Like the stories of all great artists, most of the Lou Reed story is built on a mountain of crucial untruth—a wispy chunk of magical thinking, a campfire story of how “downtown” got that way. We like our myths, our legends, and we fight hard to keep them. Lou, as I called him, wandered into this stacked self-presentation so completely that I believe he had to believe it.
It is hard for me not to see the departed Shapero as not only the bristling, often vulgar man I remember, but as the end of an era, the period on a sentence, the final clause in an important but also completed chapter—and yet I will try to not calcify him into a notion or a trend or an idea, because he deserves better.
We all know what is meant when the accusation of academicism is lobbed: that person (or their line of thinking) is cloistered, out of touch, has little bearing on the real world. But really, there is no “real world” and no “general public.” They are ghosts we chase or sticks with which we composers use to beat ourselves up.
Can any kind of music actually be dangerous? This rhetorical question has an obvious answer: it cannot kill you, but something in it scares enough people that the famously oppressive regimes of, say, the Taliban, Stalinist Russia, Maoist China (during the Cultural Revolution), the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, or that tiny town in Footloose all felt that certain music should be duly restricted.
“Listy” thinking—the notion that anything as elemental and sloppily chaotic as music (or any art, for that matter) can withstand ordering, this-or-that-ing—can be, at best, problematic. The list can take the place of the work much like ideas of the people involved can be easily replaced by received notions. And that represents a danger because when something complicated is easily and quickly understood, the chances are that you are doing something wrong.
Bernstein’s Mass is my theme song, my touchstone, my secret garden, my musical Castalia, the song of the inescapably confused but willing to try. Everything I want to do in music, it does better. Everything I hear, it contains. All that I feel, it seems to address in a clear and absolutely beautiful way.
A critical look at three recent music books published by the MIT Press: Computer Models of Musical Creativity by David Cope; Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation by David Huron; and Gareth Loy’s Musimathics: The Mathematical Foundations of Music, Volume One.
Despite all the memorials aimed at codifying the expression of grief, perhaps catharsis is simply not within our ken as composers.