Sunday, 21 May 2017

Is music sustenance for the soul?

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It's probably due to my complete naivety, but as a teenager I was not aware of anyone in my age group or beyond ever contemplating or actually committing suicide. If I’m right, then I’m not sure what has happened in the interim, but I have a sneaking suspicion that music may play a crucial role.

I’m certain our generations euphonious offerings were more edifying compared to the fare that young people seem to seek solace in today.

In my dotage I listen to a radio station called “Magic” which plays the music of the fifties, sixties and seventies to an ever-increasing audience of baby boomers.

Back in “my day” Bill Haley wanted to dance all night, Elvis was enamored with his blue suede shoes and Cliff Richard’s girlfriend was a living doll. Cliff had lucky lips but was determined to remain a bachelor boy, Doris Day reckoned everybody loves a lover, and Jim Reeves crooned that he loved his lover most of all because she was “you.”

Meanwhile a chimpanzee and a monkey got married and had an abadaba honeymoon.

It wasn’t all a bed of roses. Marty Robins was dressed in a white sport coat and was sporting a pink carnation when his partner to the prom left him all alone in romance, Connie Francis was furious to find lipstick on her boyfriend’s collar and Dr Hook pleaded with Mrs Avery to let him talk on the phone to her daughter, Sylvia.

All in all, pretty tame stuff.

And then last week a modern day musician apparently took his own life. It seems Chris Cornell was universally admired. Fans were naturally grief-stricken and tributes poured in. The news media showed us many clips of his band Soundgarden and ran stories over a number of days. We were told that he had visited New Zealand on two or three occasions and had regaled us on how much he liked the place.

To the best of my knowledge I had never heard anything by Soundgarden; they wouldn’t have been on the Magic playlist, so I decided to expand my horizons and Googled the lyrics to evaluate their songs.

I will be offending Chris Cornell’s fans here and I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but the best word I can find to describe them is incomprehensible.

Better pens than mine are more definitive. The music genre is “grunge” and is described as being “typically dark, nihilistic, angst-filled and anguished. Using negative experiences or feelings; the main themes being alienation and depression, but with an ironic sneer, violent and often obscene, shorn of ideals and the impulse for political action.”

Typical topics of grunge lyrics are homelessness, suicide, rape, broken homes, drug addiction and self-loathing.

And so into the valley of death ride our young people; earphones plugged into a newly- minted device we call the smartphone, spewing out desperate themes into impressionable minds. These lyrics were said to have developed as part of the generation X malaise, reflecting that demographics feelings of disillusionment and uselessness.

But surely you’d have to ask: which came first, the music or the malaise?

“The rock music business is a cruel and shallow trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men lie like dogs. There is also a negative side.” - Hunter S. Thompson


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