02009-07-11 | Uncategorized | 16 comments

Jon told me he saw Billy Bob Thornton on a TV show, asking another man to name a rock band after 1980 that we will listen to in a hundred years. The man named Bruce Springsteen to which Thornton immediately replied that Springsteen started in the Seventies. Then U2 and REM were brought up, but Thornton said that he could name at least 100 bands from the Sixties and Seventies that will be listened to a century from now.

I suggested Prince, but could not come up with much else. What about Jazz, can you name a bunch of young players? Easy to name the greats from the fifties, sixties and seventies, isn’t it. Could be I am not listening to Jazz radio… wait, there basically is no Jazz radio anymore… So, what happened with the record labels and with radio during the last decade and a half has something to do with it. But was that action or re-action?

Could it be that there is a relation between the downward spiral of art and music education in our schools, starting sometime in the Eighties, and the music and art scene? Has anybody studied the effect the lack of music/art education might have had on our culture in general? How about this: what if the lack of art/music education means that more people simply don’t know what a superior photograph looks like? If any photo of the Pantheon will do, why would the press, for example, hire a photographer to take a great photo of the place?

Maybe people have not been given the tools (((art-education))) to analyze a photograph? This came up in a conversation with a photographer friend, after our performance in Newport Beach today… And if a person knows near nothing about music, because the subject was never brought up in school, they also don’t know what it takes to play an instrument, the studying, the practicing, the discipline…. Therefore music and performance is devalued. And it’s not going to get better soon, as Californian government has promised to slash more of whatever is left of art and music in schools because of their budget crisis.

I find this inquiry as fascinating as a doctor might find dissecting a cadaver. Very complex, with lines crossing and double-crossing… a veritable hive of connections and layers. What is the origin? How is it connected? Which piece should I move first to strengthen the position? Which was the biggest mistake? I think it is safe to say that, as Dr. Sacks mentioned, we are a musical species – to deny that is to inhibit our personal and cultural growth. So, the first step is to not only provide arts education, but to attempt to really integrate it into the curriculum. We certainly don’t all have to become musicians, painters, photographers, but an appreciation and rudimentary understanding of the arts, and in particular music, would, I believe, enrich all of us.

Here is a little riff on Tradition and Originality:

Tradition and Originality are poles, extremes like the absolute and relative that in reality can’t be torn apart. There is a flamenco tradition, predated by the Arabic tradition, but there is also the guitar-tradition, the coaxing sound from any wooden box tradition, which includes all string instruments, etc. etc… Tradition is the rootsystem, Originality is the bloom. Tradition is the mountain you jump from to fly. And sometimes it works the other way aroud, too, when an original event becomes a new tradition. Tradition is craft to the originality that is art. All the study-pieces and etudes we play and practice are like sacks filled with sand, which we pile up to climb and jump.

Finished the book The City and the City by China Mieville on Friday morning. What a book, what a trip! Don’t know what to write about it. It was compelling, twisted, fantastic.


  1. Brenda

    Thank you so much for this thought provoking reflection of tradition and orginality.

  2. steve

    “name a rock band after 1980 that we will listen to in a hundred years.”

    Well, I hesitate to do so, but personally, I think Nine Inch Nails. <>

  3. Carol

    I remember in the early fifties meeting someone who was all excited about this new rhythm that “will be the future”. It was called Rock and Roll. It was innovative and free. much like the flight from the traditional mountain that you compared creative music to. And musicians composed and played their own music like no other. Just give me that old time rock ‘n roll. I love it, and my grandkids listen to that old music and call it their own.

  4. steve

    Hey … Just thought of this … what about the Fripp, Belew, Levin, Bruford version of King Crimson?

  5. Brolix

    I stumbled recently on this website. It has interesting facts about the influence of musical education in children, not only in learning to play an instrument, but in expanding the intellectual landscape.

