X Conclusion: Dialogue with Allan Bloom
And The Philosophy of Music 301
Appendix 1: Ten Happy Songs for Weddings 321
Appendix 2: Ten Obscure songs
A Discussion with Allan Bloom on Rock Music
The tradition, or the “establishment,” if you will, argued that the emergence of rock and roll was an ominous degeneration, and its development a perversion of the soul. Lacking a philosophic basis, at first the only basis of the reasoned opposition to rock music was the biblical tradition, as understood by contemporary American convention. Then Bloom and others began to argue the point from a philosophic basis. In his best-seller The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom most famously brought the Socratic arguments to bear upon the change in American music and education that had occurred while he was a student and professor from the late fifties, through the time of this change. Music communicates characters and orderings of the priorities, as is visible in the correspondence of the parts of music to the parts of the soul. Regimes, and all things in politics, are the conglomeration of individual characters, so that music turns out to be significant in politics and education. The Allan Bloom critique of the rock culture caused a stir when it first came out, and may have been the leading of two factors that propelled his book, The Closing of the American Mind, a book about education, onto the New York Times best seller list. Mr. Bloom himself was propelled into rock-star like wealth and fame, dining in Paris hotels, something like the treatment for Olympic victors that Socrates suggests might be a way to give the philosopher what he deserves for philosophizing. He deserved such treatment long before, for translating the Republic and providing the commentary that would serve as the staring point for a generation of scholars. However, in America, we honor different things, and he continued a relatively poor scholar until this publication and its surprise success. Bloom challenges us to respond to his critique, and even throws the gauntlet down with the assertion that we are incapable of such a response. It is in an attempt to respond to his critique, or to explain what it is, then, that we think we are getting out of this music, that this commentary was undertaken. We always thought if only he could see the examples! and began long ago to try to think about such things as the presentation of Love in Soul Love and the songs that were our only understanding friends in our romantic sorrows. “How could man survive without the blues?” we would ask. At the same time, we would wish that Bowie could have access to the studies we were brought to by those surrounding Bloom, his friends and teachers, especially Plato. Bowie has a rough road as a scholar, As is evident beginning in “Quicksand,” and some dark periods, beginning in “The Width of a Circle,” but he struggles toward the vision of heaven and earth, as in Station to Station, and finds good things on his own.
Bloom begins his discussion by setting the context of the treatment of music in Plato’s Republic. The students are indignant at the censorship of music, lately, as though Plato wanted to rob them of their most intimate pleasure” (p. 70). He looks for a student who can “draw back, get a critical distance on what he clings to, come to doubt the ultimate value of what he loves, he has taken the first and most difficult step toward the philosophic conversion.” On the contrary, we have tried to show above that while philosophy provides a critical as well as an illuminating background, and does lead one to question many an old love, our music as a whole ought not be expelled from the regime of our souls.
Bloom writes: Plato’s teaching about music is, put simply, that rhythm and melody accompanied by dance are the barbarous expressions of the soul.” (p. 71) Having noted that the three kinds of music, religious, martial and erotic, inspire and educate people in these endeavors, Bloom writes that civilization, or education, involves the taming or domestication or forming, as distinct from the exorcism, of the “soul’s raw passions.” (p. 71).
To Plato and Nietzsche, the history of music is a series of attempts to give form and beauty to the dark, chaotic, premonitory forces in the soul–to make them serve a higher purpose, an ideal, to give man’s duties a fullness. Bach’s religious intentions and Beethoven’s revolutionary and humane ones are clear enough examples. Such cultivation of the soul uses the passions and satisfies them while sublimating them to give them an artistic unity. A man whose noblest activities are accompanied by a music that expresses them while providing a pleasure extending from the lowest bodily to the highest spiritual, is whole, and there is no tension in him between the pleasant and the good…
Ibid., p. 72
Bloom returns to the topic of censorship: Classical philosophy did not censor the singers. It persuaded them. And it gave them a goal, one that was understood by them, until only yesterday.” (p. 73). He then reminds those who are familiar with this sort of thought of the three waves of modernity, in preparing for the statement: “This is the significance of rock music.” Those schooled in the enlightenment rationalism naively ignore the significance of music in political study, as though music were banished by Hobbes and Locke, and the “prosaic new philosophy.” Music returns, with the second and third waves, both Rousseau and Nietzsche. Both these thinkers thought that man of the enlightenment had become “thin,” and wanted “to cultivate the enthusiastic states of the soul and to re-experience the Corybantic possession deemed pathology by Plato. Bloom continues:
Nietzsche, particularly, sought to tap again the irrational sources of vitality, to replenish our dried up stream from barbaric sources, and thus encouraged the Dionysian and the music derivative from it…This is the significance of rock music.
We have tried above to show rather that there is an “Apollonian strain,” a rational and beautiful music indeed despised by some of the “Bacchic” strains, and that this is the basis of any defense of our music. Bloom’s argument seems to depend on the simple name calling, saying that the love expressed in rock or popular music is “swarmy” and “hypocritical,” without saying in just what way. We have tried to show, through the examples above, that there is more to the music, and that the swarmy examples, while occasionally popular, do not last, nor characterize the essence of what is occurring in this popular music. The lyre, a stringed instrument near to the guitar was thought to be governed by Apollo. The ancient Greek guitar player Arion used music to summon dolphins, which rescued him when he was cast by pirates into the sea (Herodotus I. 23-24). The dolphin has been compared to the soul in that it is a creature of the two elements, water and air, and breaks the boundary between them.[i] Stringed instruments have ratios between the notes and chords, and so reveal the connections of the notes to mathematical ratios. They are rational in a way that flutes are not, though the length of the pipe, changed with each stop, would be according to similar mathematical ratios. It is a good question whether the notes are where they are, along a continuum of greater and less, by nature, or whether one might as well set the scale up or down by any fraction or amount, so long as the ratios remain. Where is middle C? One suspects, from the phenomenon of vibrations of sound breaking glass, that objects have very specific resonances, or that the harmonies, and so the notes, are where they are precisely, and so are discovered rather than invented or set by the musicians.
Bloom then opens on what may be the harshest written criticism of rock music of all time. He may be the only one to attempt such a thing from a classical rather than a Christian or biblical basis, as in the early criticisms of rock begun in the fifties. Before considering the details of Bloom’s critique, some answer to the philosophic basis of his presentation can be set out.
The gemstone of the Platonic presentation has always seemed to me to be the relation between the trio words, harmony-melody, rhythm, on one hand, and the three parts of the soul in Books Three and Four of the Republic, on another. The teaching is that the latter, the lower two of the three parts of the soul, ought follow speech, just as the latter two parts of the soul should obey the wisest part. This is the upright ordering of the human soul, based on the natural superiority of the goods sought by reason (Truth and wisdom) to the goods of the heart, (honor and love), and of these two to the goods of the appetites, the things that are not specifically human, but that we share with the other animals. When the aims of the animal soul become feverish, infused with the desire that ought to be foremost for the higher things, the ordering is unnatural and unjust, the soul of a bad man. When the three parts, however, are harmonized in a whole that is according to nature, that harmony is called “justice in the soul.” Music then encourages this harmony, awakening it and fostering it through the imitations, and in this rightness, the soul is charmed, finds rest and a great pleasure. The hierarchic ordering of the parts of the soul translates into the priorities involved in every choice: Is friendship or love more important than sex or money, since the parts of the soul involved are higher. So practical Ethics is based on the priorities, and action, or how we live, is the expression of the orders of the soul. There is a hierarchy of ends, beginning from the superiority of the soul to the body, so that the other ought serve the one.
