Why we need classical music


I’ll take a break from everything I’ve stirred up about conductors, and how they’re covered in the press, mainly because I don’t have time today to write about this. But there’s been new e-mail, raising worthy points, not all agreeing with me. I’ll get to it tomorrow.


Meanwhile, though, here’s something I scanned a while ago from Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity. I’ve quoted Hornby’s writing about pop music here, including some challenges he throws (though not intentionally) at classical music.


But I’m also always looking for solid thoughts about why classical music should exist, and — after quoting Hornby on pop — I want to give equal time to his description of something pop can’t do, and (though Hornby doesn’t go this far) I think classical music can.


This passage comes after a key character’s father dies:


There aren’t really any pop songs about death — not good ones, anyway. Maybe that’s why I like pop music, and why I find classical music a bit creepy. There was that Elton John instrumental, “Song for Guy,” but, you know, it was just a plinky-plonky piano thing that would serve you just as well at the airport as at your funeral.


“OK, guys, best five pop songs about death.”


“Magic,” says Barry. “A Laura’s Dad Tribute List. OK, OK. `Leader of the Pack,’ The bloke dies on his motorbike, doesn’t he? And then there’s `Dead Man’s Curve’ by Jan and Dean, and ‘Terry,’ by Twinkle. Ummm … that Bobby Goldsboro one, you know, `And Honey, I Miss You …’ ” He sings it off-key, even more so than he would have done normally, and Dick laughs. “And what about `Tell Laura I Love Her.’ That’d bring the house down.” I’m glad that Laura isn’t here to see how much amusement her father’s death has afforded us.


“I was trying to think of serious songs. You know, some­thing that shows a bit of respect.”


“What, you’re doing the DJ-ing at the funeral, are you? Ouch. Bad job. Still, the Bobby Goldsboro could be one of the smoochers. You know, when people need a breather. Laura’s mum could sing it.” He sings the same line, off-key again, but this time in a falsetto voice to show that the singer is a woman.



“Fuck off, Barry.”


“I’ve already worked out what I’m having at mine. `One Step Beyond,’ by Madness. `You Can’t Always Get What You Want.’ “


“Just ’cause it’s in The Big Chill.”


“I haven’t seen The Big Chill, have I?”


“You lying bastard. You saw it in a Lawrence Kasdan double bill with Body Heat.”


“Oh, yeah. But I’d forgotten about that, honestly. I wasn’t just nicking the idea.”


“Not much.”


And so on.


I try again later.


” ‘Abraham, Martin, and John,’ ” says Dick. “That’s quite a nice one.”


“What was Laura’s dad’s name?”




” ‘Abraham, Martin, John, and Ken.’ Nah, I can’t see it.”


“Fuck off.”


“Black Sabbath? Nirvana? They’re all into death.” Thus is Ken’s passing mourned at Championship Vinyl.



I have thought about the stuff I want played at my funeral, although I could never list it to anyone, because they’d die laughing. “One Love” by Bob Marley; “Many Rivers to Cross” by Jimmy Cliff; “Angel” by Aretha Franklin. And I’ve always had this fantasy that someone beautiful and tear­ful will insist on “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Hap­pened to Me” by Gladys Knight, but I can’t imagine who that beautiful, tearful person will be. But that’s my funeral, as they say, and I can afford to be generous and sentimental about it. It doesn’t alter the point that Barry made, even if he didn’t know he was making it: we have about seven squillion hours’ worth of recorded music in here, and there’s hardly a minute of it that describes the way Laura’s feeling now.

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