  6. James

    Yes, many facets and layers to this topic. We could write a book on this, or have a great many conversations over breakfast!
    Regarding tradition and originality, one can think of them in tandem, cycles and as complementary parts of a whole. We observe the master, copy the motions, and from there synthesize our “origins” into a new generation of expression.
    Interesting thing to me is that as value is added (by originality, innovation, invention,…) and value is carried forward over time (by traditions, rituals, paintings, recordings, books, memory cards,…), there is a cumulative result. We have the means to create “value” and add it to the greater collection of “values”. Of course there are losses to what we have gained, and creativity has been many times suppressed, but with a greater nurturing of both originality and tradition we stand a chance of a net result of “greater value” over time.

  7. Ottmar

    Steve: in the same interview Billy Bob claimed he could name 100 influential rock bands without even thinking. And I think I can come up with at least twenty easily. And, NIN maybe, probably, but KC is very much a pre-Eighties thing. All of those musicians started in the Sixties and Seventies. Of course, one has to keep in mind that that generation was dealing with a new music form and had a pretty empty slate in front of them, but still, interesting. Wonder how that all fits into the cultural puzzle.

  8. Boris

    I’m sure certain places will still play Frankie goes to Hollywood and their “Relax” and “Welcome to the pleasure dome” in 50 years. Not for art reasons, though. :)

    Strictly speaking, U2 started in the late 70s.

  9. steve

    I remember reading a magazine in the 80s called _Musician_.
    I think _Musician_ went away, but at least they stopped appearing on the newsstand I purchase from.

    I recall they did an article on what they called at the time, “corporate rock.” Perhaps “corporate rock” was the beginning of the end simply because it de-emphasized the “art” or “artistic” aspects of music and emphasized self-similarity and sales.

    At some point in the eighties, I recall Frank Zappa wrote something about “corporate rock” (though he didn’t call it that) where he talked about non-originality, self-similarity and an obsession with sales. It might have been in the liner notes of an album or something in _Musician_ or possibly an answer to a question in _Down Beat_ but he did address this question in real time.

    I have a lot of relatives that work in music and art education, and I can remember thinking (circa 1987) “wow, I’m glad I’m an engineer … it seems like music/art education doesn’t have very much job security…” Of course 10-15 years later engineering was outsourced to India but that’s another story.

  10. yumi

    I’ve had a nice week and a half of tradition…fading tradition. Now, I get a chance to look back and I am not quite convinced that there was a vision for original, nor fresh ideas within the tradition I just experienced and perhaps it is isolated to this particular locale.

    Tradition involves seeing and understanding “the why” of doing time honored patterns before going to the next level. Without that understanding, there is no meaning in the transfer to the next generation of why something was, or is important. Originality, can be the refreshing counterpart to tradition by moving away and starting something new or as an extension by giving tradition freshness…a big blast of oxygen. Tradition seems to need a starting point and followers, while originality contains independence.

    Enjoyed the idea of tradition being, “the mountain you jump from to fly”. That was a wonderful visual! When tradition works well, that is so true. Ideally, tradition should never confine (culture/tradition), but give the freedom to evolve.

  11. Boris

    Btw, there must be a new Carlos Santana interview around somewhere where he blames it on the computer age, saying every plumber [that’s a quote, ok?!] could make “music” today using certain software but it wouldn’t be the real thing. He also said that he wouldn’t know how to use a computer (or wouldn’t use one) …

  12. steve

    Ottmar wrote: “an appreciation and rudimentary understanding of the arts, and in particular music, would, I believe, enrich all of us.”

    I once took an art history class and the professor had a phrase on the overhead projector as we walked in to the first class that said: “you can tell the state of a culture (or civilization) by the state of their arts.” As I recall there was no attribution, or perhaps there was and I simply don’t remember it.

    I took that class 20 years ago and that has stuck with me. I wonder what that implies about us.

  13. Ottmar

    Nice quote. When you figure out what that implies about us, you will tell us, yes?

  14. steve

    Ottmar: “Nice quote. When you figure out what that implies about us, you will tell us, yes?”

    Well, superficially, I’d say we are in rough shape. But, I guess relatively speaking we always have been. It doesn’t have to be that way:


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