|Jim, I enjoyed your article for many of the reasons described above by others, most importantly: that you actually listened to and engaged with the material and evaluated it as such. You made some key distinctions, as well, between technical evaluation and aesthetic response.|
I recall Linz telling me once that he thought Ray Charles' rendition of "America the Beautiful" was interminable, but my own view is: If you can't hear the beauty I hear, I can't explain it to you. (Thank goodness I get a special dispensation because of my love of Mario Lanza.) However, my own tastes run the gamut from classical, film scores, Broadway, and jazz to R&B, disco, rock, and even a little country. Music speaks so personally to us, and, indeed, a lot of it has to do with the factors that Phil points to above: very personal associations and experiences, cognitive stylistic preferences, mood, and even the context of a particular time and place. Let's take that last factor: I think one can make an objective judgment that Maria Callas is a magnificent singer, technically far superior to Madonna (an analogy I take from Jim). But I doubt that Callas could have sung a good "Vogue," and if I go to a dance club, and want to shake my booty, I'd rather listen to "Vogue" than to "Un Bel Di, Verdremo." That fact does not in any way detract from the superiority of Callas's voice. (And since the issue has been raised, I just wanted to emphasize that my love of some pop music, including some prog rock---does not depend on the influence of alcohol, which I rarely drink, or illicit drugs, which I don't take.)
I would also argue that the subcultures that surround the various genres of music are not necessarily extensions of the music per se; they can be, however, reflections of the overall culture. That's why I'm a bit apprehensive with regard to the implications of this statement of Jim's:
Also, it is not just coincidence that rock music is almost all politically left inspired. But that is for another day.
I'd venture to say that most artists have an association with the political left. Even so-called "redneck" country musicians have had their share of politically-left inspired artists (of the "blue collar," "working class" variety). There are reasons for this, some of which relate to the arts in general, and some of which relate to the culture in general. I suspect that if you were to commission the Nielsen organization to run a political poll among all artists (actors, actresses, painters, sculptors, literary writers, poets, and musicians from all genres of music), you'd find a leftward tilt. Some of this can be explained by the fact that "conservatism" in any age has been associated with suppression and/or censorship of cultural and aesthetic tastes that are deemed "threatening." That has been the response of the older generation to any musical "rabble rouser," for example, whether it be Frank Sinatra in the 40s or Elvis Presley in the 50s, right through to some popular performers today.
The other issue is, of course, related to the current state of culture in general, which is a reflection of a conflicting array of implicit philosophical premises. Change the ideas that underlie that culture and the cultural forms will reflect that. There is evidence, for example, that even among "leftward-tilting" artists in prog rock, Rand has made and continues to make a cultural impact (as I've argued here and here). Hers is not the dominant influence on that genre, but it's not the dominant influence on the culture-at-large either. And though I know you, Jim, are not suggesting this, I just thought I'd say the obvious: If I had to give an ideological litmus test to every actor, painter, novelist, or musician as a precondition of responding to their work: well, fuhgedaboudit, as we say in Brooklyn. My music collection (to say nothing of my DVDs) would be decimated.