As a student, I was never disturbed by the censorship of tragic, comic and lyric poetry in the best regime of Plato’s Republic. While this may be due to sheer stupidity, it may also be because we were eased into the account by our wise old professor Irv, and were already so in love with Plato from the Meno that we could hardly contain ourselves. So we are inclined to attempt Plato’s defense, or take the side of making excuses for our revered friend. It is first to be noted that these orders, the best regime in the Republic, are for the best and not for every regime. We lack the wisdom needed to guide censorship. There is a beautiful scene in Peter Schaeffer’s Amadeus, where the Duke of Austria attempts to censor a Mozart opera. When questioned by Mozart as to why, he says it has “too many notes.” The remedy: remove some. So Mozart asks him, “Which ones?” Censorship was an actual issue in the history of our music when Pete Seeger was blacklisted along with other folk singers in the fifties, during the McCarthy era. After refusing to answer questions about his political activities before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was charged with contempt of congress and convicted, though the conviction was overturned. Into the Johnson administration, as Unterberger cites Buffy St. Marie: “A radio broadcaster named Joe Forester in Toronto apologized for submitting to a request from the Johnson white house to suppress her music. Other DJ’s have since similarly apologized to her. She was told not to sing “Universal Soldier” or talk about Native American Rights issues, and so turned down an invitation go on the Tonight Show. Records disappeared during delivery to stores. This was near to the time of the FBI study of the Kingsmen’s Louie Louie, noted above. It bears the marks of J. Edgar Hoover, whose FBI policies continue to this day. As with church censorship, the democratic censors do not know what to censor anyway. “Mack the Knife” slides by, while they go after things like “This Land is Your Land.” The orders of the best regime are surely not for a democracy, and especially not for a large nation, although looking to them might have a purifying effect on individuals, and so on a democracy or a democratic nation. In light of the First Amendment clause protecting the liberty of speech, the Supreme Court has tried to balance the right of people to be free of things like hearing the seven words on T. V., though in private publications it is not possible to prevent some very bad things. Where we can see royal rule by nature is in the household, rather than the city or its regime. Each parent obviously practices censorship in setting up a room for their children, from infancy on, surrounding them with the best and happiest things imaginable. My nephew needed some nice music when his daughter was born, and very loud, severe music was being played downstairs. We bought what we thought best: Mozart, to facilitate cerebral branching, mental dexterity, or stimulate intelligence. And it would be surprising if families did not “censor,” in trying to cultivate the lifelong happiness of the children being raised. We notice that cats do not like Led Zeppelin, and often seem fond of Classical. There is also, though, the more serious question of which songs we admit into our own souls, to which will we “provide a chorus” or sing along, agreeing with the things expressed or coming ourselves to say these same things. Occasionally we do notice that a catchy tune has an unpleasant meaning, and having thought a bit, can no longer sing these things.
Bloom writes: “…rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire–not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored. Its product is worse than pornography, and its target is children. “The lyrics celebrate puppy love as well as polymorphous attractions, and fortify them against traditional ridicule and shame” The three great lyrical themes of rock are “sex, hate and a swarmy, hypocritical version of brotherly love,” apparently replacing the three great themes of eros, martial music, and religious music. The result, even of the efforts of all the heroes of Western civilization, is:
…a pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of Onanism or the killing of one’s parents; whose ambition is to win fame and wealth in imitating the drag queen who makes the music. In short, life is made into a nonstop, prepackaged, masterbational fantasy (p. 75).
Bloom may have in mind “Pictures of Lilly” by the Who and “The End” by the Doors. His point is well taken. Yet we might defend Townshend. It is also about the loneliness and confusion of the imagination in teen love, and a kind of knowledge of nature that limits the power held over us by shame. It is also about falling in love through the images with someone who has been dead since 1929, and then wanting to go back to her in time, which is a comment on the image quality of love. “Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse.” Townsend said as much in ’68. Yet it is amusing that Tommy never gets laid. (His sexual experience is a molestation that he perceives only through the sense of touch, and to which he responds musically). The power of shame also allows young people to be molested, since their predator uses the power of their shame to construct his necessary secrecy. But sex in the rock opera has little to do with Bloom’s supposed first principle of rock. In one of his deeper discussions of the movement of rock, Townshend admits that “it doesn’t have to be physical, because when you think of a lot of Beatles music, it’s very non-physical. Like Sgt. Pepper’s is an incredibly non-physical album…” (p. 109). Townsend is discussing a 50’s song redone famously by The Who, “Summertime Blues,” as an example of what rock and roll is, beyond the beat, though it does have to have that “bounce.” The frustrations of the age, amid its poetic beauty of the time of youth, seem of the essence. In fact the genius of Townsend is never devoted to songs about sex, and this is so generally of classic rock. On our top 500 list for Detroit area classic rock, it is not until song # 10 that one finds the ZZ Top ode to their trip to la Grange, an old fashioned red neck whore house, very much a part of Texas culture long before the hippies corrupted morality. The rock remake of the R&B song “Satisfaction” is an exception rather than the rule, but then even this is concerned with the inability to find satisfaction in the consumer society. Even “Lets spend the Night Together” is more about the two being together than it is about sex. The sexual revolution seems less relevant, a deflecting aside of a block to liberty and the natural expression or life of the soul. This deflection Bloom sees as fortifications against traditional ridicule and shame.” Liberty involves rejecting not nature, truth or the divine, but the rule of other flawed men and women in their capacity to judge this for us. The vulgarity of American culture is like the free speech movement, aimed at rejecting the rule of the many over the individual, and we hold that this is justified because of the ignorance of humans on these questions. In its liberty, the soul sings about love, or at least these, the songs about love rather than sex, are the songs that touch on the perennial, and so have a tendency to last. Yet Tommy is not at all about love either, and would have to be classed with the religious rather than the martial music, psychology and philosophy apparently included in this category of the ascending soul. Its genre, according to our classification, is among the songs about music, this one being about the inner mystery of the soul of the musician.
To Bloom, the example of the movement is president Reagan shaking the gloved hand of Michael Jackson, who for the Thriller video does indeed dance sexually in a presentation directed knowingly toward children, and earned a great deal of money for a great many interests by doing so. The parents looked on when their children honored Jackson and the thriller video and album, and the parents just blinked and kept starring. Bloom presents the “strange young males who have the gift of divining the mob’s emergent wishes” as “our versions of Thrasymachus, Socrates’ rhetorical adversary.” The rhetorician is compared in the first book of the Republic to one who figures out how to control a large beast, by understanding its passions. The alliance is between these and the robber baron record company executives, aiming at the disposable income in the allowances of the young, for whom parents have spent all their other money providing. Mick Jagger is Bloom’s example of the rock star, and the point must be at least in part accepted. The early music of Jagger, with the poetic beauty of youth, seems to take a turn when the record company people persuaded the Stones to cultivate an image of badness, in order to gain the sales of such a segment of the youth rebellion market. There soon followed the hiring of the Hell’s Angels to keep order at the Altamont Stones concert, and a stabbing, marring the summer of love atmosphere with the bloodshed that ended the innocence of the sixties. The Hell’s Angels were always around, from the days of Kesey. They were ironically always in danger of being opposed to the anti-patriotic message of the hippies, and one wonders whether the interest of Kesey and others was to convert them or to follow them. In the end, they were only open to them. In Wild Horses and Angie, there is of course still great beauty, even a higher development, but the sad beauty of endings, rather than rainbow visions or Ruby Tuesday, before the image makers got a hold of the Rolling Stones. In his age, he must write “Some Girls” rather than “Harvest Moon.”
