Thar He Blows. . .?

Gershwin Plays GershwinWhile many of us may not be all that fascinated with Moby—it is rather remarkable to consider that Play goes back to 1999, so time fades—it seems that Mr. Hall isn’t all that fascinated with his own music or that of his contemporaries. Indeed, to describe what is generally heard on iPods and from turntables as “trivial” is probably to give the music too much credit, vis-à-vis what he argues in a post on his blog.

Moby is completely smitten with George Gershwin’s 1924 composition Rhapsody in Blue. Unfortunately, that work’s power has undoubtedly been diminished for many people by its use in United Airlines commercials. Nothing like associating shitty airline service with one of the musical masterpieces of all time (and no, I believe that, I am not channeling Moby).

This raises an interesting point to speculate on: What music that has been made in the past several years truly has the sustaining power that Gershwin’s composition has? Certainly, there are more than a few Beatles’ songs (although Rhapsody in Blue is a composition for piano and orchestra and is considered to be a “classical composition,” we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Gershwin earned much of his daily bread by writing for Tin Pan Alley). But who else?

Is Moby right?

4 thoughts on “Thar He Blows. . .?”

  1. The thing about “Rhapsody in Blue,” and most art music, is that it is written by an experienced, trained composer to be performed and can be recorded by any number of ensembles, which usually consist of musicians who have been studying their instrument nonstop for 25+ years.

    So, yes, it is musically superior to any popular music today. There can’t be any serious debate about that.

    I would agree with Stephen that the Beatles are about the only thing in popular music comparable to the greats of 20th century music. Their art is supremely innovative, durable, “cover-able,” endlessly charming, affecting and effective. They uniquely deserve to be in such company.

    But to say this requires a certain perspective on music history. I know, for my tastes, I vastly prefer folk-based musical forms and the experience I get from listening to a song to that of a symphony (with many exceptions to this rule).

    The other night I saw a performance of contemporary composer Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.” It was mind-blowing, masterfully conceived in a way that, say, Radiohead simply can never be.

    But I will almost always put on a recording of Hail to the Thief over a recording of a Steve Reich piece: it’s two different experiences, for different reasons, in different environments.

    So Moby is kinda doing an apples & oranges thing here.

  2. High brow vs. low brow arguments are always frustrating. It reminds me of the wine vs. beer conversations. It’s very, very rare to find anybody who is adequately well-versed in both subjects to talk intelligently about them.

    Personally, I know doodley squat about “classical” music. But on Moby’s recommendation, ha ha, perhaps I’ll download the 13+ minute MP3 of “Rhapsody in Blue” from Amazon for 99 cents.

  3. I work in a university music department. But music was not my field. So it puts me in my place, in a way, to be exposed daily to the worlds of classical, jazz, world and art music traditions and see all the work, the history, and the pressure that goes into each of these musicians.

    So while I still much prefer rock music and even enjoy some rock criticism, it is sometimes beyond ridiculous to read about the latest pop/indie/hip hop artists as if they’re doing something musically special, instead of merely having a clever or compelling “package” of attitude/look/sound.

    Or put another way: 99% of the time I’ll still take rock over Mozart. But musically-speaking there is probably as much invention, innovation, and art in one year of Mozart’s composition than there’s been in the 40 years since the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Hendrix in popular music.

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