Published on July 24th, 2008 | by Bill Perry Jr.0
The Modern-Day Musician – Part 4: Music and Immortality
Miles. Bach. Coltrane. Mozart. Elvis. Haggard. Lennon. Hancock. Prince. Tupac. The one singular fact that connects all of these artists together is the fact that their music and sound will be with us for as long as humans last on this planet. And you know if we begin to colonize nearby planets in the future (e.g. Mars); we are going to bring our music, art, and cultures with us; thus expanding the sound of humans on other planets. Excuse me, I digress. Before I ride that spaceship, lets look a little closer at what seems to make certain music artists and their sounds so appealing, that they can last for generations (inevitably outlasting their creators), entertain, uplift, inspire, and enlighten future generations to feel and enjoy, buy how and why?
Is it too grandiose of an endeavor for musicians to seek immortality through their music and sound? Considering that the “unspoken credo,” or perhaps the conventional wisdom, for most musical artists when creating music is “the art comes first,” maybe such a pursuit is not so far off from the goal of our “organized sound,” which is to create art that will forever move the souls of people. What of the soul then, if there is no music to nurture it? Allow me this brief digression for a moment for a mild interlude…
In the three main arguments against the existence of the soul posed by philosophy courses throughout the world, one of these arguments goes by the name of “The Trumpet Argument”; as long as there’s a trumpet, there’s music; destroy the trumpet (body) and the sound ceases to exist. Although this philosophical argument relates to the existence of the human soul or lack thereof, allow me to utilize this argument as a premise to my next segue—once humans are gone from this world, will our music cease to exist? Radio and satellite transmissions, as well as music installed in a satellite years ago, have assured our music’s “place” in the universe. The Voyager 1 spacecraft launched in 1977 contains a time capsule that has within it such immortal works like Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto in F,” Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” just to name a few of the musical works onboard the Voyager, which is now three times farther from our planet than Pluto! But even more interesting is that there will only be certain artists who will be remembered and revered as the pinnacle of being a consummate musical artist—supreme musical conduits like Mozart, who created and manifested music from his mind and soul with the humble intent of moving and touching that spirit within all of us that compels us to “feel” when we hear music! I would assume all musicians have the intentions of making a “transcendental connection” to their listening audience through their sound; the motives of seeking adoration depend upon their musical endeavors (fame, fortune, simple acknowledgement, hobby, spiritual, etc.), but ultimately upon making enough of an impact to whereas some musical artists have their music interwoven into the fabric of our society and consciousness, forever changing the way we listen to music, from Bach to Little Richard to Lil Wayne.
During the proverbial “good ol’ days” when religious views determined musical theory, the Catholic Church banned music that contained polyphony (more than one musical part playing at the same time), fearing that it would cause people to doubt the unity of God. Can you imagine that, considering how we utilize polyphony and harmony in music today? The church also banned certain musical intervals (the distance between notes) to be played publicly because of the dissonant quality that chord or harmony could evoke. For example, the distance between the notes C and F-sharp is known as an augmented fourth, which produces a sound known as a tritone. The sound was so unsettling to the church that they figured that interval had to be the “work of Lucifer” and should be banished from public life! The church coined this musical interval “Diabolus in musica” or simply put, “Devil Music”! Generations later, but still considered the proverbial “good ol’ days” to us, “devil music,” coincidentally, was a term used to describe Jazz and Rock & Roll by the “non-believers” of these new and intoxicating forms of music that captivated the youth like no other forms of music preceding them.
What does all this information have to do with music and immortality? The point being made here is regardless of what the “rules of music theory” may be, which is subject to change because it is theoretical, the human drive and persistence to create outside the perimeters and constraints of musical suppression eclipses any notion that music should be “tamed,” to say the least. All one has to do is look at the magnificent and turbulent history of Rock music, which most definitely changed the landscape of music, and broke supposed “rules” along the way. And it is this human characteristic that has allowed our music to progress and expand into multiple frontiers with endless possibilities, in regards to what musical directions one takes (Rock, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Bluegrass, etc.). This quality seems to be emitted on a higher level by those who did dare to be different with their music, and inadvertently changing the course of music in the process. That same trait makes Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg, Wagner, and a list of others “immortal.” But immortality is not only reserved for the classical artists, the same can be said about other musical artists like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Ozzy Osbourne, Run-DMC, and a whole list of other musical artists who became immortalized through their music. Thank goodness for risk-takers in music!
