Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Jungle Music

The trees play music here. Not Muzak ™ or any form of digested aural delight, but actual pop tracks, 45s - as we used to call them. As I walked past the trees this evening, on the way from a Japanese that had failed to meet my price point to an Argentinian that would offer superb fare for half the price, the Southern California trees were playing Abba. Just then a car went past, playing Duran Duran.

No one noticed.

It's a shameful waste of ears to fill them with background music, particularly here in Valencia, which is naturally quiet and a good opportunity to enjoy a refractory period for your ears. But more creepy still was the unnatural coexistence of Abba and Duran Duran, as if a mammoth and a pterodactyl had hove into view and had been ignored.

At one point, popular music was entirely sequential, like father followed by son, or perhaps more realistically bloodthirsty, more like the Sacred King in the Grove of Nemi pacing under his tree as he waited for the desperate outlaw that would kill him and take his place. In Tin Pan Alley, they were waiting to throw you into the gutter the moment a record of yours failed to reach No. 1, while loitering nearby was a 17 year old with great hair who would record the next No. 1 for them. And there was always another coming up behind him too, a wasp factory machine gun production line of next big things.

But now all popular music, including those very Tin Pan Alley tunes that fought each other so bloodily at their birth, stays in print forever, always around, never fading. It's as if your house was condemned to hold the ghosts of your parents and your grandparents and granduncles and all of your crazy black sheep relatives and all of your successful preppy relatives, and all of them were not ghostly, but young and strong and full of fire and the older ones the winners of a natural selection battle on the Denmark Street pavements that had fitted them with fangs and claws that could tear your living body to broken bits.

How will you make this house your own?

For the listener of course, it's a bonanza. Like the Treasure Cave scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean, you can dig through a pile of golden loot, crowns and beads and armor and goblets, whatever takes your fancy. You can strip mine sixty years of popular music, lay it waste, suck it dry and it will be unchanged afterwards, still whole, just as dazzling for the next man, because you can't use up music.

The older person – such as me – pays a price in terms of time confusion. The cognitive dissonance afforded by hearing When I'm Sixty-Four at a time when Paul McCartney is sixty-four is only a problem for people with a memory. It doesn't exist for the younger listener, who naturally accepts that all music was produced simultaneously a short time ago. All music is naturally contemporaneous for her and her friends. On a BBS I'm on a young man wailed quite plaintively when he learned that one of The Clash had said of Led Zeppelin "I don't need to hear their music. One look at the cover is enough to make me vomit." He was a fan of both, he said. Why couldn't they get along? Someone answered him that not liking Zeppelin didn't make you a bad person, just an idiot. I waded in with both feet, with a potted history of seventies Britain, Miners' Strikes and Gravediggers' Strikes and Three Day Weeks, twenty-six percent inflation and wage rise limits of five percent enforced by law, the Winter of Discontent, punk, anarchy and . . . rich tax exiles. I explained that one music may have been made in response to, in opposition to, another music. Dead silence; that wasn't the right answer. The first poster was correct. Without context, the Clash member's remarks didn't make any sense. The correct answer was to acknowledge they did not make sense, not to try to provide context. There no longer is any such thing.

The unesthetic sight of seventy year old Rolling Stones on stage is tempered by the fact that they rock twice as hard as men half their age. Mahogany is harder than a shrub's pithy core. But today there are few young trees. With his back catalogue in heavy rotation on the trees and internet and car radios of the world, the tall canopy tree shades out the young saplings.

Recently a rumor was floated that Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page would tour with the Yardbirds, as they last did in 1966. That was forty one years ago. Many people were overjoyed to hear it. To me it was like hearing that my parents were going to give me a baby sister. The time for my parents to give me siblings is long gone. I love the ones I've got, but the babies are for someone else to provide, now.

Eventually even the mahogany trees will die. Like the basketwork of a Strangler Fig, however, the ghostly back catalogue will live forever, shading the saplings as surely as the living trees once did. What happens – if this goes on? We will continue in our contextless world with Abba and Duran Duran pouring from speakers hidden in trees, while sickly shoots below are rooted out by the tidy gardeners of post-modernism.

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