An acquaintance of mine recently lamented to me, somewhat forlornly, that “great music is dead.” He opined that youthful brains have been so soiled that all they want to hear is “junk.”
Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist, but while I agree that perhaps a majority of youthful brains are soiled, I don’t for a second believe that great music is dead. In the long run, quality has a way of triumphing. Honesty wins out over dishonesty. Studying wins out over cheating. Great products win out over bad products. Even Batman wins out over The Joker.
Now, allow me to back up for a moment and admit that I’m one of those people who tends to be in awe of those who have talents in areas where I’m totally deficient. I can’t imagine how Steven Spielberg produces a mega-movie. I can’t imagine how scientists know how to fly to the moon. I can’t imagine how engineers build a maze of freeway interchanges, a bridge, or a skyscraper.
Which brings me back to music. It’s beyond my comprehension how someone sits down and writes a great song — lyrics, music, or both. Or how someone performs a great song in a way that sends chills up my spine.
I can’t play a musical instrument. I can’t sing. I can’t even whistle very well. So, quite naturally, I’m in awe of people who are musically talented, and perhaps that’s why I love great music so much.
It’s true that whether or not music is great is in the ears of the beholder, but the precondition for me is that in order for music to be considered great, it first has to be real music. And the sad reality is that much of today’s music is not real music; it’s pure junk.
Junk music manifests itself in scraggly clad performers screaming unintelligible words at the top of their lungs to a backdrop of deafening sounds with no discernable melody. It’s not that I’m offended by junk music; it’s just stupid.
It goes without saying that at the bottom of the barrel (or toilet) is rap crap (more commonly referred to as just plain “rap”), which is not even junk music. In fact, it’s not music at all; it’s garbage.
Rap crap is a savage-like mixture of childish rhyming and foul language oriented toward sex and violence. It mesmerizes lost souls who are in search of a way to rebel against the established norms of society.
Even though every halfway serious, intelligent, civilized adult knows full well that rap crap is total nonsense, money-worshipping entertainment moguls relentlessly feed the delusion that it’s legitimate music. So much so that for years now they have succeeded in having it included in almost all major music-award ceremonies. I say balderdash.
Junk music and rap crap are the progeny of the rock-and-roll of the fifties. But, by comparison to today, those were innocent times. Some of the early rock and roll songs were, in retrospect, actually quite cute — “Chantilly Lace,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “Peggy Sue,” to name but a few examples. But screamers like James Brown and Little Richard laid the foundation for the era of junk music that lay ahead with such brainless junk offerings as “Long Tall Sallie, “Tutti Frutti,” and “Lucille.”
Then, as we moved into the Sixties, life became all about Viet Nam War protests, free love, dropping acid, and elevating the F-word to an exalted status. Certitudes were out; relativism was in. And that’s when music started to reflect a new, baser society that seemed intent on fundamentally transforming America into a cultural cesspool.
Now, I hope I haven’t depressed you, because I want to end on a happy note (pun intended). To my delight, what I’ve observed over the past several decades is that, notwithstanding the meteoric rise of junk music, great music has stubbornly hung in there. It simply refuses to die.
On the contrary, it seems as though more and more young artists are embracing great music, especially the old classics written by such giants as Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, and George Gershwin.
I first started thinking about this when Celine Dion burst onto the scene more than twenty years ago with Beauty and the Beast, the theme song from the movie of the same name. It was not a one-time fluke: She has now sold over 220 million albums of great music worldwide.
Since that time, I’ve found it quite interesting, from a sociological point of view, to watch many superstar performers build their careers on singing the classics and filling venues around the globe with people who are thirsting for great music. Included in this ever-expanding group are such highly acclaimed performers as Andrea Bocelli, Ronan Tynan, Sarah Brightman, Josh Groban, and Susan Boyle, to name but a few.
In addition, lovers of great music should be heartened by the fact that in recent years rock superstars Neil Diamond and Rod Stewart have recorded mega-hit albums of classics from as far back as the thirties and forties. Why in the world would they do such a thing? Because they know that millions of music lovers still prefer to hear great music in lieu of junk music. Best of all, I believe this trend is accelerating.
I’ll close by mentioning just two examples of exciting soon-to-be superstars who are on the leading edge of this acceleration toward great music.
The first is David Garrett, a German-born musical genius who does things with a violin that is pure magic. He has recast a centuries-old art in a way that is nothing short of breathtaking. If you’re still on the young side and would like to heal the damage that junk music has done to your brain, treat yourself to David Garrett for at least fifteen minutes a day. Here’s a great starter for you: Viva La Vida
The second example is a group called Il Volo (meaning The Flight) consisting of three young Italians — Piero Barone (age 20), Ignazio Boschetto (age 19), and Gianluca Ginoble (age 18). They are rapidly becoming the Frank Sinatras, Mel Tormes, and Gordon MacRaes of our brave new world. They are a breath of fresh air that is almost too good to be true. Be my guest and enjoy Il Volo singing “’O Sole Mio” (written in 1898!): O Sole Mio
(And while you’re at it, be sure to pick up Il Volo’s fantastic new Christmas album Buon Natale: The Christmas Album before December 25. You’ll thank me for the tip.)
The truth always wins out in the end. There is nothing like a beautiful melody coupled with poignant lyrics to move the soul. Long live great music!