You Gotta Have a Gimmick?
One of my favorite things about the 21st century is that it’s now possible to be a cool nerd. You didn’t used to be able to pull this off: in the ’90s, you could be popular or dorky, but almost never both. I logged many years as a total and much-persecuted square; however, I’m happy to say that the cultural tide began to turn in my favor eight or ten years ago, and I can finally wear that designation with dignity.
I’m very proud to be a new music nerd; de temps en temps, though, I can be another kind of nerd as well, one whose rehabilitation into respectable society remains ongoing. It’s in this latter context that I happened across a recent republication of the Inferno to coincide with a video game adaptation (if you can imagine such a thing) of the first part of La Divina Commedia. The cover of this new edition is plastered with exceedingly tasteless imagery, imagery quite contrary to the spirit of the poem, taken from the video game. Two conflicting perspectives (here and here) on this publication brought to mind the parallel situation in classical music: How far are we willing to go to expose unlikely demographics to great music?
I’ve made my thoughts on this known: There’s no depth to which I won’t stoop to sell new music. If a recording of Stimmung with a close-up of Stockhausen’s picture from the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the front sells, so be it—what’s important is that people are listening to Stimmung, not that they’re doing so for (initially) the “wrong reasons.” (More on KS in this space in the near future, by the way—stay tuned!) Contemporary music should be packaged in the most appealing way, period; it’s only either mystificatory attitudes pedestalizing the autonomy of the work or straight-up PR tone-deafness that prevents us from doing so. And like the Inferno, the content can remain 100% uncompromising: When front-loading the compromise into the advertising, there’s no excuse for creative capitulation.
On the other hand, when I asked my Better Half about the new edition of Dante, she said it was the stupidest thing she’d ever seen and that she would rather not buy it all than purchase such a tawdry volume. (For the record, she already owns and has read the Divine Comedy, so she’s not in the target demo here.) Am I being shortsighted? Would you buy it?