"The Music Will Still be Wonderful"
When Kurt Vonnegut died last month, I was prompted to buy his collection of short essays, "A Man Without a Country," which turned out to be even more delightful than the flap copy promised it would be. At the risk of a copyright infringement, I'm excerpting, without permission, explicit or otherwise, my favorite passage in its brief entirety below:
"No matter how corrupt, greedy and heartless our gonvernment, our corporations, our media and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.
If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD WAS MUSIC
Now, during our catastrophically idiotic war in Vietnam, the music kept getting better and better and better. We lost that war, by the way. Order couldn't be restored in Indochina until the people kicked us out.
That war only made billionaires of millionaires. Today's war is making trillionaires out of billionaires. Now I call that progress.
And how come the people in countries we invade can't fight like ladies and gentlemen, in uniform and with tanks and helicopters and gunships?
Back to music. It makes practically everybody fonder of life than he or she would be without it. Even military bands, although I'm a pacifist, always cheer me up. And I really like Strauss and Mozart and all that, but the priceless gift that African Americans gavee the whole world when they were still in slavery was a gift so great that it is now almost the only reason many foreigners still like us at least a little bit. That specific remedy for the worldwide epidemic of depression is a gift called the blues. All pop music today -- jazz, swing, be-bop, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Stones, rock-and-roll, hip-hop, and on and on -- is derived from the blues.
A gift to the world? One of the best rhythm-and-blues combos I ever heard was three guys and a girl from Finland playing in a club in Krakow, Poland.
The wonderful writer Albert Murray, who is a jazz historian and a friend of mine among other things, told me that during the era of slavery in this country -- an atrocity from which we can never fully recover -- the suicide rate per capita among slave owners was much higher than the suicide rate among slaves.
Murray says he thinks this was because slaves had a way of dealing withh depression, which their white owners did not: They could shoo away Old Man Suicide by playing and singing The Blues. He says something else which also sounds right to me. He says the blues can't drive depression clear out of a house, but can drive it into the corners of any room where it's being played. So please remember that.
Foreigners love us for our jazz. And they don't hate us for our purported liberty and justice for all. They hate us now for our arrogance."
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Rebuilding Gulf Culture after Katrina
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Elizabeth Zimmer on time-based art forms
Public Art, Public Space
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog