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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Barack Obama and Alex Ross. When Worlds Collide. In Seattle.

posted by on January 20 at 12:46 PM

There’s a post and comment up on Counter Critic that dares to criticize teacher’s pet Alex Ross by way of critiquing Barack Obama by way of critiquing an upcoming program at Seattle’s own On the Boards.

The common thread between Obama and Ross that’s anathema to the rabble at Counter Critic? Unity. They think unity of styles is bad for innovation in art music. It’s kind of an identity politics rave up about art theory.

I do dig when zeitgeist politics (Obama) and zeitgeist shit in arts scholarship (Ross) collide. And in Seattle no less.

…both Ross and Obama seem to like to gloss on the future, saying stuff that sounds really great but is also woefully inadequate, unspecific and, in the end, inarticulate. It’s hard to refute this kind of discourse without sounding cynical, defeated, dated or worse. Indeed, both seem to be laying a rhetorical trap. Who wouldn’t want “one vast continent” of peaceful people living in harmony, listening to lots of new music and solving America’s problems together?

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Alex Ross' depth of knowledge is formidable, even intimidating at times. He does not seem to possess anything resembling a sensibility, however, and I cannot recall any controversial or unorthodox opinion he's ever held. His lecture at OtB a few years back was a total snore - a freshman college humanities lecture focusing on the lives and social interactions between major (and some minor) 20th Century music figures. No analysis or judgment.

Because classical music criticism in America (or what passes for it) is intellectually impoverished and temperamentally cautious, the young, encyclopedic, and often engaging Ross seems like a breath of fresh air.

Barack Obama may also play it safe, but unlike Ross, the man seems to have some real charisma. The political equivalent of Ross would be more of a "wonk" -- a term that is usually used in conjunction with the name Clinton.

Posted by Jim Demetre | January 20, 2008 1:48 PM

One peaceful community listening to music and solving problems? Hell, sounds a hell of a lot better than what we have been doing. And it couldn't be any worse. I say let's give it a shot!

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | January 20, 2008 1:49 PM

Diversity has about as much to do with divisiveness as "free as in speech" has to do with "free as in beer."

Posted by cressona | January 20, 2008 1:56 PM

I really like this guy. It's one thing to be liberal with a full plate of food in front of you; it's a completely different story when you're starving to death. Not that any of you supposed liberal phoney-baloney wannabe liberals have ever gone a day without food in your lives or anything, because that would be like sick or something, but like yeah, we feel your pain. Well, fuck you, you don't.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | January 20, 2008 5:48 PM

5280 - unlike you, my entire family lived on $500 a year when I was 11 to 13. It's anti-liberals like you that never learned anything.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 20, 2008 6:15 PM

Ah, William, you just made my point for me. "Unlike me?" Doubtful, good sir. Unless you didn't read a word of that last post. In which case, I think you just made my point for me.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | January 20, 2008 6:52 PM

And before you start calling someone an "anti-liberal," you really ought to have some idea who you're talking to.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | January 20, 2008 6:59 PM

Query: How many days have you spdnt in jail for protesting the 1968 Republican convention? Hmmm, thought so. OK, how many days have you spent huddled down with the "unwashed masses" in sub-zero temperatures. And been accepted as one of their own? Hmmm, thought so. Before you rush to judgment, it would behoove you to consider the fact that many people better than you or I have gone down that road before; have, in fact, given us the privelege of walking down a paved road. Some of us were there when the road wasn't paved.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | January 20, 2008 7:19 PM

And yes, my friend, that road you walk upon is paved with dreams. Mostly broken dreams. And broken bodies. And some of them were my friends.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | January 20, 2008 7:33 PM

are you talking about Huey Long now?
He got a lot of roads paved.

As for "Who wouldn’t want “one vast continent” of peaceful people living in harmony, listening to lots of new music and solving America’s problems together?" --I wouldn't.