Bloom’s criticism of Jagger cuts deep, and we rock scholars must be reeling backward ever since, fending off assertions until we are overwhelmed, collapsing in a fetal position beneath a flurry of blows. As described on p. 29 above, Jagger plays the Satyr for money. Bloom describes how Jagger “could enter everyone’s dreams,” legitimized drug use, and thumbed his nose at the moral and political law. Shrewdly himself, Bloom notes that “Along with all this, there were nasty little appeals to the suppressed inclinations toward sexism, racism and violence, indulgence in which is not now publicly respectable” (p. 78). “Under My Thumb” could be heard to sound this way, as sexist; “Street Fighting Man” as violent, and “Brown Sugar” as subtly racist. There is nothing as openly murderous as “Mack the Knife,” nor as individualistic as “I did it my way,” at least until the ironic remake of this tune by Johnny Rotten, near the start of punk rock. The serious question is, given the knowledge that Satan was involved in both the Bolshevik revolution and the Nazi attack on the Jews and the West, does Jagger suggest “sympathy for the devil,” beyond the obvious meaning, that we need to understand what is involved in these movements, or be cautiously tactful, if not polite in this age regarding these things? If he is so base and trivial, how does he know these things, things that Bloom barely knows, when he presents the contemporary manifestation of the modern problem as one of Utopianism?[ii] Does he not see that Communism and Nazism are not attempts to achieve a vision of justice, but rather, extremes of injustice, based not on the natural utopian vision, but rather, its inversion? And while Jagger does not seem to be a Satanist, but a revealer of genuine “witchcraft,” one can be less sure of the often respected scholars Machiavelli, Marx and Nietzsche. Their principles are similar to Thrasymachus and the restored version of the argument of some of the sophists. Perhaps it is not the rock musicians but the scholars and writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that are the deceivers of the musicians whom Bloom thinks to be deceivers and deceived. Bloom traces the emergence of rock to Nietzsche and the Dionysian,” though it is not clear that he sees this to be the problem. However, the truth may be that like music, and especially our music, philosophy has a shadow. Nietzsche introduced an inverse hierarchy, and got scholars to see the question in terms of high and low, rather than good and evil. Christianity is summarized as a “slave morality” because of its teaching about the low, as in “the meek shall inherit the earth.” The few high, for Nietzsche, were justified in squashing the many low to secure the possibility of some high culture in the future. He made this an imperative, with his “last man” stuff about the end of meaning in human life and the requirement of some powerful creation to save humanity. We see this as of a kind with the inverse utopian visions of both the Nazis and the Communists, each an excuse for the bloodshed of the prior century. For Bloom, it is not clear that utopianism itself is not the problem, that is, every sort of the subjection of polities to a vision of justice, as these do quickly become excessive. The key question is this: Is there not a difference in kind between Platonic and totalitarian utopianism? From his chapter on music, and his kinship of Plato and Nietzsche, one would not know that the ends of wisdom and power are fundamentally opposed.
this gutter phenomenon is apparently the fulfillment of the promise made by so much psychology and literature that our weak and exhausted Western civilization would find refreshment in the true source, the unconscious…Now all has been explored; light has been cast everywhere, the unconscious has been made conscious, the repressed expressed. And what have we found? Not creative devils, but show business glitz Mick Jagger tarting it up on the stage is all that we brought back from the voyage to the underworld.
And would Bloom rather that we found creative devils? But, on the contrary, a strain of Neo Nazi Punk music emerged on its own about the early eighties, though this seems to have been on the wane, while the “Gothic” and vampire cults had been increasing. –
In the Republic (399), when Socrates describes the education in the best government for a city, he famously banishes much of epic poetry, and forbids the saying of many if not most of the things said or implied by Homer and Hesiod about the gods. He also bans tragedy and comedy, leaving only the “unmixed imitator of the descent” character, as Adiemantus identifies such a poet. The lamentations of tragedy and the jokes of comedy are treated as immoderate, to be suppressed by argument and law (604a-608a), beginning with the grief of Achilleus celebrated in poem. In accord with the banning of poets who imitate all things and all kinds of men (398 a-b), he also bans much of music, such as flute music (399 d), following the great Greek flute player Marsyas. (Considering the flute of Ian Anderson, or in Jefferson Airplane’s Comin’ Back to Me, we wonder why.) Plutarch records that Acibiades turned Greek fashion away from flute playing, the reason not that it disfigures the face, but that one cannot at the same time speak or sing words (Life of Alcibiades). The flute is a wordless replacement of voice, and if there is something wrong with it in itself, regardless of what is played, it may somehow be in the difference between the wind and string instruments. While another voice might accompany them, they are usually present in place of voice.
He bans most of tragedy and comedy (394c, 595a), at least until it reforms itself, Yet he does not ban the lyre, or guitar. A “violent” and a “voluntary” mode are all that remains, useful in fostering courage and moderation. These correspond to the harder rock songs proper and the softer ballads. Summing up the purge, Socrates says they will allow only “hymns to the gods or the celebration of good men.” Contemporary students, and Literature majors especially, are supposed to be offended at the thought of censorship, as we think, without reflecting that what Socrates is considering is the best education, and not education in a democracy. We forbid censorship politically because if anyone were wise enough to do this for us, the majority, especially of a large nation, but even in a state, would surely not be able, or even likely to elect those able. Our Declaration and our Bill of Rights limit government to the public functions that government does well, suppressing genuine crime and defending the nation. These limit government from interfering with the sovereign liberty of persons on certain issues, such as religion, and our government was never delegated authority over these things that pertain to the natural rights of man. Science and art are to some extent included, though not as a pretext for crime, and the distinction must sometimes be made. The first of the civil rights or liberties, regarding religion, serves as the best example. One fundamental statement of this principle, by James Madison, is that “what is here a right towards men is a duty towards the Creator.”[iii] Political liberty, like the ownership of property, is regarding other men, and not, of course, the universe. Or, as Hendrix puts this: “I’m the one who has to die when its time for me to die, so why don’t you let me live my life the way I want to” Jefferson might only add what is assumed, that is without violating the same rights of others. We have obligations higher than our obligation to government, and so our liberty, to obey truth highest of all, is like the liberty of a worker to obey the highest boss, regardless of the orders of a lesser boss or co-worker. A nice statement of the meaning of political liberty is that in governments, liberty consists in “not being prevented from doing what is right, nor compelled to do what is wrong. [iv] The fundamental rights, as those of religion and speech, aim to make government unable to prevent right action or to compel wrong action in certain areas known from experience to be problem areas. The majority is prevented from becoming a majority faction adverse to the rights of any minority (Federalist 10), because, as we think, the majority is not wise enough to govern on all matters. Nor does it seem that Plato would argue that the majority of a large modern state ought to censure its natural aristocracy, which is what occurs when the Bill of Rights is not observed. Democracy works so long as free discussion is allowed and the people are limited to ruling on the public matters, with government limited to its purpose stated in the Declaration, to secure the natural rights. Otherwise, government would prohibit things that are right and compel things wrong. An example would be the fugitive slave law of 1850. But to return, American free speech is entirely consistent with the rules for poetry in the Republic, if it is remembered that one refers to an imaginary city built “in speech” to show justice in the soul, and the other to a large democratic republic.
Still we ourselves “censor,” when we try to surround ourselves with our favorite things, or our children and ourselves with the best and happiest sounds, selecting some and leaving others out, and it is this sort of censorship that is being considered when Socrates and the others are constructing the best regime, “in speech,” or in an imaginary exercise. As can be gleaned from a reading of the Republic, Socratic philosophy looks for poets that make their works by looking to the true standard, the image of God in man, or the truth about virtue, requiring that the poets make their poems on the basis of knowledge, or not make them (598e). His argument is directed against the supremacy of the imagination, the part that is affected by imitation (602b-603c), and fails to distinguish between “big and little,” soul and cosmos, or image and object (605b-c). He may say that the images of the gods of Homer and Hesiod, so much like humans or human ancestors, are really affections of the soul, caused by it, that “come into being after it…” (382 b-c). There is something common to the Socratic and the Biblical rejection of the world of the Gods shown by the poets or in the ancient stories of the peoples. Socrates and Abraham both reject idolatry. There is an “ancient quarrel” between the poets and philosophy (607 b4). In the Republic, Plato’s Socrates banishes tragedy and comedy from his best regime, and requires that the poets “make their poems from knowledge or not make them.” The models for these poems, rather than the making of particular poems, is what is to be known by the founders of the regime. The requirement is that the poets not present the divine falsely, as changing, or lying or causing evil (Republic II), nor show honorable men laughing and weeping (Ibid., Book III). He indicates that the poets might make some apology and be re-admitted, and Shakespeare is thought to have done so.[v] But in Books Eight and Nine of The Republic, Socrates accuses the poets of making hymns to tyrants, and watering the soul’s foolish part while starving the better (568b; 605b,d). This seems to be directed especially at Euripides, as is evident in his Bacchae.
