Friday, June 30, 2006

Music Makes You Lose Control

Some pretty weird things afoot in the world of music and politics these days...

My brother kindly alerted to me to Pope Benedict's call for an end to secularoid music during Mass and perhaps in general. Out with the guitars, in with the Gregorian chant and simple polyphony. My reaction? Well, I am not a Catholic, so I don't really have a dog in this race, but I kind of like this pronouncement. Why? Well, of course, not because of the motivation behind the ban: which (I assume) is a rollback of the liberal innovations of the Second Vatican Council, to appease the Scalias and other rightwing ultras/Opus Dei reactionaries, etc. Obviously, we cannot take the loony right's guns away... but perhaps the Pope's statement will encourage voluntary divestiture of guitars.

After watching "God's Next Army," a terrifying documentary on Patrick Henry University in Virginia on the Discovery Times network (thank goodness this channel finally realized that nobody wants to watch endless footage of nerdy Stephen Glass-type journos investigating "wacky Americana" like "gay rodeos"), which featured tomorrow's Grover Norquists and Ralph Reeds strumming guitars while singing about the glory of Christ and the abomination of Congress sunsetting the Estate Tax repeal, I thought: "Good for you, Pope!" We have to keep guitars out of the hands of these conservatives. Now I know that Patrick Henry students are fundamentalist Protestants, not Catholics, but from what I have read, there is a fair bit of common ground between super-right Catholics and Protestants: rejection of evolution, anti-feminism, anti-choice, anti-gay marriage, and support for Bush-style authoritarianism and the War on Terror. Like I said, it is better if these people don't have guitars.

The first time I learned to link the ugliness of state power and the repression of music was, of course, that classic Eighties trifecta: Footloose, Styx's Kilroy Was Here, and Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" video. A little bit later, in a discussion of the tritone interval that kicks off Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," a helpful Guitar For The Practicing Musician scribe mentioned the Council of Trent's medieval ban on this satanic diminished diad, which led to a lifelong interest in the ways in which the history of music has been shaped by the Church and the State and other ideological and repressive state apparatusussses setting the rules of acceptable and verboten pitch combinations, rhythms, and timbres. The Pope's ruling is directly in line with this tradition, which, since Plato, has worried mostly about the subversive effects of musical sounds not subordinate to textual meaning. Perhaps some young Catholic kid out there is going to go to Church one weekend, and notice the guitar accompaniment they like is no longer there, because the Pope said so. I have a feeling that kid is going to start thinking differently about power and authority and art's disruptive potentials.

Not only did the Pope weigh in on matters musical this week, but also George W. Bush managed to sneak in a wonderful music reference yesterday. According to Democracy Now, Bush was showing Japanese President Junichiro Koizumi around Graceland when the Supreme Court's 5-3 ruling on the illegality of military tribunals for WOT detainees was handed down. At the press conference shortly thereafter, he joked to the assembled journalists-- who were about to ask about the status of his administration's policy of locking up foreign subjects without charges for over 5 years, with no idication that their sentences were not interminable, often subjecting them to extreme forms of torture, and denying them even the right to suicide-- that, like Elvis's sweetheart in his famous song, he hoped they would heed his request: "Don't Be Cruel." Here is a lesser-known Elvis lyric with which they might have countered: "Go Fuck Yourself, Douchebag."

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