Pop music in America has been deteriorating for some time, but a trip just last week to Nashville, Tennessee, revealed that raw sensationalism has actually become epidemic. Traditional live-radio-shows of authentic Country and Blue Grass music at the venerable Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium are still legitimate; fresh and faded talent stride the stages, but all performers strum and sing with sincerity of soul. Famed Broadway Avenue, however, has changed dramatically. Known for generations as the
showcase street for up-and-coming new talent, affectionately termed “Honky Tonk Row” has become a trail of noise emblematic of an increasing pattern of disturbing “music” scenarios taking place all over the nation. In bar after bar and band after band, the once simple but heartfelt country songs now clearly evidence an underlying contagion from the Rock-Rap music genre by incorporating modernized primitive behavior in both performers and spectators.
It serves well to recall that genuine primitive tribes habitually employed loud percussive drum beats that set members whooping, hooting, and stomping to rouse fervor for war or a big hunt. Smoking herbs or imbibing fermented liquids enhanced bravery in battle or trance-like tranquility in the homeland. Withstanding the pain of tattoos and body piercing was an outward sign of inner courage or sign-signals of affiliations or outstanding performance.
Today, musicians and singers from coast to coast — regrettably, even those trying to catch the spotlight in the hometown of indigenous American Country music — now channel primal practices in various ways. When there is an actual attempt to sing (rather than shout), few lyrics, melody, or harmony can be discerned. There’s a lot of tribal-like stomping around. The excessively loud, incessant beat of drums and electronic shrill assault the senses as players seem to attack their instruments with fervent brutality. Crawling tattoos, body piercing, and flesh-revealing outfits are the norm.
Nashville-visiting bar bums of all ages and sexes (similarly body ornamented and many smelling of marijuana) drink themselves silly, hoot their approval, and sway on their stools or stomp along with the beat in the aisles and overcrowded open spaces. Plus, in comic relief, the town has become an American Mecca for “Bachlorette” send-off events, so gals from every corner of the country crowned with rhinestone-studded plastic tiaras and short white veils swing around in a last beer-soaked fling with bridesmaids before settling down to marriage. As one seasoned bartender put it: “Nashville has turned from a music town into a party town.”
The behavioral activities of bona fide tribes had serious purpose, and the art of music (like all of the arts) has the ability to project significant, humanistic values that, if similar to our own, cause sincere emotions to arise in us such as joy, sorrow, love, loss, defeat, and heroism. What, then, is the purpose — the significance — of all this pop-music sound and fury? In Nashville of all places? Sounds blast out, so there’s no musical value projected. Stomping is not dancing, so there’s no grace to enchant. Brightly colored bodies of “sexy” performers look like animated cartoons, so there’s no beauty to appreciate.
Sadly, this type of mind-numbing “music” phenomenon has no purpose other than venting. It thrives in both frenzied performers and enthusiastic viewers not because of its appeal to life-serving values inherent in valid art forms (including Country and Blue Grass) but because of its appeal to undeveloped or immature but receptive instincts. Functional brain imaging shows that music directly influences the limbic system of the brain, structures of which are involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory. It is understood scientifically that hard-pounding percussive musical sounds activate the brain’s lower impulses — sex, kinetic energy, etc. — by deadening the higher faculties of cognitive integration. It is also understood that when one becomes accustomed to raw physical sensation of any kind, evermore harsh stimuli are required to feel anything at all; thus, the level of sensory excitation must keep escalating to be effective in the same way drugs must be increased to incite heightened hallucinations or mind dulling escapes from reality. Ergo: These “music performances” offer a rude but educational example of inciting trance-like physical sensations in people who otherwise are desensitized because they have been bombarded with versions of this brain-bashing “music” for decades in live concert venues, on TV and in movies.
Warnings against artistic descent into decadence have surfaced before. Aristotle: “Music directly imitates the passions or states of the soul. . .when one listens to music that imitates a certain passion, he becomes imbued with the same passion. . .” Mozart: “Violent passion should never be expressed to the point of provoking disgust. Even in a horrible situation, music should never hurt the ears, nor cease to be music.”
So what does all this sound and fury signify? Unfortunately, not the “nothing” of Macbeth’s lament. On the contrary, it signifies a great deal. It signifies the rakishness, juvenility, and underdeveloped state of mind that now pervades our national devolution into massive acceptance of primitive “music” sounds, body-mutilated physical appearances, and inane behavior. The degenerate drumbeat, dress, and demeanor of pop music scenes is booming everywhere in America, but knowing that it has now invaded “Music City, USA” should ring an alarm bell in every culture-concerned ear.
Alexandra York is an author and founding president of the American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART) a New-York-City-based nonprofit educational arts and culture foundation (www.art-21.org). She has written for many publications, including "Reader’s Digest" and The New York Times. Her latest book is "Adamas." For more on Alexandra York, Go Here Now.
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