Our music is thought by some to liberate and fuel the worse parts of the human being, the appetites we share even with the animals, while neglecting the higher, more human part. The beat is said, sometimes even by the musicians themselves, to imitate the rhythm, not of walking, or a heartbeat, but sex. Bloom writes:
…rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire– not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored. It acknowledges the first emanations of children’s emerging sensuality and addresses them seriously, eliciting them and legitimating them, not as little sprouts that must be carefully tended in order to grow into gorgeous flowers, but as the real thing…
By emphasizing this beat, followed by the melody and words, rock music is treated as included with poetic imitation in general in Socrates quarrel with the poets:
And as for sex, and spiritedness too, and for all the desires, pains and pleasures in the soul that we say follow all our action, poetic imitation produces similar results in us. For it fosters and waters them when they ought to be dried up, and sets them up as rulers in us when they ought to be ruled, so that we may become better and happier instead of worse and more wretched.
(Republic 605 c; 606d)
For Allan Bloom, rock is among those things that water and feed the worst part of the soul (Republic 605 c; 606d), encouraging the animal part to lead the human. Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, has written, famously, on the change from the point of view of the last scholars of the pre-rock era. Rock and roll in his presentation is simply perverse, offering the instant gratification of appetites that ought be sublimated, pandering obscenity for profit, and leaving the youth of America with spent imaginations, incapable of the liberal arts. His attack, which may be the foremost scholarly comment on rock music, has gone largely unanswered.
We concede that the description is in part accurate, describing what may have been at times the most widespread and most obvious effect of popular music and popular culture over the past forty years. The rule of law remains stronger in North America and Britain than anywhere else in the world, for example in preventing the mob from controlling government. Yet the vulgarity, criminality and malice present in American culture is in some ways unlike anything anywhere else in the world, the only parallels being the decadence of Europe in the twenties and thirties and the vulgarity of Rome under the emperors, after the decline of that republic. Even the soviet rulers in the tyrannies of the forties were shocked by American vulgarity, not to mention what must be the reaction of the more Medieval Islamic world. There are few parallels to our murder rate. It is well known that there are strands of our music, or branches of the tree of this music, as it grows, that intentionally encourage genuine crime, and in running out of things to shock, or matter for a rebellion that gets a rise out of anyone anymore, play at the promotion of evil, even without understanding what is being done, or without believing in the spiritual basis of evil. Play becomes serious when this art informs action. There is something of a chicken and egg question, of whether and to what extent these strains are the cause or the effect, the tutor or the expression, of the decline of the American character. The important thing is that these things are not good portents for our future. It remains to be seen whether the resilience of common sense in a cultivated Democracy will allow us to preserve our ancient liberty.
While the fall of tradition, and the liberation of passions and appetites that followed brought many bad and dangerous changes, it also brought higher and deeper themes into popular music, and it is this life of the soul that we have sought to follow through the music. There will always be financial interests ready to flatter the appetites, corrupting souls for profit. Yet there is something else going on here as well. There is a great tendency for the baser or more trivial tunes to fall out of use, while the better tunes hold perennial interest, becoming “classics,” as the genre between oldies and post-eighties popular music has titled itself. There occurs something like the persistence of common human meaning. On the other side of the revolution, sex is boring, while the genuinely racy life is the life of the spirit or intellect. The most meaningful tunes also have a tendency to be the more lasting tunes. What many partisans of our music think when encountering Bloom’s criticism is that surely if he would consider the particulars, the examples of the really good songs, he would see that the better tunes do not flatter the animal appetites and starve the human parts. Rather, as the lyrics indicate, these are the songs of the very human element of the soul, in love and in many of the different moving things about life. These lyrics provide a window not only into the corrupt characters that emerge with democratic ages, but also into some very fine characters that otherwise would not emerge.
What we have tried to show is, not that these things do not exist, but that this is not all that is occurring, nor even the most important or essential, thing that is occurring in the popular music. What occurs regarding sex is not the most important, nor the most lasting characteristic of this popular music. While there are many coarse and dark things in our music, it is possible to take a path of beauty and light, showing first that such a path through our music to be taken. Our answer began from an attempt to show that the liberation of sex implied in rock and roll opens the way for the emergence of true love, and that this is in fact the theme of the most enduring songs. There is an attempted rejection of the entire spiritual tradition of the Western world, especially at the beginning of the Sixties rock era, evident in all the turn toward gurus, as the place from where a spiritual message could be received. We cannot overestimate how radical Hendrix, for example, is, not only musically but spiritually, nor how “out” there “in the fields” was the seeker Townshend. In many cases, such as the Who (“Love Reign Over Me”), the Beatles (“Let it Be”), there is a maturing and gradual reconciliation with what are seen as “Western” traditions. While Dylan never left the Biblical tradition, and even became Christian, at least for a while, there is in the early wave of sixties rock music proper, a turn away from Christianity with the turn away from the old world, or the “establishment.” Yet even the tunes of Led Zeppelin, as the rock blues “Dazed and Confused,” assume the struggles of true love for one loved, and the wish for her fidelity. The most intense rock blues expression repeatedly contradicts the sexual revolution, because the soul cannot really sing most intensely about sex as a spiritual experience. Sex is by nature trivial, and so comical, except for its involvement in the soul in love. But its repression is also somehow the repression of music and love, and so the limitations of the old morality are trampled, at least until the wave encounters some thing immovable.
The initial rejection of Western spirituality opened the way for a quest that leads to the recovery, in music, of an arguably more natural, or less artificial, spirituality, something of the better part of the rejected spirituality. It is especially American in its concern for liberty, and prides itself, or finds its vindication, both in being unconventional and in finding things that are rare, and in the end, are very good. The following out of this path may in the end assume the goodness of nature, in this sense: the soul by nature looks for these things of truth, beauty and light, feeding on these more than horses feed on clover or sweet grass, and is sustained by them. America is the experiment to see if men and women are capable of governing themselves (Federalist 1). We pride ourselves in the demonstration that liberty is right because nature is good. In the end, liberty works, even for the people, because, at least in some ways, the soul comes through on its own. One is reminded of the way the grass grows through the sidewalk, and wildflowers up through the pavement. While some think that because weeds will grow, requiring effort to keep them from destroying the beauty of our gardens, we should have only concrete and lawn, we look for the blossoming of nature, and note that some of the weeds are wildflowers.
Blooms critique of popular music sounds similar to the critique of the Athenian stranger in Book III of the Laws, when he addresses something that happened among his contemporary musicians when they mixed up the kinds of songs, “and held that there was no correct form, that everyone was wise in everything,” and that pleasure is the only standard (Laws 700 e- 701 a). From this there emerged not “a democracy of free men,” but a brazen liberty that disregards all obedience, to rulers, then laws, then even oaths and pledges to the gods” (701 b-c). In Book II, The Athenian had criticized the mixing together of things that belong separate, the forms and instruments, the things pertaining to gender, free and slave, animal and human noises (669a -670 c). As in the Republic, a list of things including the sound of thunder are banned (396b).
