Tuesday, July 24, 2018

About the importance of music

I last saw the Flaming Lips in Singapore, eight years ago. It was a defiantly underground event, both literally (it took place in the basement of a convention centre) and culturally; the Lips’ trippy, shambling weirdness stands in direct opposition to the earnest, aspirational, fiercely drug-free ethos promoted throughout the Lion City.

It was also a strictly 18+ event, as good Singaporean children should spend their evenings scrabbling for a foothold within the brutally competitive education hierarchy. Whereas when the band played in London last weekend, headlining the Kaleidoscope festival at Alexandra Palace, small people were actively welcomed into the mix. To an extent this makes sense. Much of what the Lips do taps into the fusion of naïvety, nostalgia and melancholia developed by the Beatles, Pink Floyd and David Bowie around 1967; barely an image from Lewis Carroll or AA Milne went unchecked, albeit through a thick fug of hallucinogens. Lips mainman Wayne Coyne comes from Oklahoma and his references tend more to The Wizard of Oz but the process is similar.

However, there’s a difference between the childhoods half-remembered by the likes of McCartney and Barrett and Coyne and those enforced by the yummy mummies of North London. The Lips’ party atmosphere includes balloons, and lots of them, big, substantial ones, half-way to beachballs. In Singapore they bounced cheerfully over the heads of the punters until they burst or were otherwise forgotten. Here, they are grabbed by adult hands and passed over to little Mungo or darling Clemency to hold onto for dear life. Smaller children, meanwhile, are decorated with industrial-grade ear protectors, which does rather raise the question of why they’re being brought to a festival featuring lots of noisy rock music.

Actually, that question might be raised about plenty of the parents, it seems. From the absence of singalonging and an air of cheerful ambivalence towards any of the musicians, even the headliners, one wonders how many of the punters have even heard of the Flaming Lips; they were as much attracted to the event by the promise of face painters and balloon animals and gluten-free pizzas and other manifestations of a lovely summer’s day out. Which is all fine and dandy, and, yes, I know, music just isn’t that important a part of life for some people. But I wonder whether the next step will be a music festival without the expense and inconvenience of musicians.

And, the following day, this happened:

and I’m pretty certain it was a response to something I tweeted about yet another wholly admirable person who appears to have a pretty lame record collection. Again, I understand that many people don’t care as much about music as I do, and this applies both to the people who appear on Desert Island Discs, and many of the listeners. That said, I’d always assumed that the choice of music is intended to reflect some aspect of the subject’s life or personality in a way that can’t always be done through words alone. And as such, the music is available for public discussion and response in exactly the way the words are. If not, once again, what’s the point of having the music at all?

But I don’t launch into an unseemly Twitter Spat©, partly because I’ve got a horrible feeling that such disagreements tend to be ever-so-slightly gendered. Way back before I ever set foot in Singapore, I wrote a rather disobliging review of, among other things, Ruth Padel’s book I’m a Man. In it, she dismisses the (in her eyes) characteristically male tendency to think knowing stuff about music is very important, with a specific dig at Nick Hornby; this presumably offered her a get-out-clause for the numerous factual errors in her text. Since Padel is currently Professor of Poetry at King’s College London, I wonder whether she’s as relaxed about her students’ ignorance of Shelley or Plath. (Incidentally, when Padel herself appeared on Desert Island Discs, her music choices were perfectly respectable; which inevitably disappointed me, as I wanted her to choose eight slices of crap, just to prove I was right.


Garth said...

Tim - all I see is the tyranny of mediocrity: nothing is allowed to be dangerous, everything needs to accessible to all ages, to the extent that everything becomes bland. I refuse to attend the customary festivals since i believe the music has become secondary to the need to conform and ultimately to the profit margin. Fuck it, I'm bailing out and I'll listen to whatever I want without trying to sell it to anyone.

Roger Allen said...

Perhaps we should have "Desert Island Jovian Moons" as an alternative.