No Music Day
oulseeking is a regular column at Stylus that hopefully does a bit of what the title suggests, in order to better understand what it is we fell in love with, and, if need be, go a little way towards getting that feeling back.
Bill Drummond thinks “all music is shite.” He’s not enjoying it anymore. For the last few years he’s been choosing a letter of the alphabet at random, and only listening to music by artists beginning with that letter for the next twelve months. The first letter he chose was B. Which means he’s going to have to live at least another 20-odd years if he ever wants to listen to The Beach Boys again.
But that’s not enough. Bill Drummond wants us to reinvigorate our relationship with music too. How? By not listening to it. Drummond wants November 21st, the day before St. Cecelia’s day (the patron saint of music), to be No Music Day. He’s started a website to promote the idea, because that’s what you do these days to promote ideas. Start a website. And then get a column in a monthly music publication to publicise said website. Which is easy enough for Bill Drummond to do.
You could accuse Drummond of simply being an old fart who’s not down with the kids anymore—for the last ten or fifteen years he’s been far more concerned with making art than pop—except that I’m half his age and, in theory, agree with what he’s trying to do, just not why or how he’s proposing to do it.
Music doesn’t belong in every shop, pub, bar and restaurant we set foot in. (Big chain pubs and eateries in the UK like Wetherspoons and Wagamama have realised that we don’t want to be aurally assaulted when we go out for a drink and a meal, and they’re benefiting from “no music” policies which encourage conversation rather than stressed bellowing.) So much music is pumped indiscriminately at us that it’s no wonder people get tired of it. Music’s presence in society reached saturation point some time ago, but if you say so out loud you risk appearing as a philistine.
Not wanting to hear music everywhere you go doesn’t mean you don’t love music, in fact quite the opposite—it means you love it so much you don’t want it ruined by being made something to ignore, tolerate and shout over in order to be heard. I don’t think the “solution”, if there is one, is not listening to any music at all for one day of the year—I think the solution is listening “better” every day.
Bill Drummond’s not alone in his grumpy musical fug. A little while ago Jarvis Cocker edited Observer Music Monthly. Part of the result was Drummond’s column, and another was this roundtable discussion about “what music is.” The conversation is essentially a load of old farts moaning about why they’re not big cheeses in the music industry anymore (it’s because they’re old) and complaining about Busted as if they were any worse than The Osmonds or Take That or The Beatles pre-1965. Paul Morley particularly bemoans overconsumption, iPods, and the ease of digital music.
Of course three years ago Paul Morley released the book Words & Music, and at the same time wrote a big article for The Guardian about how iPods were great, CDs were rubbish, and reducing music to a (play)list enabled some kind of pure and unfettered appreciation of its platonic form. The article was basically a big advert for the book. No one bought his book. Now he’s changed his mind.
Drummond, Morley, Cocker, and their ilk mourning the fact that music has been ruined begs the question: who ruined it? The answer? They did. It’s their generation who created MTV, who started the voracious mainstream appropriation of subcultures, who said “anyone can make music that sells / that is important” rather than “anyone can make music that they enjoy,” who took folk traditions and cultures and commodified them, in the process divorcing them from both creators and audiences—who were, before pop came along, one and the same.
Punk philosophy, pop philosophy, says that music cannot just exist on a local, community level, because music must be made to be sold, to be experienced by all, or else it’s worthless. And so minority or folk pursuits are either starved or strangled—under or over-exposed depending on whether someone wants to sell them. See any culturally and financially neglected regional music projects for evidence of the former, and Dizzee Rascal’s career arc for evidence of the latter.
Music for kids in 2006 isn’t an activity to be participated in, something now recognised as such a problem that the government have had to produce a Music Manisfesto to try and address it. Music has been transformed from something you do, into something you consume. And consuming is different to listening or making.
An illustration. I challenged one student about why he always wore headphones in class. He replied that it didn't matter, because he wasn't actually playing any music. In another lesson, he was playing music at very low volume through the headphones, without wearing them. When I asked him to switch it off, he replied that “even he couldn't hear it.” Why wear the headphones without playing music or play music without wearing the headphones? Because the presence of the phones on the ears or the knowledge that the music is playing (even if he couldn't hear it) was a reassurance that the matrix was still there, within reach. The use of headphones is significant here—Pop is experienced not as something which could have impacts upon public space, but as a retreat into private OedIpod consumer bliss, a walling up against the social.Stopping listening to music for one day isn’t going to change a thing besides making the likes of Drummond feel briefly more self-satisfied. We’ve forgotten how to listen to music, how to make music, how to enjoy music as a society, or so it seems sometimes. No Music Day won’t rectify that. To be honest, I don’t really know what will, but rather than not listening to anything on November 21st, I’m going to choose what I do listen to carefully, and savor it.