I'm beginning this post with an unusual offering from YouTube, and I hope you take a moment to view it.
What do you hear in these two songs produced in 1962 in Czechoslovakia? What do you see on screen, especially in the second song?
The 'trombone flash mob' (decades ahead of its time) looks back shamelessly to Tommy Dorsey and the other great big bands of the 1930's and 40's. It's wonderful writing and playing, light-hearted, cleverly filmed. It's American Jazz, created performed some eight times zones away from New Orleans and Chicago.
The second song is based again in American Jazz...our protagonists in the car are a close knock-off off Ricky and Lucy, complete with a clownish side kick to keep things moving. Or, if you will, a Rob and Laura (Dick van Dyke show anyone?) complete with a Morey Amsterdam knock-off!
Now look back at 1962...lessee...Bay of Pigs just past us, the mortar on Berlin Wall still hardening...everybody armed to the teeth...John LeCarre's The Spy That Came In From The Cold fresh on the market, Dt. Strangelove in the air. And Tommy Dorsey and Ricky and Lucy enthusiastically emulated behind the Iron Curtain. In a way, it's as if the West had already won the contest, but no one sent news back home.
Fast forward to 1987, everybody's on edge again, and...
Billy Joel shows up in Moscow
Notice the shot about 23 seconds in....
It's easy to be simplistic, tempting actually, to advocate some idea of 'Let's all just hold hands and sing and peace will descend upon the planet.', but we all know that life is not like that. If that model worked, we would have arrived at that point in the 19th Century with Beethoven's Ode To Joy. Game/set/match/I'll buy the first round of beers.
Life is not like that, not remotely. It's messy out there.
However, what composers and performers and teachers of music do really does matter. Music really moves the cultural ground under people's feet, for better or worse. The music industry (aka 'Duh Biz') would have you believe the lie 'We just reflect culture, we don't form it, so you can't criticize anything we produce and sell, don't matter none, just let us get on with making moh' munney-hunney...'
It matters, a lot. Enough that Islamic fundamentalists attempt to ban music, and fundamentalists and despots of all persuasions attempt to control and expropriate it for their own ends.
So I suggest we remember a few simple facts:
Not everyone can do what we do, even though we don't understand how people can't do what we do.
We create things that burn into the hearts and minds of our audiences, if we're doing our jobs properly. We create lifelong memories, for better or worse. We shape the language of the culture, for better or worse. Think on the moments when you have had to pull the car over to the curb to recover from a song you heard on the radio for the very first time.
That's what we do, if we're doing our jobs.
All this written to give a word of encouragement and hope. If we're doing our jobs, we move the world around us, in ways we often don't understand or even see immediately, and we get to move it in a good direction.
Back to work.