I see no reason to include the Mexicans, the Guatemalans, the Canadians, and the Quebecois in our problem solving, unless it's reciprocal. And that will mean giving Guatemala or Quebec the first primary --before Iowa and stuff. No thanks.

And if that's the approach, hell, we'll be too far down that Mexican-USA-Canadian, super-NAFTA-highway Ron Paul keeps talking about. And that'll be unpaved lots of places. So, even more no thanks.

Posted by Cleve | January 20, 2008 8:38 PM

Cleve, you completely missed my point. or at least (giving you the benefit of the doubt, because I happen to agree with you) misconstrued what I was saying. I have earned a reputation here as being a - God forbid - moderate here, which puts me in the Republican camp as far as many Sloggers are concerned. All I'm saying is that I have my "progressive" battle scars, much more so than some of the more fanatical people here, and have mellowed enough with age to realize that pragmatism beats fanatisism every day of the week. And that you really can still hold onto that dream. While tempering it with reality. And that is NOT selling out.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | January 20, 2008 9:12 PM

"I'm hungry, let's get a taco..."

Posted by Harvey Keitel | January 21, 2008 12:10 AM

Like duuuuuude, totally abide, man. Just abide.

Posted by Paul G. SuperLiberal | January 21, 2008 12:11 AM

My god Fifty-Two-Eighty is a folk song come to life! He walked with the people. He feels there pain. There empty bellies singing out to him in a way no liberal can understand. "Slog Fifty-Two-Eighty, Slog". It calls out. "For only by Sloging will those damn kids get off your lawn".

Posted by Ben Weldon | January 21, 2008 3:31 AM

Hello, Slog:

Thank you for linking to my post on Alex Ross, to which a reader responded via email, likening Ross to Barack Obama. Allow me to refocus the scroll of comments back to the original idea.

The person who left the comment, a friend and colleague of mine, enlightened something for me that I had been thinking of since the 2004 presidential election. Why did the Democrats lose? (Well, it was at least way too close, even if you still don't believe the final outcome was legit.)

I should say that, generally, I don't like to make political analogies to art. Art is a place where you can be unorthodox, experience emotions that are not appropriate otherwise (entertainment at violence, for instance). And artists can adopt any executive model they see fit for their work, whether they are fascist, communist or democratic.

But where I agree that contemporary Democratic politics exude something similar to that of Alex Ross's prescriptions for contemporary music is in their rhetoric. The Democrats have leaned so far to the right, apropriating conservative jargon like "family values" and "homeland security" and the like, that THEY FAIL TO PROVIDE A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE TO THE NORM. Even Obama, in his message of change, basically sounds like he means to achieve the same things Republicans are aiming to achieve, only he thinks he can do it better. Other than his position on an imediate troop pullout, I don't see how his social or economic policies differ all that much from the Republican status quo.

Likewise, Alex Ross seems to propose that the various genres of music, which real people actually find joy in their various differences, should all blur away into one vast homogeneity, and that, even more alarming, we are in an age of "post innovation."

There is little in the world that can capture the diversity of the human spirit the way music can. As the saying goes, "Variety is the spice of life."

I propose that our new composers find their own voices, their own style, their own comment on the culture of music. I also maintain that classical music remain a viable alternative to popular idioms. Why would I go to Carnegie Hall to hear salsa music, when I can go to a salsa club to hear that kind of music, especially when the opposite isn't true (for instance, you won't hear Boulez at a salsa club).

In much the same way, I encourage the Democrats--or anyone else if the Democrats aren't going to do it--to provide a real, conspicuous, emphatic alternative to the politics of neo-conservatism and the status quo of domestic and foreign policy.

Posted by Counter Critic | January 21, 2008 8:01 AM

I agree completely with Counter Critic's characterization of Barack Obama, I just think that he has a different appeal to his public than Ross. But then again, they are in rather different lines of work.

I'm looking forward to the OtB performance, which we will review on Artdish.

Posted by Jim Demetre | January 21, 2008 2:13 PM

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