Who knew liberal do-gooding race man Sasha Frere-Jones would have a secret BFF in New York Times conservative goof David Brooks? In an op-ed fretting over the “segmented society,” Brooks references both SFJ’s infamous New Yorker “indie rock ain’t African-American enough” tract from last month and critic Carl Wilson’s class-focused rebuttal, as he points out popular music’s heretofore unnoticed contribution to average folks being “anxious about fragmentation and longing for cohesion,” which is the “driving fear behind the inequality and immigration debates, behind worries of polarization and behind the entire Obama candidacy.” Crap, we were pretty chill when the shocking revelation was that the overeducated indie rock leisure class wasn’t funky enough, but dividing us as Americans and failing to groove? Only Professor Stevie Van Zandt can save us now.
Technology drives some of the fragmentation. Computers allow musicians to produce a broader range of sounds. Top 40 radio no longer serves as the gateway for the listening public. Music industry executives can use market research to divide consumers into narrower and narrower slices.
But other causes flow from the temper of the times. It’s considered inappropriate or even immoral for white musicians to appropriate African-American styles. And there’s the rise of the mass educated class.
People who have built up cultural capital and pride themselves on their superior discernment are naturally going to cultivate ever more obscure musical tastes. I’m not sure they enjoy music more than the throngs who sat around listening to Led Zeppelin, but they can certainly feel more individualistic and special.
I knew there was a reason music sucked these days that we hadn’t happened upon yet, and of course, it’s because people are too smart! Plus they can listen to whatever they want rather than being stuck with the top-down playlists of media conglomerates. Brooks’ solution? The heretical teachings of Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist.
[Steven] Van Zandt has a way to counter all this, at least where music is concerned. He’s drawn up a high school music curriculum that tells American history through music. It would introduce students to Muddy Waters, the Mississippi Sheiks, Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers. He’s trying to use music to motivate and engage students, but most of all, he is trying to establish a canon, a common tradition that reminds students that they are inheritors of a long conversation.
Establish a canon?
The Segmented Society [New York Times]