Tuesday, September 11, 2012

So today I watched Kill Your Idols

and it inspired a good conversation between Lily and me about music. No Wave was about a break with rock and roll's blues-based past, more so than punk ever was. Lydia Lunch says she still doesn't know how to play a single chord on the guitar.

The original No Wave artists like Lunch and Glenn Branca complained of the lack of new ideas in the contemporary (2002) New York music scene and they make a good point. The intellectualism and thirst for individual expression found there in the late 70s and early 80s has vanished, replaced by nostalgia. Bands like Black Dice and Yeah Yeah Yeahs ape those old sounds but never seem to crack a book.

In the film, Lunch draws a line between "the truly desperate and those who are looking for entertainment." They didn't want you to be able to talk about their music in terms of the Beach Boys or Chuck Berry or Elvis. They wanted to subvert rock 'n' roll, to make a new music that spoke of their own lives and the decay that surrounded them in the city. They made a music that was all their own and then it was over when it needed to be over. It was anti-nostalgia. It was anti-music.

It got us talking about the function of music. Personally, I have no use for pure entertainment unless I'm so fucking ill that I can't do anything but sit on the couch all day. Like today for instance.

So when I go see a band play, I don't want to be entertained. I want to be engaged, challenged, provoked, offended, or uplifted in some way. If I wanted to be entertained I would watch some shitty cover band. I'd rather see a band break down the fourth wall and do something courageously, spectacularly bad than pandering, kow-towing to get everyone to like them.

Lily mentioned a story she heard on NPR on the way home today about some immigrant communities that would get together to play music on the weekends. They'd move all the furniture out of the house and just play songs, sing and dance. They'd forget about all their troubles and just lose themselves in the music. This is a higher function for music than mere entertainment. Of course entertainment takes you away from the real world. But it's not the same. The difference is communion: bringing people together, strengthening bonds through the rhythms, melodies and harmonies.

This experience of communion between performers and audience is what fills churches. It's emotional. It's spiritual, if you believe in that sort of thing. For me, that's what music's all about.