Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What Gives Music Value?

My husband said to me this morning that he doesn't think any of this new music has any value.  Of course, Florence + the Machine was on VH1 at the moment, so I didn't have a good argument right in front of me.  I just said, "That's not true."  So he challenged me for a name...ahh, the pressure of a name!! Naturally, I replied, "Matt Nathanson.  And the Foo Fighters' new record, and Red Hot Chili Peppers are doing some pretty good stuff..."

He says that they don't count, they've all be around a long time.  They're grown, they know from good music, they have soul.  He means this new generation - the ones that are dominating the airways.  The kids (gosh that makes me sound old!!).  Initially, I thought I'd skim through my iTunes collection and find a few up and coming artists and explain in great detail the value they are adding to the great musical landscape.  Then I started to ponder the term "value":

noun, verb, -ued, -u·ing. noun
1. relative worth, merit, or importance: the value of a college education; the value of a queen in chess.
2. monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade: This piece of land has greatly increased in value.
3. the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange. (care of http://www.dictionary.reference.com/)

So what gives music value?  Is it, like beauty, in the eye (or ear) of the beholder?  I have to think that, like any other art form, the answers are as many and as varied as the people who listen to music.  Do I have to like an artist's work to think that it has value?  Of course not.  Take for instance, Bob Dylan.  One of the greatest lyricists of our time - he has forgotten more about song writing than most people will ever know.  Do I want to listen to his animal-in-pain vocals?  Not particularly, no.  However, his body of work has indisputable value.  But it's easy to look back at the great artists and say they have value.  That's not what we were questioning.

The question is: does NEW music have value?  I say yes.  Even if it isn't great, even if it isn't the start of a revolution, even if it won't change anything about the way future artists make music.  I think the real value in any art form (music, painting, photography, sculpture...all of it) is what it does to us internally. Does it make you feel something?  Yes?  Then it has value.  No?  Then maybe it has value to someone else.

If you listen to something or look at something that another person created and it affects you, that's when the value of it is created.  Because really, in the grand scheme of things, our own value as humans really only happens when we have an effect on other people.  It is the connection to each other that makes us and our relationships have worth - so why should art be any different?  Considering that at its core, art is a piece of the artist removed (either by clean surgical incision or ripped out by the roots) and given to other people.  By this definition, anything created from a genuine place, offered up, and accepted could be valuable, and probably is.

So what's this mean for today's music?  Well, before you think I've gone soft, let me be clear that not all music falls into this "created from a genuine place" category.  Let's be honest, there is a lot of shit out there that makes your ears want to bleed.  But just because I think that, doesn't mean everyone thinks that.  Do I think that the excrement that Miley Cyrus, Justine Beiber, Britany Spears, Katy Perry (I could go on) put out has value?  Absolutely not.  I think we should set fire to all of it and cleanse the airways.  But what about Coldplay?  Or Radiohead?  I dislike them both (well, post-Pablo Honey Radiohead)...a lot.  But I'm pretty much alone in that.  Lots of people think they're wonderful - so apparently they're affecting people somehow, so there must be some value there.  I don't see it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

In the end, I don't think it's fair to say that new music has no value.  I just think maybe you have to be closer to the source to be affected by it.  Maybe only the artists who are currently in their late 30's and 40's can really get to us these days because they are our peers.  A kid writing a song about how hard life is when he's 20 years old kind of makes me barf.  But I know that's only because I'm not 20 years old anymore.  And when I think about it, maybe those kids don't get how I can be so moved by some old dude crooning about his broken heart, or how I can be shaken to the core listening to two guys singing about life almost 50 years ago, or why I break out in cold chills listening to an 18 year old song about a fucked up childhood.

So I've come all this way just to say that my darling husband should have said, "This new music doesn't have any value to me."  And knowing him, that is probably a pretty accurate statement.

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