Though one might not recognize this from Plato’s Republic, Socrates was the master of the very high subject of erotics, having learned these things, according to Plato’s Symposium, from one of the earliest female teachers, Diotima. Strauss, commenting on the Symposium, writes that the harsh criticism of poetry generally, and tragedy and comedy in particular, from Books III and X of Plato’s Republic, is really only the crudest political expression of what Plato thinks about poetry. His serious views are, of course, much more favorable to poetry and therefore, also more particularly to tragedy and comedy. One could perhaps show this from the Laws…that while…poetry is in need of supervision…from another point of view, the poet is the teacher of the legislators… (Strauss, 2001, pp. 171-172). Homer precedes Lycurgus, so that Homer’s Lacedaemonians, Agamemnon and Helen, are the ancestors of those Lycurgus gave laws, not formed by him, as were the later and famous Spartans. Diotima even says it is the office of the poets to beget “Wisdom and her sister virtues” (Symposium, 209) though the contradiction with The Republic, (Books V-VII) here may indicate a difference between the teaching of Plato’s Socrates and Plato’s Diotima.
In Xenophon’s Symposium, Socrates is said to have been found by Charmides dancing wildly in private, so that he was thought mad. He explained that to involve the whole body is also best for symmetrical exercise (II,19).
In Plato’s Republic, three parts of the soul are famously distinguished, here as desire, spirit and reason (Book III). In the classical presentation, love is at first a part of desire, until it gradually becomes apparent that eros spreads through all three parts of the soul. There is a love of the noble and a love of knowledge. We have focused on a distinction which may not be explicit in classical philosophy between love and appetite. The two are obviously different in that love is for one, to possess and beget upon the beautiful, not every beautiful body or even every beautiful soul, but the one loved. Though there are great examples of fertile love in ancient Greece, Pericles and Xenophon’s Apasia, heterosexual monogamous eros does not receive its due in classical Greece, in part because love is described in homosexual terms, according to what has appeared to us to be peculiar Greek custom. Another result is that Plato was buried by decent society as though himself banished, for some two millennia. Plato and Socrates tolerate Greek homosexuality, but teach, along with Aristotle, that it is unnatural, beginning from the obvious sense (Laws, 836c-837d). Even our homosexual movements have ignored the Platonic teaching, in part because its effect would be to purify friendship and de-emphasise sex. The ironic result is that, for over two thousand years, the highest writings on love, Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium, are about homosexual love. Not until Romeo and Juliet does heterosexual love receive treatment comparable to that of homosexual love in the writings of Plato. Outside Greece, the Greek custom is incomprehensible, foreign even to the hyper-civilized area where tolerance of these things occurs. Hence the West does not have a great body of works considering romantic love or Eros until the Romantic Movement in Renaissance poetry, beginning with Shakespeare. While the ancient Biblical tradition itself does provide a basis for the understanding of fertile love, Medieval tradition emphasized turning away from all things of the body, and so did not develop this line, until quite late, beginning with Dante. While the Bible, for example in the Song of Solomon, contains the principle and even the development of heterosexual love for an understanding comparable in height to Plato’s presentation, the Christian emphasis on celibacy and the disregard of Jesus and some of the apostles for the things of fertile love led this potential to go undeveloped until the time of the Renaissance poets, removed from Plato by nearly two millennia. As we now think, the implications of Christianity for the kind of love at the founding of the family– the love that unites man and woman into a permanent though mortal unity of soul in the image of God that is man– turn out to be the most beautiful. David, and the principle of the Song of Songs, demonstrates the reason: that love between man and woman is like the love between God and man. This image as a whole in man is the image of God in man. I have shown places in our popular music where this principle is evident, and this alone seems enough to clinch a tie in the argument. It can be shown, too, that Plato understood this principle, in his treatment of the union of the male and female classes of the guardians and the begetting of intellect in the soul. What should be sought as serious is music that contains a resemblance to the imitation of the beautiful” (668 b). In the case of each thing made one must know what it is, in order to avoid making mistakes about it. If one doesn’t know the being– what is intended and what the image really is an image of– one will scarcely know whether it is correct in its intention or mistaken. The cryptic statement contains three elements: the beautiful itself; the imitation, and the resemblance that the music is to contain. The suggestion is that the products of the poets imitate character, which are the attempts of the legislator to imitate virtue itself, which is not a thing made by any human legislator. Another way of following the trail of image to object would be to consider love of man and woman to be a natural imitation of the image of God in man, which pertains to a singular soul. The beautiful itself may be the singular soul or the exemplar of virtue, “a king and virtue,” the resemblance in the visible love, and its imitation, correct or incorrect, in the song made by the poet.
This said, it has always surprised me that the modern movement of gay awareness, pride and such, should so completely ignore the works of Plato on love. One would think homosexual men would always have looked to Plato as the ground for the public legitimacy of their way of life, at least as much as Lesbian women could look to the ancient works of Sappho and the example of her colony on the isle of Lesbos. American male homosexuality has been by contrast a glorification of the sex part, and could use to spend time with Socrates and Plato. “Platonic love,” as it came to be called, is a purification of the Greek homosexual custom, to separate, especially the love of males for males, from the things of the body, so that as though purified by and expert alchemist, love is liberated to become true friendship. Pedophilia too appears as a perversion of the relation of older to younger in education. And in all the social sciences, in their practical aspect, for example between therapist and subject, etc, the prohibition of sexual relations makes some help possible, while the presence makes for an impossible confusion, so that one cannot help another without the virtue of chastity, any more than a medical doctor can practice upon young beautiful bodies without the most complete professional ethics. The lack of ethical concerns in our secular, scientific society makes these relations unsafe or impossible, and those, for example capable of being a youth councilor, are reluctant to attempt such work for fear of suspicion. And though the robes of the priesthood have been used to hide pedophilia, the secular teaching has no ground for a teaching of even the moderation required for the simplest social work. Ask a biologist why, according to biology, those who practice medicine ought to avoid corrupting those in his care if it can be hidden, or ask Hippocrates why according to medicine, one ought to obey the Hippocratic Oath, especially if it is disadvantageous to his own health. These are dependent upon higher assumptions in order to be of any use. Yet, amid our ethical relativism, we clutch principles of bodily health to construct our new ethic, to be imposed by majority opinion: As a teacher once caricatured the new morality, “Abortion, adultery and homosexuality are fine only do not smoke!” Only bodily nature can be the ground of any ethical pubic agreement, and only part of this. Far more public concern has been given to second hand smoke than to the crime of infecting others with STD’s, or the danger of driving children about on our highways. Cats are protected by law from cruelty, and most have medical care, while the human fetus is in some phases without any protection at all, due to the reluctance to admit that it is anything, even as important as a cat. Wanted children of males can be swept away intentionally without the consent of the fathers. These contradictions arise because majority opinion is making rather than following the principles of ethics, and can only focus on one side of a few issues at any given time. The problem of drunk driving in the modern world has been solved, at the expense of a judicial tyranny. There are clearly various causes of homosexuality, and some may simply find themselves this way. It is surely a great advance that violence not be done to correct these natures. It is surely a great advance that the young who find themselves this way are no longer driven near to suicide by the social conflict, nor exposed to suffer violence from their fellow citizens. And what if the cause were our pesticides, as these have effected the frogs, or in some other unknown way, by nature or circumstance? This too presents a question for the Biblical tradition. Yet another partial explanation of cause, or the cause of some instances, may be described as the entrapment of friendship in the appetites, or an identification of the personality with its own feminine soul. The indiscriminate sexuality of the American gay scene would here drag seekers down into the appetites, some never to emerge again. It is often thought by beginning students to be a truism that “Socrates was gay,” yet there is no reason to think so. He may flatter Alcibiades in an effort to help Athens, and Alcibiades. Socrates and even Plato teach that these things are simply unnatural, and move Greece in the direction of the Biblical and Jewish teaching (Laws 836c; 836b-837d; 841d). For modern Christians, opposed to the liberty of these things, the question can be asked whether a monogamous homosexual love is obviously inferior to common heterosexual lust, especially since some do seem simply to find themselves to be this way regarding love. And to what extent do citizens have rights in love, especially when the rights of others are not harmed? Christians may believe and teach the Bible, but not everyone is required to be Christian in order to be a citizen. The more important things may be fidelity and moderation. While Christianity and Judaism do teach that these things are an abomination, the teachings of mercy and forgiveness, of judge not lest you be judged, of not stoning the adulteress, take precedence. The same law for Israel calls for the stoning of the adulteress and death for those who curse their parents, as it is a severe law (Leviticus 20:9; Exodus 21:17). Jesus does not say to the adulteress “you have not sinned,” but “go and sin no more.” We, it seems, cannot say the latter without the former, and so for each sin that we desire mercy, we must remove the law, even as a guide. As Paul teaches in his letter to the Romans, what is most significant is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory (3:23), and the law is a guide in examining ourselves.
