25 March 2011

Post 363: The Ground Beneath Her Feet

The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie. ISBN: 9780805053081.

This is going to be another music post, but this time I'll include a quote from the text (because it's Rushdie and you deserve them).

"A nation at war deserves to hear the music that's going mano a mano with the war machine, that's sticking flowers down its fun barrels and baring its breast to the missiles. The soldiers are singing these songs as they die. But this is not the way soldiers used to sing, marching into battle bellowing hymns, kidding themselves they had god on their sides; these aren't patriotic-bullshit, get-yourself-up-for-it songs. These kids are using singing, instead, as an affirmation of what's natural and true, singing against the unnatural lie of war. Using song as a banner of their doomed youth." Page 266-67.

As little as music matters to me nowadays, what music I do listen to tends to be folk music. There are several ways to define folk music,* but for me folk music must have one or two elements. It must cover a topic or issue current to the time it was written and/or it must use instruments and techniques that are fairly accessible to the poorest of musicians. Ideally these songs can be sung with voice alone, or at the very least accompanied by a portable instrument (hand drum, guitar, etc.).

There are a few musicians out there who are covering modern topics in the pop realm, but most of these are vague enough that if you listen to Katie Perry's Fireworks or Lady Gaga's Born This Way thirty years from now, people will (at least hopefully) have no idea what they're referring to. Also they will hopefully wonder what Perry's obsession with sparkling boobs is, because I know I do.

Meanwhile, there are artists out there who are writing about current political, economic, and social problems that are easily placed within a very specific time frame. My favorite is Steve Earle. I particularly like Rich Man's War and Amerika V. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do). Earle keeps within the basics of my definition. You could easily strip away all of the music and even the least trained of singers could manage to learn the songs and perform them reasonably. He does not use a wide vocal range; one could remark that his voice is a bit mumbly and they wouldn't be wrong, but his lyrics are easily understood and relatable.

Hamell on Trial is a bit darker than Earle and possibly a bit more cynical. It's sometimes hard to tell when he's being cynical and when he's just using irony/sarcasm to get his point across. He also tackles issues of parenthood after having a questionable past, which is something I think my generation will have particular issues with. Listen to Inquiring Minds for a sample (that particular video and song drops the F-bomb).

So, why isn't this music on the charts? Well. It's not as easily consumable, I suppose. Topics change so frequently in this country, or at least it seems that way because it's not like we've been at war for 10 years or anything. But we're so much more ADD about it. Nothing holds our attention. But I'd like to see this change. I would like to see popular musicians take a stand with their music and unequivocally say, "Look, this is stupid, and things need to change." Maybe in the '60's we saw musicians rise to fame because of their outrageous and political lyrics, but now we need those who rose to fame because their music was digestible enough to start throwing a bit of acid into the works. We can only eat so many of your sugary pop songs before our brains turn to mush. I'm sure this is good for musicians financially, but not so much artistically. Where is the challenge or pleasure in selling music to the brain deficient?

Somebody, please write me more than a love song.

This is such a lengthy and involved novel that it is hard to focus on one thing to write the review about. However, I found Meredith Dias's evaluation of Rushdie's themes in this novel to be very helpful in digesting this epic.
LibsNote: Library copy.
*Despite the fact this is a Tripod site I decided to link to it anyway, because they use and link to scholarly resources.

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