Sunday, August 27, 2006

La musique partout et pour tous

(Old post- now with the appropriate clip added. Play when reading that section. Okay?)

Weird all-night dancing in the lukewarm streets of Nantes; today is a fête de la musique and every block has a different group of musicians playing on it. I wander around and listen to bagpipers, Greek singers, African drummers, French rock bands and Spanish music. The French rock band is older and constantly frowning, but they’re still swinging. At one point, the singer has one side of the street sing “Rock me” and the other sing “all night long”. However, with his thick French accent, “rock me” comes out more like “Rocky”, or perhaps “Roquey” and “all night long” is more like “au nee loh”. Soon the entire block is singing “Roquey- au nee loh!” and roquing out like crazy.

In the alley, a French woman huffs at me- this might not make any sense if you’ve never had a French person huff at you, but it’s really funny; like “Boff!” which is sort of a common French exclamation. I’m dressed very strangely this evening; Claire can attest that nobody in France has a jacket like mine, and I swear that I get the funniest looks all evening for my attire. This amuses me to no end, and I laugh at the woman, because honestly, how else can you respond to something so ridiculous? And I keep walking. And roquing.

It is strange how the musicians are split off into these little “it’s a small world” nation-states. Every nation on earth seems to claim its “own” music- and almost all of them are hybrids of other musical traditions. So, bluegrass comes from Scottish and African musical forms, the blues come from country music and African traditional music, New Orleans jazz borrowed from Carribean and Mexican styles along with gospal and field hollers, French musette is really a hybrid of polka and jazz, and on and on and on. Art has no borders, it mates with anything, and it draws from everything. The people who worry about cultural purity, who never seem to do a thing for actual culture, are worried about an oxymoron. There’s no such thing- there is no culture with purity, and vice-versa.

I keep thinking about this as I walk around the shopping areas of Nantes- is this all that culture is anymore? Endless malls? Mobs of people shopping every time they get a free moment? It's tough though because I'm not anti-consumerism. If people want to pursue pleasure, then why begrudge them this pursuit? There's no quicker way to become a Puritan than to spend your time worrying about how other people make themselves happy.

But, for some reason, it still depresses me. This is the 'clash of civilizations' we keep hearing about? Religious fanatics vs. the Mall? Two cultures- one whose heyday was in the 1400s and the other whose heyday was in the 1700s duking it out? I'm not afraid that the future will be violent at all. I'm afraid that it will be boring- just endless boredom punctuated by the occasional random act of violence. Just an endless middlebrow mall where everything flatters us and nothing is confusing, or strange, or difficult.

And yet, somewhere in this field of music and shoppers is another field. I find it standing between the musical acts, in a space that nobody else is occupying because it's confusing and loud and bizarre. Right here, where the chanting of North African drummers and singers clashes with the bagpipes of Scottland and makes a secret sound that nobody else is listening for. This chaotic cacophony of human breathing is something strange and beautiful and disorienting. And for me, it's the hidden key to the future, the only future that will move us forward- it's the secret beauty of cross-breeding, and mutation, and perversion, and the endless variations of human creation. The West keeps repeating the 19th century, and the East keeps repeating the 15th century, but outside of the geographical designations, new arts will be taking root. Oh, they'll be denied as insignificant and unimportant by most people because they won't be sold in the malls. But, they'll be there nonetheless- our alchemic arts, our hidden alchoves in these dark ages. And perhaps there will be a renaissance of humanist voyagers to explore the veiled recesses and search them out.

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