Saturday, June 17, 2006

Cultural Dissonance

Lately, I've been doing alot of thinking about my cultural dissonance. That is, the disconnect between what I believe and what music and art I enjoy. I enjoy an eclectic collection of different musical styles, from Bluegrass to Classical. In terms of graphic arts, I have been enamored with Dali and Escher, as well as the classical painters like Davinci and Rubens. I also like trashy art, from movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space and the Three Stooges to television shows like The Rockford Files to 24; from graphic novels to graffiti on trains; from photography to sculpture; from Science Fiction novels by Heinlein and Spinrad to the classics by Melville and Hawthorne, and so on. But what is unusual is the fact that much of the art I enjoy is created by those far left of center, on the political spectrum. The questions are,
And, does it matter?

Personally I don't think it matters one whit. Art is art and politics is politics. Cleverness in creating a work of art knows no political affiliation, does it? Heinlein was no lefty, and the classical authors of whom I'm fond were from an era that would make it difficult or impossible to characterize them in modern terms, but most artists today seem to be of the left-leaning bent, don't they?

Some of the germs of this treatise comes from the arguments seen on many blogs after Neil Young's latest album was released. Many saw the album, Praire Wind, as a screed against Bush and the WOT. I disagree. Of course Neil Young is no conservative and he has a written songs for decades that celebrate nature and condemn industry and the destruction of the natural environment. These songs like most in the genre, are replete with hypocritical underpinnings. Still, they are moving and interesting and many are beautiful. I like them, even though I'm no tree-hugger. "Thrasher" comes to mind, so I'll post the lyrics here to illustrate what I mean:

They were hiding behind hay bales,
They were planting
in the full moon
They had given all they had
for something new
But the light of day was on them,
They could see the thrashers coming
And the water
shone like diamonds in the dew.

And I was just getting up,
hit the road before it's light
Trying to catch an hour on the sun
When I saw
those thrashers rolling by,
Looking more than two lanes wide
I was feelin'
like my day had just begun.

Where the eagle glides ascending
There's an ancient river bending
Down the timeless gorge of changes
Where sleeplessness awaits
I searched out my companions,
Who were lost in crystal canyons
When the aimless blade of science
Slashed the pearly gates.

It was then I knew I'd had enough,
Burned my credit card for fuel
Headed out to where the pavement
turns to sand
With a one-way ticket
to the land of truth
And my suitcase in my hand
How I lost my friends
I still don't understand.

They had the best selection,
They were poisoned with protection
There was nothing that they needed,
Nothing left to find
They were lost in rock formations
Or became park bench mutations
On the sidewalks
and in the stations
They were waiting, waiting.

So I got bored and left them there,
They were just deadweight to me
Better down the road
without that load
Brings back the time
when I was eight or nine
I was watchin' my mama's T.V.,
It was that great
Grand Canyon rescue episode.

Where the vulture glides descending
On an asphalt highway bending
Thru libraries and museums,
galaxies and stars
Down the windy halls of friendship
To the rose clipped by the bullwhip
The motel of lost companions
Waits with heated pool and bar.

But me I'm not stopping there,
Got my own row left to hoe
Just another line
in the field of time
When the thrasher comes,
I'll be stuck in the sun
Like the dinosaurs in shrines
But I'll know the time has come
To give what's mine.

Well-written, if somewhat vague, this song is an anthem against progress. It virtually oozes disdain for the trappings of our modern condition. Never mind that it was produced using metal and plastic instruments, using electrical power and now pollutes hundreds of landfills with it's shiny discs.

For another good example, I have posted a song that was written in 1946 by Woody Guthrie, and was put to music by Billy Bragg and Wilco in 1998, on the album Mermaid Avenue. This is a wonderful recording that puts several of Guthrie's unrecorded songs to music, in a collaboration between the musicians and Guthrie's daughter, who owns the rights to the words.

The song that follows is a perfect display of socialist rhetoric and class envy. Guthrie makes a hero out of a thief and his wish for violent wealth redistribution is of course easy to deride and villify, intellectually. The song has a great deal of power, though and clearly illustrates what draws many young lower class youths to such a philosophy. Of course the romantic, Robin Hood quality of the song is nothing new:

The Unwelcome Guest Wilco lyrics
Artist: Wilco
Album: Mermaid Avenue
Year: 1998
Title: The Unwelcome Guest

To the rich man's bright lodges
I ride in this wind
On my good horse, I call you
My shiny black Bess

To the playhouse of fortune
To take the bright silver
And gold you have taken
From somebody else

And as we go riding
In the damp foggy midnight
You snort, my good pony
And you give me your best

For you know and I know
Good horse 'mongst the rich ones
How oftimes we go there
An unwelcome guest

I never took food
From the widows and orphans
And never a hardworking man I oppressed

