Re: Pop vs. Art<BR>

Re: Pop vs. Art

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In article <markp.744928064@vostok> markp@vostok (Mark Pundurs) writes: >william@owlnet.rice.edu (William Li) writes:
>
>>In <244jvs$cju@uniwa.uwa.edu.au> rustle@gu.uwa.edu.au (Russell) writes:
>>>Also, REM can't be the next Beatles because they don't come from Liverpool:-)
>
>>Damnit! REM is American! Its about time something intelligent was made in
>>America, and REM is as fine a blues/country-turned-rock band that has ever
>>graced the airwaves. IMHO they kill the Beatles because they NEVER had a
>>"stupid pop trash" period
>
>Neither did the Beatles -- unless you take all pop as being "stupid trash"
>by definition.

Heavens. It appears that someone needs to sit down and watch "Sullivan's Travels". The fight between proponents of popular art vs. fine art is at least as old as Preston Sturges' 1941 film...if not millennia older. :-) Mr. Pundurs has a good point!

It should be obvious even in our musical milieu. After all, as the Fabs themselves have told us metaphorically, there's more to love than just holding hands. And there's more to music than the breadth of its popularity. If you really want to get technical about it, there's an art to pop music itself, at its most central and intrinsic core.

The Beatles were masters of it. That's no mean feat. The ability to sell a song to society requires a talent that few of us have---an assumption I'll have to make, having seen, heretofore, no r.m.b.'ers produce any hit records. :-) (If Mr. Talmy is reading us on the sly, my ardent apoligies to him!) It's a collection of talents, really: the ability to see into the soul of humankind and strike a chord that's far more complex than a pretty tune; and the talent, or intuition, to rely on others who can embellish that art. This type of genius produces neither stupidity nor trash. With the right set of circumstances, it *can* produce artistry enmeshed *within* popular tunes.

First of all, though, there's this "American" business. What's all the fuss? Does our xenophobia require us to turn away from music that's not a product of the States? How ironic, when you consider how much of the Beatles' inspiration, as songwriters and musicmakers, came directly from American artists! You can hear them in every harmonic thread---Buddy, Elvis, Chuck, Smokey, Arthur...forgive the first names. You know their songs as well as I do. These erstwhile kids from Liverpool swallowed them whole and nourished their own creativity on music from *this* side of the pond. One of their great accomplishments was in turning this music around---over, under, sideways, down---and transmuting it into a new substance. And American music listeners devoured the Mersey Sound as if it were a new source of sustenance... which it was, after a fashion. And now it's nourished American music, in an easily-traced timeline from the Byrds to REM and beyond.

But where was the art?

Or *was* it only a fad, at first? Some folks saw it that way. Of course, fads have been around before; and, in the milieu of purely British pop, musicians not only adapted American fads but spun off their own. Nobody seriously expected great things from Adam Faith or Tommy Steele, any more than an American would have thought that Chubby Checker heralded the New Age of Music.

What, I wonder, did the Beatles want? At first it was obviously just a hit record or two; that was the legendary "toppermost of the poppermost" they kept aiming for. It was as real and as legitimate a desire as wanting to paint a masterpiece; make no mistake. But that's quite different from wanting to be a fad and nothing more. That was never the Boys' intent. Initially, neither was the self-importance of becoming an Artist with a capital "A".

Sometimes their rise to fame---a much more gradual process in the UK than it seemed in the States---seemed to parallel musical crazes of the past. The press was sidetracked by the hair, the accents, the wit. And at concerts it was true you couldn't hear a thing but the screams of a thousand or more girls. Did that make the music "trash"? Only to a few curmudgeonly reporters...and those who mistook the peripheral pop mystique for true substance.

The real substance was twofold, and it emerged only gradually during the Beatles' career. It involved a seamless transition from musical hits to artistic heights---and remarkably, at times you couldn't tell the difference. Think of "Yesterday", "Paperback Writer", "Strawberry Fields Forever". Consider the combined visual and musically-visceral charm of the film "A Hard Day's Night". The compelling photographic image of "Rubber Soul". The frenzy that accompanied the debut of "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". The cohesiveness borne out of fragmentation (miraculously recalling much more collaborative times!) in a meandering medley on "Abbey Road".

Revisionism (and perhaps the passage of time) has allowed the gentle fan to admit that *perhaps* "Revolver" was really the highpoint of the Beatles' Art...or is it actually "Rubber Soul"? Or does it go back even further to the simpler craftsmanship of a love song well-sung, a preponderant theme of need, desire, loss, and hope...themes central to the history of lyrical composition? Look back at the plaintive words from ballads of medieval times; reach further to ancient lyrics, now bereft of their harmonic accompaniment. It's still the same old story. And it sells because it speaks of a fundamental human truth.

Was the world tricked? Did the Fabs put one over on us all? Was it really all done, for years, with marketing and magic and mirrors, till the Boys figured out how to leave "trash" behind them, till they got up to cruising speed and started producing the Real Thing?

I think not.

For the Beatles, it was all part of the same spectrum, really. That's one of the reasons a group like REM (as admirable as they indubitably are) and all their compatriots in the pop world still haven't approached what the Fabs accomplished. In fact, REM and their ilk have inherited a musical obligation which they have yet to fulfill. I'm waiting for it; I'm *eager* for it. I'd like to see if it can be done again! I'd like to see one group or even a singular entity wrestle with popular tunes, profound musical concepts, killer guitar riffs, film, words, photographs, poetry...and come up with the same profound mixture of message and meaning which the Fabs left to us as their legacy.

--
"This is pure madness," said one middle-aged woman. "There is nothing spectacular about the Beatles anyway. I am worried for my daughter, who might go crazy about them."______________________________________ saki (dmac@math.ucla.edu) Click here to return to the rmb home page.

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