The mass effect of the cultural movement of the past fifty years has been the destruction of tradition and the liberation of the appetites. The hippies are in part the result and in part the purveyors of the sexual revolution, though its origins too are to be found among the intellectuals, such as Freud, Kinsey, and those following the movements consequent upon the careers of these. Here, in a word, the story is this: The sexual revolution seemed like a good idea, until we ran into nature, in two separate ways: aids and pedophilia. It turned out that there are reasons, long forgotten, for the ancient customs regarding love. A conservative joke is that when the liberals finally address the social issues of AIDS and the sexual harassment and abuse of women, they will put new measures in place, forget the reason, and we will have morality again. The truth is that certain sights, even pictures, trigger mating especially in males, just like peacock with their displays and barn critters with their smells, and so we wear clothes. And we, the aged, keep them so as not to be offensive.
One is reminded of the discovery of the reasons in human nature that the teaching of Rousseau encounters in attempting to assert that all is good that comes from the original nature, and civilization the cause of all corruption. We find quickly that this is not so of human nature, that there is evil that everywhere accompanies man, and the project of civilization, at least since Hercules cleared the highway of robbers and wild beasts, has been the suppression of this evil that would otherwise destroy everything beautiful, violate the natural rights of others, and subject all those it could to the insatiable lust of its own tyranny. Hence, crime, or the propensity to gain an apparent advantage at the expense of the rights or the good of another, has always been with us, and would seem to be by nature. The cultivation of civilization begins in opposing crime, compelling it to have no effect.
The great and hard won achievements of civilization are not noticed till these are gone, and we find that replacements cannot be so readily crafted by our cultural artists. While the causes in these matters are generally unknown, a good place to look might be the natural function that attaches the soul through sexual experience. It may have been a good policy to keep all such things away from children, and hence out of public view, for whom the matters are yet of no concern. What if, by awakening children to sex, we are attaching to child objects the “image” that ought to be “projected” in adult love, where it seems possible for the image to become stuck in compulsion? I recall once walking in downtown Grand Rapids, by the river and the fountains where we used to read, and walking passed a group of schoolchildren on a field trip to the museum, saw a thin eleven year old singing “I want to get physical…let me hear your body talk,” etc, and it is on these matters that we need to be more reflective. Does “Madonna” really help us to understand the significance of virginity, etc. The preservation of virginity until marriage, rejected in our age as obsolete, may be the preservation of the imagination for the attachment that makes for happy loves at the hearth of happy families. There is more reason to think so than not. That it is usually unattainable makes no difference: it is the measure for understanding each particular household.
But to see this as the essence of “rock music” the movement and what it is that happened there is surely only spin. Similarly, to say the love of the hippies is “swarmy and hypocritical,” as distinct from goodhearted though naive, is not an argument but only name calling, applicable to any love poet of any time. The hippies are hypocritical when we are angry at some “establishment” or other, as though some great intentional evil were at the heart of the daily affairs of the economy, government, etc. Is this the principle of love applied to the faulty human things? But, in our alternative high school, Miss Densmore would not allow us to rest with simply saying, for example that Nixon was a this or that, but would make us give an account of why we were saying such things. And it is this we would challenge Bloom to do, taking up the above examples, and a swarm of others ten times more than commentary on which could take up many volumes, if life were long enough to write them all, and the project sustainable. In conclusion, we do not deny that one can find examples to support Bloom’s presentation of the character of rock music, and even admit that the effect on American character of a certain transitory strain of popular music is rather ugly and ignoble. When one looks closer, one sees something much richer and more serious, and so we have taken the opportunity to present the examples that fill out the picture, raising anew the question of the general character of the musical movement of our age.
But the three parts of the soul, rather than the two part presentation of the soul, is the basis for the astonishing Platonic parallel between the parts of the soul and the parts of music. The words involve and are addressed to reason, or the rational part of the soul, the melody to the heart or spirit, the middle part of the soul, and the base and rhythm to the appetites. The song as a whole is addressed to the person as a whole, and the best to the mind’s eye, or the vision of each. As my father, the DJ CJ Mac, explains, the vibrations or sound of the music must communicate the same thing as the words, or communicate the emotions that go with the meaning of what is being said. So when McCartney explains that he would usually begin with the words, and try to find the tunes that go with these words, we see that the process of translation might be accomplished in this way. Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, by contrast, seems to have been composed by finding words that might express what the music makes us feel. Page and Plant seem to begin with the music, and then Plant would find the lyrics. At other times, as in Stairway, they seem to have begun with the words. Heylin (p. 190) cites Dylan saying “Most of the time the words and melody come at the same time, usually with the first line” In the best case, both might be present at once. The harmony of the parts in music might then elicit a harmony of the soul, its parts moved toward their place by nature. The rarer souls of the musicians bring these harmonies into our world, states of soul and orderings of character that we otherwise would nor have access to, nor be able to cultivate alone.
Law and Poetry are said to aim either at the purgation of the emotions or the formation of character, and these are said to be different aims, embodied respectively in the Spartan and Athenian legislation. Hard rock would seem more purgative or cathartic, while the ballads are more a harmonizing of character. It is not clear that hard rock often fosters courage, though it might, and has sometimes been used this way in battle, to inspire troops. This may involve the purging of fear or the shaping of courage. Similarly, the ballads both purge sorrows and shape moderation. Bloom writes also of sublimation, and his most scientific complaint may be that children are open to the adult world much too early, making the foundations of families difficult. “Too light winning” as Prospero says, might make our loves “light” Sublimation is a modern idea traced to Rousseau, though it became common currency with Freud. All the higher things of man are thought to come from the sublimation of lower desires, so that the flower of civilization is grown from the compost of survival and especially reproductive drives, or instinct.. Contrary to the idea of sublimation is the idea that “libido,” or what was once called eros, love as desire, is “canalized” toward the higher things along a gradient that is especially by nature. Symbols facilitate the canalization. Spirit is trapped in the appetites like Ariel in the pine tree (Shakespeare, The Tempest, I, ii, 276, 291-293). The excess of libido inflames the appetites, tormenting the soul by the endless pursuit of longings that cannot be fulfilled in the objects toward which the subject aims in his longing. The desire ought be freed by nature to the things above, and this unfolding is by nature. Libido or Eros is not sublimated in the poetic creation of the higher human things, but rather, music and poetry are proper ministers in freeing eros and calling us upward in the ascent, accompanying the soul in flights above, and even showing a way down to the rooftops again.
As Rousseau makes clear in his Letter to d’Alambert, the primary objection to the theater in cities is the wild life of the actors, and so it is with our musicians. One may not want one’s son or daughter to be a roadie for Led Zeppelin in the early seventies. The singers writing their own songs and becoming stars, the bohemian way of life of all the artists becomes the model. And were it not for inspiration, it may be difficult to account for why the best songs are not written by the best characters.