Even those unsung heroes in music who changed and altered the landscape of what music “is,” go unmentioned in the pantheons of music history. Perhaps there was a choral singer who decided one evening to “alter” the traditional approach to the monophonic music of the times by adding a harmonious major third while he was singing, to an established and church-approved melody line in the 17th century during a random church service that may have inspired and influenced composers of the time to consider writing harmony parts, regardless of the rules of the church, and consequently changed music’s shape and form forever, considering there were such a person, of course.
At any rate, if immortality is a destination for all great music, then it is destined that music will break through any barriers that may hold it back from its purity, to continually be a spark of hope that there is indeed a divine connection between music and our souls, and, considering the belief some hold that there is indeed a human soul and it is immortal, so should this hold true about what our souls produce—in this case, music. The same can be said about mathematics and the visual arts. It should be obvious to see that people like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking are just as creative as Miles Davis and Stevie Ray Vaughn, just on a different plateau of thought, so to speak.
Pursuing immortality through music is as daunting a task as the pursuance of happiness in life; all it will forever remain is a pursuance, a destination never to be reached or totally realized. Nevertheless, we continue these pursuits; for it is within our human nature to aspire for complete and total bliss permeating through our souls consistently, which we hope is our reward for such ambitious pursuits. For those of us who choose the musical path in life can only hope to enjoy the exquisite auditoria ride by sharing how we feel inside through our music, hoping to entertain, uplift, inspire, and enlighten those who have come into contact with our sound.
And for you so-called “educated purists” in any form of music, hear this: music is not about whatever label or category you cast upon it, nor is it about being able to speak about music academically and pretentiously blurting out whatever musical jargon you may know through some educated musical background, it’s about “feeling” the music, period! It’s not about academic triteness, or whatever trivial facts you may know about music or any particular group of musicians; music is a “put up or shut up” world! Either you create music, enjoy music as a fan of the art form, helping others to understand it more (i.e. music educators), or shit on others by imposing a so-called “expert critique” on their music, regardless if they create music or not (music critics). In any case, music overall will outlast any opinions or feelings we have about it, for music is immortal! When music can transcend beyond antiquity and can still have the power to entertain, uplift, inspire, and enlighten us for generations, it subsequently reserves a seat for itself in the halls of immortality.
You do not have to be a musician to feel the essence of The Divine-Whole Note (discussed in “Sound and The Universe”), for She is the Mother of All Sound (according to my musicianism philosophy, anyway) and we as humans all have that same divine connection to music and sound, and we all share in the experience of feeling and enjoying music, regardless of taste or preference which is incidental at best.
Sometimes as a consequence of being a musical artist, it can make one susceptible to “musical burn-out”; experiencing a sort of spiritual juxtaposition of being a consummate artist, while perhaps achieving recognition and fame along the way. Just look at the tragic case scenario of the late Grunge-Rock icon Kurt Cobain, who decided he’d rather “burn out than fade away.” No one wants to wallow in the abyss of obscurity and be forgotten; would you? All you can truly hope for as a musician is that your music moves people emotionally to whereas the art becomes greater than its creator, moving into the realms of immortality, inconspicuously seeping in through the cracks of space and time, unleashing itself unto eternity!
I hope my musicianism philosophy has provided an alternative outlook to the conventional wisdom of what music “is” and what it “can be” to the artists and the listening audience. Discovering reason and purpose with music is perhaps the highest priority a musician should seek to find; understanding this will help to guide you on your journey towards musical expression and what it is you wish to accomplish and establish with your music and sound. Even if you never perform in a stadium with 60,000 manic fans ecstatic and hysterical with joy because “you’re so awesome,” if you have at least touched a few people in this world with your music and helped them to understand you and perhaps even music better by “feeling your sound,” you have still made a connection that will transcend time, inevitably making you a candidate for immortality. I bid you adieu fellow musicians!
This article was originally printed in The Local Voice #59 (published July 24, 2008).