4/16/08

Picking Nits?

Sigh. Maybe I’m being nit-picky. And I understand hyperbole as a rhetorical device. Also, this was a fine article. But the opening salvo raised my proverbial hackles. Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun wrote it.

Genius of Gershwin

It begins:

If American music had to be defined in only two words, these would do nicely:
George Gershwin.

Really? (Also: passive voice?)

As the composer of Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris and a trove of inimitable popular songs from his scores to musical plays and films -- with lyrics by his brother Ira -- Gershwin defined the Jazz Age.

It seems to me that’s exactly what he did. Not define American music. Define the Jazz Age. See? You…that’s contradictory. But more true.

But he also transcended his time.

Fine, sure. I like Gershwin just fine. His music is still, and often, played today. It’s popular, tuneful, and prominently featured by United Airlines (ever been to the Denver airport?).

However, the story of American music begins in or about the 16th century with the Shakers. And continued for 500ish years. Classicism. Romanticism. Modernism. Jazz. Folk. Pop. What have you. LOTS of stuff. Not the Jazz Age, which was nice, but...only one thing, among many.

If I had only two words to define American music, I’d pick:

“Stunningly Diverse”.

I’m just sayin’ is all. Too nit-picky?

9 comments:

Sator Arepo said...

Or maybe "Charles Ives"?

Gustav said...

I need only one word: Devo.

Empiricus said...

That is really a lazy, unnecessary device.

If American music criticism had to be defined in only two words, these would do nicely: Current president of MCANA

Funny punchline, Empiricus. Thanks.

Empiricus said...

And by the way, I really needed that United link. Thanks. Weirdo.

Sator Arepo said...

Seriously, ever flown United through Denver?

In the middle of the big main terminal, there's a CD-player piano that plays it over and over and over and over and over and over.

I once had lunch during a layover in a little "French" "restaurant" near the middle of the terminal there. Between their own piped-in music and the clinks and clanks of forks and glasses, I realized that the Gershwin was on constant loop.

When I was done, I asked my waiter, "So does it just repeat that same piece all the time?"

He gave me the withering look from hell.

I left him a nice tip.

Sator Arepo said...

Also, I realize that "American" music probably properly started with some indigenous folks, way back. Just to be clear.

Aaron said...

I like me some Gershwin, myself, but I personally would even take issue with either (or both!) Gershwin's defining the Jazz Age.

Seems to me there were some guys by the name of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington (and, heck, Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin and so on and so forth...) who might be more plausible candidates for defining the Jazz Age, being people who actually played jazz rather than people who incorporated some blues and jazz elements into more conventionally "classical" pieces and popular songs.

But maybe that's just me.

Sator Arepo said...

I agree, Aaron. I'd take Duke over George anytime. However, seeing the "classical" orientation I was giving some slack. Pfft. Stupid me.

Murderface said...

Inimitable? Inimitable!???!!??

Isn't the sum total of someone's influence how much s/he is imitated? Especially when it's "popular" music!?

??

!!

Why not just say "unique?"

Oh, never mind. You'd just tell me "how unique" he was, or that he was "very unique," or "among the most unique."

I have an asshat and it's in exactly your size and color, Tim Smith.

Also, the orientation required to define the Jazz Age by Gershwin is not "classical." It is more aptly described as "racist."