As Aristotle writes, songs “are in their very natures representations of characters, the different modes affect the listeners differently, the sadder or more grave “Mixilydian,” the moderate Dorian or the fiery and inspired Phrygian (Politics, 1340b). The varieties of musical time or rhythm, the lively or the steady, also produce an effect on the character of the soul. The musical modes and rhythms have an “affinity with the soul” and the harmonies that the soul has or lacks. And if music could be produced by a harmonious soul, and communicate or produce this harmony in others, a harmony that the soul by nature needs but to which it has not yet attained, it would be clear why music produces a pleasure that is akin even to erotic and speculative pleasures. Some of the more clear examples are when an ascending series of notes coincides with an ascending theme, or the scary music in a scary movie indicates the tension of danger. While this may not be sufficient to understand the exceptions: the thundering intellect of the drums of Keith Moon cracking the silence as the energy of the Who bursts on the scene with the psychic vision of “I could see for miles,” nor the band Creed, nor the superiority of the intellect in the melodies of Mozart without words, it works as a paradigm to begin to understand and think about the rationality of music. Add to this the element of the Pythagorean connection between music, numbers, geometry and physics: and the idea that for example certain vibrations shatter glass, or that each object has a specific resonance, and one begins to see that music studied philosophically might be a truer ground for something like a unified field theory, unifying not the whole of physics large and small, but the science of the human things with the sciences of the rest of nature. But just as the study of order and purpose in nature must escape modern mathematical physics, the mystery of the physics of music escapes us, because it is first a study of word, emotion and harmony, that is, a study of the human things.
Another small window into the meaning of music is opened, as it seems, by a point made by the Athenian stranger on the question of what “…constitutes beauty in posture or tune?” Posture and tune or utterance are related to rhythm and melody. “Consider this,” he tells Clinias: “If courageous and then a cowardly soul undergo identical and equal sufferings, do the same postures and utterances result?” For example, a pale coward will be hunched over or cowering while the posture of courage is more upright, and these postures and rhythms pertain even to animals. True courage will be shown for example in facing death in the right way, as is approached in “Born to Run,” and hit in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Though it may not be full courage, does one want to interfere with the character in Bo Didley’s “Who do you love?” We believe it when the poet has him say he does not mind dying. He could face death on the battlefield and retain his human features. Yet the sacrifice of life is different for those who understand what living is for. To risk death in executing the cruel commands of some tyrant, whether for some advantage or due to a greater fear, is of course not courage, though a part of it is like a part of courage. True courage, a part of the royal nature, will have subtleties about it, like the willingness to take apparent dishonor in the cause of ones nation, or generally to sacrifice for ones friends, as when Simon says “I will lay me down.” The emotions that pertain to true courage could best be shown in songs describing such a character and how he feels in certain circumstances, by none who understands the virtue. Martin Luther King around the time of the Mountaintop speech, shown in the perseverance of “we shall overcome,” is an example of courage. Now while it is improper to assert the superiority of the base to the rule of the better, and proper before the truth to be humble, there are circumstances where a more spirited response is fitting, as when rebelling against the rule of injustice. When the conventional, by a standard of artificial virtue, asserts that what is natural is in fact vulgar, it is proper to be rebellious and courageous, and the genuinely courageous man will know the difference correctly in the circumstance. “…it is correct to call what pertains to courageous men beautiful or noble (kalon), and what pertains to cowards, ugly or base (kakos).” …let all the postures and tunes that belong to virtue of the soul or of the body, whether they belong to virtue itself or an image of it, be noble or beautiful, and those belonging to vice be entirely opposite…”
A comment of Barry Melton, of Country Joe and the Fish, reveals the connection of music and character in a surprising way. Melton states:
I was interested in playing blues because it was wrapped in a whole series of political beliefs in which I was involved, which revolved around the civil rights movement. Here was the authentic music of the oppressed black rural south and that’s what I wanted to play. I wasn’t interested in playing bluegrass music, cause[it was] the music of the racists who were picking on people who were part of the black rural south…[vi]
Similarly, Jonathan Cott, interviewing Jagger, says: “Keith Richards once said something to the effect that rock and roll really is subversive because the rhythms alter your being and perceptions.” To this, Jagger responds: “Music is one of the things that changes society. That old idea of not letting white children listen to black music is true, ’cause if you want white children to remain what they are, they mustn’t.” Rock then would appear, like folk, a part of the civil rights movement, a social integration.
Aristotle objects to performances in music because they play to the pleasure of the audience. He distinguishes two kinds of audience, the one “free and educated,” the other, “the vulgar, mechanics and laborers and others of the sort,” and these too should have musical competitions and entertainment. (1342 a 19-22). Aristotle appeals to the serious man as the measure of the noble in particular instances (Ethics), and this is what is at stake when we discuss music, saying that we like this and that. Pleasure attends the noble in their apprehension of beautiful music, so that while it should not be said that it is pleasure that is the standard, it might be said that the pleasure of the noble, or what is pleasing to the noble, indicates the standard. “The finest muse,” says the Athenian stranger, “is she who pleases the best men, and those who have been sufficiently educated.” (Laws, 659a). An example may be the selection of songs, especially of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, made by Judy Collins when she set out to record the songs that are especially beautiful. “The most beautiful sight for him who can see,” says Plato’s Socrates, would be if the form of justice and the particular character should ever coincide (Republic, 402d). Some songs communicate the actions of a noble soul in finding ones way through love. The best examples may be those, like “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” that resolve the loss of love, as in the recognition that Love itself goes on, or toward tending the garden of humanity, as in the conclusion of “Blessed.” These obviously and especially have a role in education.
A theory of Aesthetics and poetry, though, might be based on the coincidence between knowledge, the knowledge within each soul, and the perception of the particular. It is not so much when a thing partakes of the beautiful, as when the knowledges or archetypes, as we assume, the unconscious structure of the psyche becoming conscious and integrated through the perception of the particular, that the experience of beauty occurs, if beauty and learning or coming to know are at root one. The truly noble character, then, is the philosopher in contemplation, and beauty is a perception due to the philosopher within.
What we are seeing and doing with music and fashion is communicating characters, tunings of the disposition and postures and gaits, or ways of standing and walking in and through our lives and the world. These communications convey the suggestion that we ought to imitate them, or find their response to these similar circumstances. They are especially impressive at the age of aspiration, when the young have heroes, and by admiration gather the ways of life that they will come to exemplify. Whatever is said about the democratic or vulgar instances, the characters are aristocratic in some instances, or show as exemplary a suggestion as to what the better souls think and feel, or how they stand, in certain circumstances. From this we understand the adolescent aspiration to be “cool,” which may have possessed us more than other generations, with the possible exception of that our parents in the Fifties, in the imitation of Humphrey Bogart and James Dean. Its source in turn may be the imitation of the World War II fighter pilot, jacket and all. This is cool. One imitates the characteristics too of friends, taking on certain postures and ways that we like better than those we happen to hold in their place, and in this way friendship improves us, especially where we are attracted to the things in our friends that are truly good.
Finally, we must conclude with a favorite passage that Bloom liked often to cite from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, where Lorenzo, in Belmont, rather than going indoors prepares to hear music under the night sky. He says to Jessica, “sit…”
… Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patents of bright gold.
There’s not the smallest orb that thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young –eyed cherubims;
Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Reminding of how colts stand at the sound of a trumpet and how the poets describe the ability of Orpheus to charm trees and floods and even rocks, he further adds that none are so full of rage that music does not for a time change his nature:
…the man that hath no music in himself
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.
Putting these two together, we are moved by audible music because of the harmony of the spheres, though the immortal soul is prevented from hearing these harmonies because of the body. Our soul responds to audible music because of the immortal soul in us, or the immortal soul that we are. For us to be without popular music, or for the people to be without music, would be to be without the charming effect of the concord of sweet sounds.
