Sunday, April 05, 2015

music criticism as lifestyle reporting, music as a product separate from the context of daily life, and the century-plus old alarmism of John Philip Sousa

For most people living in the world, circa 1920, music was embedded into their life, not chosen as a lifestyle accessory. But gradually, over the next several decades, music’s value as a pathway of personal definition came to the forefront of our culture. Sometimes the shift was barely perceptible, but in retrospect we can gauge its profound impact. For example, people in rural America didn’t choose country music during the early decades of the 20th century, but were literally born into its ethos; yet by the ’70s, country music had evolved into a lifestyle choice, a posture adopted by millions who never roped a steer or herded cattle, but still wanted to affiliate themselves with the values espoused by the songs. By the time we arrive at the age of disco and punk rock, the music consciously builds its appeal on lifestyle considerations.
Listening to new releases, I am reminded of how an Australian friend once described the United States to me: “You Americans represent the best of the best, and the worst of the worst, all hopelessly mixed together.” The same is true of the output of the music industry in the present day.

One of the basic problems of music criticism as lifestyle criticism is that it is so subsumed into identity politics and cultural identification that it stops being about music.
Gioia, a music historian, is also able to put this in historical perspective: Music started out as part of daily life, but the recording industry turned it into a product separate from its context.

The recording industry?
Originally published in Appleton's Magazine, Vol. 8 (1906), pp. 278-284.
Under such conditions the tide of amateurism cannot but recede, until there will be left only the mechanical device and the professional executant. 

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