Thursday Dec 20, 2007

Really Classic Rock

Disclaimer: I'm writing while listening to Yngwie Malmsteen's Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra in E Minor, which is the perfect complement to my Godsmack t-shirt and fuzzy duck slippers.

Context: While standing around with other middle school parents a few weeks ago, one (who happens to be a music teacher) posed a question to use that she had asked her class earlier in the week.

Question: What music of today will still be listened to in 300 years? Good question, because there aren't many others that let you put Beethoven, Jimi Hendrix and Charlie Parker in the same answer. Her class was quick to suggest various popular artists, only to have other students point out that last year's chart leaders were already forgotten. My related thought was that in 300 years, emo rock and Emo Phillips have about the same probability of popularity.

Answer: I didn't give this answer at the time because I was afraid of killing the conversation completely. Listeners in 2307 will enjoy whatever best survives the current copyright climate. It's the music that benefits from having communities that refresh themselves with new, young listeners, brought in by something they heard their parents enjoying or discussing; it's music that can be performed, mashed up, remixed, shared and laid down under some killer Lego anime. The Brothers Grimm are still popular, not as much in prose as in song and dance, thanks to Disney's appropriation of classic stories for their animated films. This isn't a bad thing; it's just an argument for the good that can come from having a relaxed view of copyright (or access to material for which the copyright has expired).

A Better Answer: Most jazz, particularly Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonius Monk. To this day jazz bands of teenagers struggle with transcriptions of their work, until they realize that those solos weren't written; they were experienced, and the musicians were having fun with the medium. I'm probably on the border of "today's music" with references to the golden be-bop kings, so I'll expand the list to include Yes, anything on Guitar Hero, the Grateful Dead, Phish, and the Who. In reverse order, the Who embodied "Rock is dead, long live rock" and a few centuries are unlikely to change that. Being first into the memorabilia shrine at the Hard Rock Cafe also helps. The Dead and Phish already thrive on a bootleg and sharing culture that is likely to cross generations (although I'm not sure how many young Dead heads I've met). Guitar Hero will expose the classic rockers to the Millenials and they'll boogie together. And finally, Yes will still be played in 300 years because those of us who are true Yes-heads have a religious attachment to their music, one that we try to pass on to our kids, one that's captured in at least a dozen books and biographies. There's a fine parallel between religion and music, whether it was Yes bass man Chris Squire learning his notes on a church organ, or Mozart's Requiem. And finally, as a bonus answer, in 250 years when Princeton University is celebrating its 500th anniversary the Princeton University Band will play the B-52's "Rock Lobster" and nobody will understand the lyrics then, either.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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