Appendix A: Ten Happy songs for weddings
I have often been struck by how difficult it is to find great love songs that are happy rather than tragic love songs, and so good for playing at weddings. This is very strange, since a good half of all lyric songs are love songs. The bulk of the great lyric love songs are tear jerkers, like Yesterday, things one would not play at a wedding. For wedding celebrations, it is the function of music to bring recognition of the meaning of what is occurring, and the universal elements of family life. The trick is that the sorrows and false love involved in the themes of most music, and almost all of the blues, are banished from the ceremonies, leaving surprisingly little, even of the beginning or conception of love. Yet some of the gemstones are happy songs. My father is the wedding DJ C. J. Mac, and I went along on a few jobs with him, and considered taking up the trade myself, but could never be reconciled to the lowest common denominator songs that are able to get enough people dancing. So I thought I would collect songs that might make up part of the program of music for weddings. The music might be ordered according to the moments of love. In practice, my contribution is always limited to telling the DJ to “Play Louie Louie!”
The Wedding Song Paul Stokey
Fast dance songs that can be played at weddings and have anything to do with what is occurring are so rare that these are marked with an *
The First time Ever I Saw Your Face McCall / Roberta Flack
Jenifer Juniper Donovan
Pretty Woman* Roy Orbison
She’s a Rainbow The Rolling Stones
I Can’t Explain* The Who
Twilight Time The Platters
Louie Louie* The Kingsmen
We’ve Only Just Begun Carpenters
Wouldn’t it Be Nice Beech Boys
Golden Lady* Stevie Wonder
Close to You Carpenters
For Emily Wherever I can Find Her Simon and Garfunkle
I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You Elvis
You are So Beautiful Leon Russell
Stay / Golden Years* David Bowie
Hush Herman’s Hermits
In My Life The Beatles
Something The Beatles
And I love Her The Beatles
Songbird Nicks/ Fleetwood Mac
#9 Dream Lennon
Post-Consummation: Domesticity and Drudgery
Our House Nash / CSNY
Crazy On You * Heart
After the Lovin. I’m still in Love with You Sinatra
If I were a Carpenter Tim Hardin
Lady, John Denver
Anne’s Song John Denver
When a man loves a woman Percy Sledge
Bridge over Troubled Water Simon and Garfunkel
The Long and Winding Road McCartney / Beatles
Thank You Led Zeppelin
Happy Man Chicago
God only knows Brian Wilson
Color My World Chicago
What a Wonderful World Louis Armstrong
Filial and philosophical Meaning
Soul love David Bowie
Ob bla di bla da* The Beatles
Old Man Neil Young
Father and son Cat Stevens
Cats in the Cradle Jim Croce
What Love is Don White
Why this should be so, that dance songs pertaining to marriage are rare, is a good question. But because dance music that pertains to marriage is also surprisingly rare, in a genuine DJ situation, I would mix in some unrelated songs that are both good and danceable, like Superstition, some Rasta from Bob Marley, some funk from Sly Stone, “Dance to the Music” and “Different Strokes,” “Play that funky Music” by Black Cherry, and some early rock like “Twist and Shout,” and Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll.” Talking Heads is danceable, as is The Ramones. Polka, such as “In heaven there Ain’t No Beer” and She’s too Fat for Me” is of course essential. “Love Shack” by the B-52″s might be pertinent and danceable. These rather than “YMCA,” “Old Time Rock and Roll,” “Celebrate,” and “We are Family,” as are usually played. I would hope the lowest common denominator would have an experience with the music of my weddings, not something that could be found anywhere or at every wedding.
Appendix B) 16 Rare or Under Appreciated Songs
- Strange Fruit Billie Holliday / Abel Meeropol
- Northern Sky Nick Drake
- Into White Cat Stevens
- Tomorrow is a Long Time Dylan
- Anathea Judy Collins
- My Priests Leonard Cohen / Judy Collins
- Hallelujah Leonard Cohen
- I Remember Sky Staphen Sondheim/Judy Collins
- When a Man Loves a Woman Percy Sledge
- Wond’ring Aloud Jethro Tull
- Twilight Time The Platters
- Bird on a Wire Leonard Cohen
- Famous Blue Raincoat Leonard Cohen
- Baby Blue Leon Russell
- (Woman) Shawn Phillips
- In the Winter Time Steve Miller
- Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1987.
- Barnet, Richard D., Nemerov, Bruce, and Taylor, Mayo R. The Story Behind the Song. Newport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2004.
- Case, George. Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man. NY: Hal Leonard Books, 2007.
- Cohen, Leonard. Songs of Leonard Cohen copyright (Stranger Music, Inc.) NY: The MacMillan Company, 1969.
- Goldstein, Richard. The Poetry of Rock. New York: Bantam Books, 1969.
- The editors of the Rolling Stone The Rolling Stone Interviews. New York: Paperback Library, 1972.
- 20 Years of Rolling Stone. Edited by Jann S. Wenner. NY: Friendly Press, 1987.
- Hesiod, Theogony. In The Poems of Hesiod, translated by R. M. Frazer. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.
- Heylin, Clinton. Revolution in the Air:The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973. Chicago, Ill: Chicago Review Press, 2009.
- Hoyskins, Barney. Hotel California. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2006.
- Jung, Carl Gustov. Aion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959.
- ______________. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
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- _______________. Symbols of Transformation. New York: Pantheon Books, 1956.
- Klein, Jacob. Lectures and Essays. Annapolis: St. John’s College Press, 1985.
- Lambert, Phillip. Inside the Music of Brian Wilson, New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 1970.
- Maimonides, Moses. The Guide of the Perplexed
- Marcus, Greil. The Invisible Republic. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1977.
- Mellers, Wilfred. The Music of the Beatles. New York: Schirmer Books, 1973.
!9. Oland, Pamela Phillips. The Art of Writing Great Lyrics. New York: Allworth Press, 1989, 2001.
- Plato. The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Princeton, N. J.: The Bollingen Foundation, 1982.
- Plato. Republic. Translated by Alan Bloom
- Thompson, Hunter S. “The Hippies.” 1968 Collier’s Encyclopedia Yearbook. Reprinted in Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, 2005.
- Townshend, Pete. Who I Am. New York: Pete Townshend/Harper-Collins, 2012.
- The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, edited by Rolling Stone. New York: Fireside, 1983, 1995.
- Rousseau, JJ. Letter to d’ Alambert on the Theater. Translated by Allan Bloom. Ithaca, New York: The Cornell University Press, 1960.
- Simon, Paul. The Songs of Paul Simon. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972.
- 31. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, edited by W. Y. Evans-wentz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960.
- Townshend, Pete. Who I Am. New York: Harper-Collins, 2012.
- Trager, Oliver. Keys to the Rain: The Definitive Bob Dylan encyclopedia. New York, N.Y.: Billboard Books, 2004.
- Welch, Chris. Led Zeppelin: The Stories Behind Every Song. No City: Carleton Books, 1998, 2009.
- Wilentz, Sean. Bob Dylan in America. New York: Doubleday, 2010.
[i] Alvarez, Leo Paul s. de, University of Dallas, 1985.
[ii] “Interpretive essay to Plato’s Republic,” in Plato’s Republic, translated by Allan Bloom, p. . Both Plato and Christianity (Acts ) are “communist” in the natural sense that where people living together do not need or care about private property, common ownership is possible, as in a family. The Communism of the past two centuries is a perversion of this, which is why our idealists are surprised to learn that it is not about holding hands and sharing things, but the murder of a class of society contracted with the promise of economic aspects of the natural utopian vision.
[iii] Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, edition, p. 30.
[iv] Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, XI. 3: “ In governments, that is, societies directed by laws, liberty can consist only in the power of doing what we ought to will, and in not being constrained to do what we ought not to will.” This is the best definition of liberty I have ever seen. Jefferson writes “Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their power: that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him; every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of society, and this is all the laws should enforce on him” (Letter to Francis W. Gilmer, June 7, 1816). Every law contrary to the constitution winds up forbidding something that we ought do or compelling something we ought not do, and this is at the root of all legitimate political complaint.
[v] See Barbara Tovey, “Shakespeare’s Apology for Imitative Poetry,” in Interpretation, Vol. 11/3, September, 1983.
[vi] Cited by Richie Unterburger, Turn!, Turn!, Turn!, p. 33.