So take your pace easy
For home soon like lightning
We soon will be riding
My shiny black Bess

No fat rich man's pony
Can ever overtake you
And there's not a rider
From the east to the west

Could hold you a light
In this dark mist and midnight
When the potbellied thieves
Chase the unwelcome guest

I don't know, good horse
As we trot in this dark here
That robbing the rich
Is for worse or for best

They take it by stealing
And lying and gambling
And I take it my way
My shiny Black Bess

I treat horses good
And I'm friendly to strangers
I ride and your running
Makes my guns talk the best

And the rangers and deputies
Are hired by the rich man
To catch me and hang me
My shining black Bess

Yes, they'll catch me napping one day
And they'll kill me
And then I'll be gone
But that won't be my end

For my guns and my saddle
Will always be filled
By unwelcome travelers
And other brave men

And they'll take the money
And spread it out equal
Just like the Bible
And the prophets suggest

But men that go riding
To help these poor workers
The rich will cut down
Like an unwelcome guest

I wish you could all hear these songs because the effect is much greater than that of simply reading the lyrics. The point I am making is that though these people are politically and philosophically wrong and perhaps even juvenile, the music and the lyrics are good and enjoyable. For that reason, I tend to refrain from making my judgements of music and art, on the basis of the artists' political or philosophical viewpoint. I just listen to it and look at it and if I like it, I buy it!

I realize I haven't touched on the question of why so much of the art I enjoy is made by artists left of center. That will be the subject of a future article, I guess...


MargeinMI said...

First of all, Happy Fathers Day! You're a good one, your kids are lucky!

I, too, have a very ecclectic taste in music and art. The Neil Young lyrics struck me as 'Woodyesqe' as I read them. I got more of a ramblin' man story feel from them. The Guthry lyric are definitely a sign of the times when they were written. They didn't call 'em Robber Barons for nuttin'!

Thanks for sharing.

Maggie said...

We mountain people are eclectic,hence the love of variety.It all goes back to our individual roots.
Beerme,you must admit that most music stems from 'Bluegrass'.
(my favorite "fox on the Run".

Note:My precious Daddy,was one of 13 brothes and sisters.Someone gave him and old guitar and he taught himself to play.He also mastered the banjo,fiddle and mandolin.He and his brothers formed a band in "them thar hills" and played far and wide.
My Dad was Sec. of the FFA and received a schlorship to VPI(now VaTech).I am proud of my heritage as I remember my Dad today.

Happy Father's Day to You. may be right about a Southern NHL team ever winning the Stanley Cup....but....we have one more chance.Go Canes!

Beerme said...


Well, thank you! That is about the best compliment a father can receive!


You got that right! Mountain folk and mountain music rock! Bluegrass is one of my favorite styles to listen to. I'm particularly fond of Ralph Stanley and his various bands, tho' I can't dis Bill Monroo, neither! As for "Fox on the Run", it is one of the best for the vocal harmonies, isn't it?

I have been thinking about getting a banjo for years now, though I don't know if I'd ever learn to play it.

I am coming down to the Asheville area with my family during the last week of June, maybe we could get together for a chat. I plan on visiting a few of the touristy places along the way that I've never stopped for before (Jenny Wiley State Park, Berea, KY, The Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood (I think there is a plaque there honoring "Revolutionary John Mullins, my Great-Great-Great Grandfather...), then on to Asheville and to see the Biltmore Estate. Not too many things planned, just do what feels like doin', you know.

As for your daddy, it sounds as though you have every right to be proud of him. He sounds like a man in the mold of those mountain men that settled that area: self-sufficient and self-tought!

As for the 'Canes, I hope they win. Them Oilers beat my team, so I want them to lose! Also, the 'Canes are owned by a Michigan business owner, Pete Karmanos of Compuware. For what it's worth, the current Stanley Cup Champs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, are also owned by a Michigan businessman, Bill Davidson, who also owns the NBA Pistons!

camojack said...

Words matter.

Choose 'em wisely...

Beerme said...


I thought I did...

camojack said...

You did. I was speaking in general, not specific...

Hawkeye® said...

Interesting article. Makes one think. Enjoying an eclectic collection of music, art and literature (as I do) suggests that you can understand and appreciate that quality and talent comes in varied forms.

Don't be too worried about the majority of artists being lefties. I think it's a left-brain, right-brain kinda thing. Right-brain people are more artistic, imaginitive and creative. However, they are also more impetuous, illogical and fantasy-based.

Left-brain people are more logical, fact-oriented and reality-based. But they often make lousy artists and are more likely to develop a spread sheet than a tapestry.

Of course there some people (like you and I) who can use both halves of our brain... heh, heh. I think it would be kinda funny if it could be proven that left-brain people lean "right" politically and right-brain people lean "left". I guess that would mean they were shifting their weight in order to hold up the heavier side of their brain, eh?