For me, this Dylan winning the Nobel Prize thing has been a gift that keeps giving. I mean, I was thinking before about the beautiful symmetry (that surprisingly no one seems to have alluded to just yet) with that famous incident in Manchester 50 years ago when, as he strapped himself into a black Fender Telecaster, the audience fell strangely silent and you could clearly hear a voice call out from the crowd: Judas! His crime of course in the eyes of the serious, borderline puritanical folk music aficionados, was to dare to play his music on electric instruments. We look back now on an incident that seems more recent really than it was, and we think: how ridiculous. The person who claims to have been that voice in the crowd thinks the same, yet at the time there were a not insignificant number consumed by righteous indignation. So will it be as today's outrage fades, the decision to award this prize already has overwhelming public support, running at about 70% according to polls that I've seen, and I am sure that this and it's accompanying controversy will be interpreted in the future as having been a great step forward for all kinds of culture, because it will force the so called fine arts to face up to the fact that they cannot forever expect to be able to exist inside their bubble.
So I have recently taken to commenting on the wonderful Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc site. For those who don't know it, the comments section on this site is a kind of 'group hug' where lovers of classical music come together in a spirit of unprecedented camaraderie to celebrate a shared joy in this wonderful art-form. Only kidding, it's as venomous a nest of vipers as you're ever likely to come across. But I love them all. There's a lady posting as 'Milka' who I swear is the single most negative individual I've ever made the acquaintance of, and yet she is somehow (to me at least) adorable for that, and sometimes we even agree. She's not stupid, that's for sure. There's the wonderful Dutch composer John Borstlap, who I've mentioned in despatches before. John seems to get this perverse pleasure from baiting his antagonists, who are many. He's a very clever and learned man- and an extraordinarily original thinker. Most classical people just can't cope with that at all, so they end up 'playing the man not the ball' by attacking his work. He does not care. About 80% of the time we agree and it's a beautiful meeting of minds. The other 20% he makes me want to scream so much... and I know exactly how the others feel! There are many more (all pseudonyms, Borstlap and myself are the only ones silly enough to post under our real names)- Una, Furzwängler, Pianofortissimo, Holly Golightly, the list goes on. Unfortunately, I've got myself into some trouble there of late, drawing the ire of some with my comments.
Now why am I wasting time with this trivia you may ask? First of all, for me it's cathartic, somehow getting involved in a robust if seemingly pointless discussion on the future of the art-form, switches my own creative faculties on. Sometimes I'm just kidding around, sometimes I make a forthright case for some half-baked, spur of the moment idea only for it later to occur to me that that was not what I think at all! There's no edit button, but I don't mind because unless we've actually stopped thinking altogether, then all of our opinions are a work in progress. Secondly, it's not trivial at all. This is about classical music and what it has been allowed to become, because speaking out of turn in this field has for some time now been a short cut to a very brief career. Hence all the angst. There is another really serious point here that I will get to, eventually.
Which brings me back to Dylan, and to Cultural Bigotry. Norman, who is never one to steer clear of a controversy, posted (none too favourably I must say) on the Nobel Committee's decision. Well, as you can probably imagine with classical people, out came the outrage: (to paraphrase) "How could they, this is the end of civilisation as we know it!" I thought to myself 'this looks like fun' and responded to a comment starting with the line "Hmm and out come the cultural bigots". Now you might think "well that's a bit rude, David" and you'd be right, but you don't know Slipped Disc. I also at this stage need to show you the part of the comment in question that I was responding to. Referring again to the Dylan decision it said: "we all know that there are quite a few-who deserved the prize much more than a pop musician". Putting to one side for a moment the fact that this poster clearly was mistaking the great bard of my generation for Taylor Swift, there is this weird notion that cultural recognition is deserved only by those who are practitioners of the fine arts; and that there exists somehow this sliding scale of cultural value and artistic merit with classical music permanently stationed at the top. All despite the fact (and I'm not in any way applauding this) that these days the wider community is barely aware that the art-form exists.
So came the retribution, and strangely so! I say that because at first I genuinely, honestly had no idea what he meant. Which in itself I find fascinating. This is the reply: "'cultural bigots'? That accusation cuts both ways." I want to respond, I feel challenged by this but feel I need to request clarification. None is forthcoming. So I have to speculate. I think that perhaps this guy has made the assumption that because I am defending the work of a non classical artist, that somehow you can only conclude that that is where my affiliations lie. He is therefore also assuming that I harbour prejudices against classical music. I'm sure that's right, and It's a fascinating and revealing incite into a prevalent mentality within an art-form that sees itself as being somehow under siege. So having reached that conclusion, this would be my response:
Dear Allen (that's the name he posts under) thank you for the reply. I want to assure you that Western Classical Music is and always will be my first love and I would die defending it. If you wish to further categorise me, I am a member of the weird cult of Richard Wagner (aren't we all members of some weird cult or other?). However, in a near 40 year career in music I have made some pretty strange detours and illogical meanderings that have seen me veering wildly off the usual path for a practitioner of this art-form. You see I have worked, and when I say worked I mean I have been paid for my compositional, arranging, playing and performing skills in the following musical forms, genres if you prefer: Classical of course, including but not limited to baroque, 18th century classical, romantic and contemporary (new) classical music. Traditional Anglo/Celtic folk music. Contemporary rock and pop. Country music. Reggae, African Music (both traditional and contemporary). Jazz, Blues, Klezmer, Argentinian Tango, Middle Eastern (Arabic) music, Traditional Greek music, Indian Music, HipHop (yes, I admit it!) and Pakistani Hard Rock. OK that last one is a lie, but I have a friend, Omar Pervaiz who is it's leading practitioner. Having done all of that I want you to know that I have learnt (often through bitter experience i.e. from being wrong myself) to appreciate the greatness, and believe me there is greatness in them all! Now then you were saying, on Cultural Bigotry?
What I am asking Allen, and all you wonderful Slipped Discers, is for you to love the art you love, advocate for it, sing if you like, it's praises to the heavens! But please resist the urge to demean the art you don't love, but others do. Because that is what I meant in my comment, and I apologise for any offence I may have caused.