Monday, February 22, 2016

How Did We Get Here

Some time ago, I went out to take The Dog on her nightly walk around the neighborhood. It was late September, and a perfect, warm, clear North Carolina evening. I rounded the corner, and headed up the street. A few steps later my ears were treated to the most pleasant sound - back-door neighbor, sitting on his screened in porch in the dark, softly strumming his guitar. The chords made a nice tune - though not one I could recognize - so I walked quietly and slowly, stopping to let The Dog sniff the ground profusely. It was all so perfectly pleasant that I began to think about it and reflect on the difference between hearing Honest-To-God music, played live by a human being, and hearing a recording thereof. All that reflection got me to thinking....


How did we get to the point where we were willing to accept a cheap, mass produced reproduction of music instead of the real thing?  I could see the utility of recordings in some circumstances.  For example, were it not for that technology vast numbers of people would never get the chance to be exposed to Beethoven.  Recorded music (on any medium) allows us to experience a breadth of music few could ever even come close to experiencing live.  But how did it get so far afield of that?  Why were we ever willing to abandon the pleasure of a few friends or family playing (on guitar, mandolin, piano, accordion, concertina, saxophone or fiddle just to name some instruments from my personal, very limited, experience) and/or singing a tune?  Was it just easier?  Or was it that the professionals we heard on the radio or recordings were so much better technically that they made our home-grown music seem inadequate?

Whatever the reason, we are here now.  But the game is not over yet.  We, as a culture, having made the  jump from listening to real music to listening to a recording of real music (important semantic distinction between music as it is being played and a recording thereof), we now seem to be ready to accept LIVE music which is so post-processed that it is essentially a digital construct and not a human product in any realistic sense - think autotune.

Now I recognize that there are those who actually appreciate and prefer the synthetic version of music (and other things as well) to the real, human-made live honest-to-God version, and, if that is a well informed decision, i.e. they have been well exposed to both versions and have chosen one over the other, then I have to respect that.  Truth be known, I like Velveeta more than Cheddar.  But I am saddened that so many people willing accept "post-processed" entertainment.  Saddened, that is, but not surprised at all because that is all they have ever had the opportunity to hear and learn to love.

I have always had a certain distaste for the term "developing a taste for", as it carries with it a certain level of condescension, but in this case I think it to be exactly the right term - no condescension intended.  I cannot condescend without condescending upon myself (if that is a real term), for I have been there, and learned from my own prejudices.  You see, once upon a time I hated - h a t e d - old time Country & Western music.  I was a lifelong hatred that I held until one day, out of the blue, my friend invited me to a Nanci Griffith concert.  I had never even heard of Nanci Griffith, but, upon seeing her live, I fell in love with her music - hard.  Within a day or two, my friend had "burned" me a couple of cassettes, and I could not listen to them enough.  Hell, I still listen to them (though Cassette players are hard to find nowadays), along with other CD's and MP3's I have purchased over the years. Nanci's country sound was the gateway drug to classic country, bluegrass, old time music, etc.  I still love it and still listen to this day.  I am notoriously bad at having to learn the same lesson over and over again, but that one lesson I took to heart.

Writ Large...

Music was, however, only the inspiration for this diatribe, not the sole expression of the phenomenon being addressed.  The phenomenon, though focused mainly in the entertainment industry, exists in many facets of our society, and is in fact nothing new.  In earlier times (damn that makes me sound old) they were the exception to the rule though.  For instance, I remember occasionally eating TV Dinners, but home cooked - often home grown - food was the rule.  Now it seems most everything is synthetic, from clothing to foodstuffs to music to relationships.  How many films are produced that are not CGI'ed to death?  How many images are not polished and spiffed up by photoshop or some other such package? What is real?

The argument could be made that it is all real, but is it?  Does it not warp our sense of reality when a beautiful woman - more beautiful than any human has a right to be - is still not good enough for a magazine cover?  Does it not warp our sense of how the world works when it's not good enough to show a car being driven at (or beyond) the limit in a film, but rather to have she big screen insanity which we are fed of late?


Is there hope that somehow someday things will be appreciated for what they are in the purest natural sense, and not as synthetics?  Thank God it is happening in other areas of life, witnessed by everything from local beers to local fresh food.  On a personal note, I took my daughter to a live Shakespeare performance and she was floored. Loved every minute of it, and can't wait to go again.  Sure it was The Bard, but it was the live theater performance with real people that was the real selling point.  I figure if a tween who lives on a steady diet of pop music and anime can fall in love with The Real Thing, then pretty much anyone can.  If the horse is thirsty, and you lead him to water, you don't need to make him drink - he'll drink on his own.

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