Sunday, July 10, 2011

Money Corrupts and a Lot of Money...

I just read a rather good investigative article in the Globe and Mail of all places. Turns out that, since there is a great deal of money to be made selling drugs to treat mental disorders, some of that money seems to find itself in the pockets of those medical professionals who define those disorders. Seems like a wonderful environment for corruption to take root. Not, of course, as bad as a democratic political system, which has enormous incentives for politicians to lie, steal, tax, spend and keep doing it in growing quantities. And then there's pop music. It would make a fascinating to study to examine how the financial incentives corrupt pop music. I wish someone would do it. Whaddayamean that's what you pay me for? OK, maybe I will look into it in a future post.

But for now, two brief points: first, the wealthiest musician in the history of music is probably Paul McCartney. I don't know what he is worth this minute, but a few years ago, when he was getting divorced, it was reported that his net worth was around 1.5 billion dollars. Chump change to the Carlos Slims and Bill Gateses of this world, I know, but big money in the music biz. I wonder what the net worth of the Beatles as a whole would be? The point I wanted to make is that they would seem to be the most vulnerable to the corrupting influence of money. But what is interesting about them is that while their goals in the early years were simply to succeed--sell records, make money (Ringo had the charming ambition of wanting to put enough away to be able to open his own hair salon)--what actually happened is that every year they worked together as a musical act, they became better musicians, more serious composers and less like ordinary pop musicians. As one of my favorite writers, Robert Graves, once commented, “The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good – in spite of all the people who say he is very good.”

My second point is a cautiously optimistic one: classical music is, as many have observed, in a long decline. In the 19th century it rose to be the acknowledged queen of the arts, what every other artist aspired to. The long symphony requiring hundreds of performers was the last word in artistic grandiosity--well, that along with the operas of Richard Wagner. But as I averred in another post, this whole 19th century project went horribly wrong in the 20th century. Nowadays, though classical music still retains a hint of its former prestige, economically it is on life-support and a smaller and smaller percentage of the population listen to it, understand it or are able to read music.

But classical music, though on the periphery these days, is not going away. Why? Because it is one of the most astounding and mysterious creations of humanity. Music has an inherent power that the visual arts cannot come close to. Painting and sculpture seem to be where big bucks are these days, but honestly, how could a shark in formaldehyde compare to any great work of music? It just sits there, dead and, to my mind, genuinely meaningless. While on the other hand, we have something like this, ferociously alive, music by Beethoven:

But for right now, a lot of people, through lack of exposure, or from too much exposure to the ear-deadening horrors of most popular music, simply cannot appreciate classical music. This is ok, much like the monasteries in the dark ages of Europe, we few will preserve the essence of civilization during our dark ages. One day there will come a Renaissance. In the meantime, the power and essence of classical music will become purified and concentrated. Do you know why we only have seven plays by Aeschylus and seven by Sophocles? They wrote many more. But the scholars, grammarians and monks of Byzantium and the monasteries copied and preserved only those works chosen as being the best. They did this for more than a thousand years... I sincerely hope that it won't be that long before classical music comes back into its own. But who knows? (I can just see a blogger of the far future saying "do you know why we only have seven symphonies by Haydn and seven by Mozart and seven by Beethoven?") One thing I do know: classical music is simply the finest music, selected over time from a much larger set of music as a whole. 'Classical' really means, 'classic', of lasting worth and the highest quality. A classic car, a classic film or a classic piece of music. I have no qualms about demoting some so-called 'classical' music to the "thank you for playing" category. Like this:

At the same time we must accept that some music not usually considered 'classic' is actually so. Here's an example:

A couple things you can be sure of: if there is a great deal of money to be made in a certain area, like drugs for mental disorders or politics, the field will attract enormous numbers of people only in it for the money. Another thing you can be sure of is that those people these days who practice the dying art of classical music are mostly NOT In It For The Money! Hey, that reminds me of this album:

Ah, the wisdom of Frank Zappa! How could I do a post about being only in it for the money without a reference to the classic album We're Only In It For The Money?

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