  In contrast, a pop singer's "expressiveness" is limited to the amount of clinically presentable hemorrhoidal discomfort that he can impart to the three or four notes of his single octave-hopscotching vocal line.  If he happens to evince little or no such discomfort, or to come within a semitone of each note of the line or—H. R. H. Christ forbid!—occasionally employ a hint of vibrato, one terms his performance "inexpressive" or "soulless."  This would all be fine and dandy and indeed eminently worthy of erection as a parallel expressive schema if hemorrhoidal discomfort could be gauged and plotted as precisely as auditory pitch.  In truth, however-stroke-of course, the expressiveness of the pop singer, such as it as is, is but a stalking horse for some utterly unremarkable scrap of biographical data supposedly meriting the listener's bottomless compassion (e.g., a costly drug habit or a ZIP-code of New Jerseyian provenance [boo-fucking-hoo, Bruce!]), behind which in turn lurks a sub-subjectivity as utterly contemptible and besotted with bureau-medico-techno jargon (e.g., "You really need to upgrade to a(n) YOUR GADGET HERE," "You have to understand, YOUR PECCADILLO HERE is a disease," "the YOUR VERB STEM HERE-ing process,") as that of the squarest and most well-heeled honky in Omaha or Salt Lake City.  Accordingly, the classically literate listener who deliberately seeks out the latest, or oldest, or even the most "classic" pop records is no less perverse, vile, and contemptible a figure than the student of Aristotle who finds his ethical vade-mecums in the writings of Dr. Phil and Dipak Chopra: yielding to the importunity of their mere biological existence, he prizes the ignoble and incompetent living over the noble and competent dead, presumably in the hope of sharing in that presumptive immortality that is the universally acknowledged birthright of youth.  But insofar as our own vital powers are sustained and encouraged by examples of human activity that are not transparently reducible to mere mechanical mimesis, and insofar as genuflecting before beings manifestly inferior to ourselves is both fatiguing and degrading, the knowing pop fan, far from warding off mortality, is wantonly participating in and propagating a version of life that, in Lionel Trilling's words apropos of the proto-pop albumesque pseudo-modern novel of the early 1950s, is "merely a more troublesome form of death."  And if such behavior is not wicked in the classically Puritan sense of the word, if it does not merit its practitioner's consignment to the sort of Jonathan-Edwardsian hell wherein one's bowels are recurrently torn out and fried up before one's eyes and nose like a cheesesteak, I shall be darned if I know what behavior does.

