The following was provoked by the announcement regarding the 2002 sales for the U.S. recording industry. Apparently, there was an overall drop in CD sales of about 9%. In 2001, there were 712 million sold. In 2002, the number was down to 649.5 million. A million here, a million there, and before you know it, it adds up to some real money. However, not all types of music took a tumble (e.g., R&B is said to have fallen 15%). Country (did you ever notice that the “& Western” is now always dropped) was up 12%. Presumably, those who are proponents of the former genre are unhappy and those who are supporters of the other nod knowingly. But what does any of us really know about the Other?
There is something in us that likes lists and categories, places where we can keep things separated and segmented, perhaps for easy retrieval or because we want to make judgments or characterizations. This happens a lot in music, more evidentially than in other things we relate to. Categories proliferate. Some of these categories give way to Darwinism. Others hang on yet come to include things that would have once been unimaginable within them: the categories morph.
These lists, or at least the labels that adhere to them, provide subjective-but-shared definitions of what counts and what doesn’t. And often, those who share these definitions have a tendency to defend those objects (e.g., bands) that fall within the boundaries of those categories against others, as though those other objects simply inferior for not belonging to the categories of interests or, even more heinous, for pretending to be a part of the categories. Somehow, it is all about preserving the sanctity of the List.
So what is the effect? Nothing less than the diminution of experience. Although many people (undoubtedly many who read this site) would argue that they are sufficiently “open minded” such that they are ready, willing and able to listen to all types of music. In point of fact, they are probably still restrictive so far as what they actually hear. Just as we look at things all the time, we don’t see everything, as we tend to filter out a lot of the input (otherwise, there’d be a whole lot of fused synapses). One of the things that genres, and subsets within those genres, do is to provide a winnowing mechanism, something that, through the boundaries of the list, makes selection of what is pertinent to us much easier.
Consider: Our broadmindedness notwithstanding, the slogan for GloNo speaks of how “rock and roll” can be life changing, not Music (writ large).
There is much we can learn. Much we can understand. But we generally choose not to. Perhaps this is not a conscious effort. Perhaps it is some sort of internal defense mechanism. We can’t, say, defend all music, so we make our lists and set up our categories, and turn up our noses (or plug up our ears) toward others. And we are probably somewhat the lesser for that.