George Sarant

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I’ve just returned from spending some time in Nashville, and I liked it a lot. The city is pristine and pleasant, and as I often say, returning to New York City is an embarrassment in these categories. What is perhaps most striking about Nashville is how new so many things are, the way Long Island or California was in the 1950s and 1960s.


The the downtown area on Broadway was really jumping with live entertainment and mostly young people jamming the bars and restaurants. That may be why we had a curious experience at the upscale “upstairs” of one of them, when a waiter asked us for identification. I haven’t been asked for proof since I was a teenager and the drinking age was still 18 in New York, but anyway we incredulously handed it over. He studied it with more scrutiny than a TSA agent, and when I asked what that was about he explained that  they’ve been getting harassed or busted for underage customers so they decided to ask everyone without exception for I.D. That was pretty lame and makes about as much sense as everyone having to take off their shoes when boarding a flight, and the food wasn’t that good either. 

We went to the Grand Ole Opry twice; once at the old Ryman auditorium and again at the “new” Opry (which is forty years old) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Contemporary country singers tend to all sound the same to me so I was pleased to hear some older stuff as well as bluegrass and cowboy singers. However, if you lack  much meat on your behind, as I do, you will find sitting in the Ryman auditorium sheer torture, since the seating consists of extended hard wooden pews. At the new Opry at least the seats are padded. The excellent, varied, and relatively inexpensive  programs make up for any inconvenience. 


For a change of pace we also went to a concert by the Nashville Symphony at the Schermerhorn concert hall, which is a very impressive facility with fine acoustics. It is reminiscent of the kind of design you see in concert halls across Europe, but with more modern details. The Mozart program they played sounded as good as anything I’ve ever heard in New York. The downtown contains some architecturally interesting skyscrapers that don’t have the cookie cutter steel and glass look of so many other cities. The reproduction of the Athens Parthenon in centennial park is very impressive, and if you haven’t been there since the statue of Athena was added, filling the space from floor to ceiling, it will blow you away. There are also many interesting places in the vicinity of the city, such as plantations, gardens, the Hermitage, etc. that are well-preserved reminders of the past. 


This is a place with a vibrant pulse and the “music city” name is very appropriate, although there is a lot more to it than that. The musical base is very broad. If you doubt that just watch an episode of the television show Nashville just for the music. It seems to be a very livable city. This is the kind of place that, along with vast sections of the country, people on the coasts are just oblivious to, or view with  a misplaced contempt. That is essentially a kind of reverse-prejudice against  a largely Anglo-American culture that is far more pronounced than anything emanating back. As much as I like the “diversity” (to use a purloined phrase) back home in New York, I also appreciate places where things are just basically American. It is well worth a trip for the entertainment venues alone and I look forward to returning on business as well. 




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I recently had occasion to listen to the latest album from “Jay-z.” I listened to the whole thing although it was sheer torture. I was searching for the slightest bit of musical content, which eluded me, since the entire album consisted of boring raps over the same constant beats. There’s a tiny portion of music in the background either sung by a girl or chorus, and to my mind they’re the ones who should get the credit, not the dude that is simply talking over it. This is not music. It may be poetry, but bad poetry. What is incomprehensible is how anyone can occupy their time listening to this stuff and others in the genre that all sound the same, but every time I go on a subway there is a large number of young people with annoying loud headphones bobbing to this junk. I presume the lyrics must be of some import, although through most of pop music history lyrics were often jumbled and incomprehensible. The music was what mattered. Now it isn’t even there, or sampled and electronically re-processed sound.

The sad thing is that this crap has been around an awfully long time. There hasn’t been much originality since the 1980s. Change and creativity used to be far more rapid before then. It is tragically ironic that we live in an era when musical reproduction and fidelity has reached new heights of pristine quality, but there isn’t much worth listening to that isn’t more than a few years old. This is not to say there is not anything good or new out there; there is actually a lot going on in different genres but they don’t get the air play or promotion.

No wonder CD sales are down. It isn’t just Internet downloading. There just isn’t that much worth buying or listening to out there. How ironic that we have the best technology ever for reproducing music and just about the worst product available ever. It is great for things like classical music or jazz, but the sales are miniscule in the US (whereas in Europe they are still significant along with some good pop music). Here is some good dance-trance stuff, but otherwise you’re left with ciassic rock retreads. There is also a large pop market, but the songs all sound like retreads of older songs scrambled through a computer to come out slightly different, but still formulaic. There is very little originality.

The other explanation of decline is that everything has fallen into more and more niche markets with smaller audiences. While this may be true, it leaves no room for something coming along sweeping much of the youth, as has been the case many times over in the past. Hopefully something “new” will come along as a trend sooner or later; my guess is that it would come out of Latin music. There is still nothing better than a good melodic line along with a catchy rhythm to get people’s interest.

Written by georgesarant

September 22, 2009 at 4:26 PM

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