[1] I suppose I should specify right up front or from the get-go, as they say, what I mean by "pop."  Admittedly there is something cussedly rude about consigning such an essential preliminary to a footnote, but there really was no place for it in the main body of the text; and, in any case, I am if not hopeful, then at least undespairing, that most readers will already have in mind a notion of pop that very nearly corresponds to my own, and will no more require a definition of "pop" of me than one inmate of a sewer requires of his neighbor a definition of "shit."  (Such that, corollarily, if that most happily proves broadly coextensive with the most that never bothers to read footnotes, I am now saving it a great deal of pointless labor).  But in case they don't, let me say that by "pop" I mean all sorts and manifestations of music produced since the advent of rock and roll (ca. 1955) and conforming to the norms of composition and performance established by the most famous early rock and roll recordings.  The reason I prefer to "pop" to "rock" is that much—perhaps half—of this music frowardly refuses to answer to the name of "rock," and prefers to be called, for example, synth-pop, disco, country, or funk.  My definition of "pop" perforce excludes the entire so-called Great American Songbook penned by the likes of Cole Porter, Hoagie Carmichael, and Johnny Mercer and committed to shellac and vinyl by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Dean Martin, but from this exclusion the reader ought not to derive the assumption either that I am unaware of the present flourishing of a veritable begonia bush of young Hoagie, Cole, and Johnny-affecting Frank, Deano, and Tony manqués; or that I endorse the Great American Songbook as a satisfactory substitute for or supplement to the classical repertoire.  Even if I did so endorse the GAS, I should derive scant consolation from the current GAS-crooning boom, coinciding all too handily as it does with the popularity of the television program Mad Men, which bespeaks nothing more substantial than a vague, half-assed, henpecked NASCAR-daddish romantic attachment to the idea of wearing a tuxedo and hanging out at a piano bar and drinking martinis at midday and smoking unfiltered cigarettes and escaping capital punishment despite having been heard to call a grown woman a "girl," the attachment of someone who on the whole would much rather be watching 24 or Lost or listening to Garth Brooks or Guided by Voices.  As for my misgivings about the GAS, I must admit that they are, strictly speaking, extra-musical in provenance and have mainly to do with the ethical shortcomings of the tux-sporting, martini-swillng, Lucky Strike-smoking, "girl"-bandying, mid-twentieth century schlub qua poetic persona as against, say, the early nineteenth-century Wanderer persona of the Schubert song cycles.  But that is the subject of another essay that is probably even less worth publicizing than the present one.  
[2] Of course, rhetorical logic of the most timeless order calls for "google" here; but more timely rhetorical logic demands the proscription of all lowercase senses of the G-word (along with all non-spear bearing Brittneys).  
[3] I.e., it did amount, inter alia, precisely to these two things.
[4]Or, in terms of my earlier evangelical-Christian analogy: the burden lies on the shoulders of the sinner, not of the pastor.
[5] The so-called downside to such unterraced eclecticism, of course, is that one is vulnerable to being misled into thinking that Telemann and Bach are much of a muchness. 
[6] Digital synthesizers became perfect in the late 1980s to the extent that in those years, thanks to the magic of sampling, they became capable—at least at the resolution of a single tone--of perfectly mimicking the timbre of virtually any acoustic instrument. 
[7] At least eventually.  The above-recorded, biographically-correct nominations of the various parts, however, suggest that for all I knew the work might have depicted a rehearsal of our American War of 1812 in another galaxy.
[8] BTW: "Pull the Trigger" and "God Save the Tsar" = Scrooge and "the biggest turkey" of my counterfactual Tchaikovskian Christmas Carol.   And pace my earlier remarks regarding the disappearance of "God Preserve Our Russian People," the sense of a specifically Russian victory would be less keen absent the introduction of "GStTs" here.
[9] "Only the very shortest pieces of music stay in one key all the time.  Most move into another key at some point, and then return to the original key at the end of the piece." (Oxford Junior Companion of Music, p. 202 ["Key"])
[10] OCJM, "Rock" (p. 283).
[11] I.e., on account of the behavioral differences between musical themes and literary characters adumbrated on p. 7 above. 
[12] "His work is nearer to the Mahler idiom than to the Schoenbergian."  Michael Kennedy, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (Oxford, 1988), "Berg" (p. 67).  Incidentally, the 1988 CODM also asserts that "many consider Shostakovich the greatest twentieth-century composer" (without, however-cum-naturally, specifying how many or who many). 
[13] See footnote 1, mutatis mutare
[14] If one wanted to be especially pretentious about it, one could say that they "encapsulate the fatalistic argument of the entire song in little."  (No, I am not quoting anyone.)
[15] This tendency of the bar chord was brought to my attention by the following passage in The Aesthetics of Music (Oxford, 1997) by Roger Scruton: "The gestures that attend the new forms of dancing require an abdication of music to sound: to the dominating beat of the percussion, and to such antiharmonic devices as the 'power chord,' produced by electronic distortion.  Melodies become brief exhalations, which cannot develop since they are swamped by rhythm, and have no voice-leading role.  Consider the actual tune sung by the late Kurt Cobain to the words I have quoted [from Nirvana's "Dive"]: fragments in a kind of B minor (though harmonized for the most part with an E major chord played anyhow), with only a ghostly resemblance to melody.  No movement passes between the notes, since all movement is generated elsewhere, by the rhythm guitar.  And this melodic deficiency goes hand in hand with a loss of harmonic texture.  In the soup of amplified overtones, inner voices are drowned out: all the guitarist can do is create an illusion of harmony by playing parallel fifths" (p. 499).  The "power chord" to which Scruton refers is a simplified bar chord that omits the interval of a third (i.e., the E in a C major triad, or the E flat in a C minor one).  In my Mel Bay days I looked down my nose at power chords because they elided the distinction between the major and minor modes, but now I appreciate their expediency: in a transition that can effectively express only the movement between two individual tones, all subsidiary transitions are but so much aural clutter (whence, I suppose, the proclivity of many latter-day punk rockers for dropping the fifth as well and playing power octaves).   


Jason R said...

Alls I know is that I have you to thank for forever associating in my mind the Pixies' Surfer Rosa with Dvorak's String Quartet No. 12, as you were kind enough to include both on this mix tape in front of me. Bonus - do you recall what 90s era offbeat alternative pop group you juxtaposed betwixt Brick is Red and the Allegro non troppo?

And you are not fooling me. I expect you got your first instantiation of classical music like everyone else in our g-g-g-generation, via the long-haired hare.

J. D. Daniels said...

Thank you.