Keeping Out of the Headlines

I wandered briefly around Times Square on a Friday night for the first time in years this past weekend. There are now a bunch of newer, taller buildings, many more bright lights and video displays everywhere, at least three news tickers rather than one, and an almost completely unnavigable pedestrian traffic flow. Its sense of self-importance has probably never loomed larger. Although in our ever more de-centralized culture, it’s hard to imagine anyone still calling it the crossroads of world with a straight face anymore. Yet still, Times Square cries out as an emblem of a mainstream of sorts, for better or worse.

Not able to get very far very quickly with all the throngs of people idling about, I found myself drawn to the original Times Square new ticker where I read the then latest news about North Korean nuclear tests, Hastert’s refusal to step down, and the latest scores in the baseball playoffs. For a brief moment I thought I saw something about Tower Records there but, alas, it turned out to be the wishful thinking of an active imagination.

Indeed, aside from Michael Jackson’s brushes with the criminal justice system, there is never anything about music on that ticker. And there certainly has never been anything there about the music we talk about on these pages. This got me thinking about the things in contemporary music that have wound up on historical timelines: the riotous premiere of The Rite of Spring, for example, or closer to home, the premiere of Terry Riley’s In C or maybe the first time John Coltrane started exploring free improvisation. Does anyone even have a date for that?

That’s just it. We can talk about the global importance of a musical event only after the fact. Is there ever a time when art, which is so personal, is ever of global importance as it is happening? Walking by Times Square when I was younger, I longed for the music I loved to make headline news. Now, I know that it never can and I’m almost glad it doesn’t and the sooner I can get out of the crowd the better.

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3 thoughts on “Keeping Out of the Headlines

  1. bsarchinal

    “Is there ever a time when art, which is so personal, is ever of global importance as it is happening”

    How about all that discussion about the World Trade Center memorial? That may not be of global importance, but it sure had a lot of the country up in arms about its design. That is an extremly personal subject to Americans.

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  2. jbunch

    It seems that controversial/edgy visual arts don’t have a problem garnering media attention (obvious examples, Andre Serrano, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack, etc.). If I trapse up to the Art Institute of Chicago’s fantastic museum, I see plenty of people loittering in the contemporary art section – and I’m not just talking about Monet here. You can see audiences checking out Bruce Neumann and the likes on any day. Perhaps it’s the doubled-edged sword of abstraction and inwardness that music wields (I mean, visual works seem to be much more directly imbibed than say, Carter or Stucky) that makes it more of a commitment. I sometimes wonder if the amount of information a listener is assumed to need in order to really engage with much contemporary music is too much. Can one really engage with Carter without understanding to some extent the way his pieces are put together? If not, can we expect large numbers of people such as that the newsmedia would be serving to devote the time to become conversant? Should we? I sincerely wish we could.

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  3. Frank J. Oteri

    I’d have to counter that even the most audacious escapades of a Pollock or a Warhol would still not make it onto the Times Square News Ticker. Does anyone remember if Giuliani’s outrage over works by Chris Ofili that were exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum a few years back ever made it to the ticker?

    If they did I would venture to say it was because of Giuliani’s comments and not the artwork per se. It took a fatwa imposed on Salman Rushdie to put literature in the headlines not so long ago. But I doubt it ultimately raised the interest in contemporary experimental fiction.

    The sad reality is the only thing that is not “hard news” (as it were) that consistantly makes it onto news tickers and the front pages of newspapers is sports. Why sports gets a free pass when it, just like music, is “mere entertainment” is beyond me. For better or worse, and I say this as someone who was mezmerized by the Subway Series (guess I really am a thorough New Yorker), sports has replaced culture as what is the treasured among human aspirations in our society.

    In art, despite the ubiquity of the star-rating system attached to criticism in commercial publications, there is no easy score to report. Despite whomever we choose to lionize, there are no irrefutable world champions. This, of course, is part of what makes the arts so wonderfully subtle and transformative.

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