Hearsay: Wednesday, October 3, 2002
It’s Only Art

HearSay likes to think it knows all the answers to life’s important questions: How Phil Collins went from the man behind “Follow You, Follow Me” and “Turn It on Again” to the hack behind “You’ll Be in My Heart” (it’s the money, stupid); how The Doors’ medley of “Mystery Train” (Elvis) and “Crossroads Blues” (Bob Johnson), called “Black Train Song,” outshines its source material (it’s the technology, stupid); and how a defensive end’s taking the fullback’s “inside” shoulder on an isolation play eliminates the running lane (it’s the, um, law of physics, friend). Like HearSay said, important stuff.

Not once but twice this past week, HearSay found itself defending some of its high-minded ideals on art, from popular song to film. Either there was some really good shit in the beer everyone was drinking or everyone was feeling a bit deeper than usual, now that it’s that time of year when the brain has grown tired of contemplating bikini lines and manly chests and wants to chew on ideas (e.g., homework). So put this in your pipe and smoke it: HearSay stands by the fact that a person cannot listen to two different c.d.’s from two different artists and discern which artist suffered more or better/worse for his or her art. It’s physically impossible.

There’s only one way a person would be able to tell a difference: reading. That’s right. It’s only because the media are so pervasive that a listener knows that, say, John Lee Hooker drove a three-mule team by himself or that Kurt Cobain was a junkie. Take away the media and every artist is on a level playing field, a field in which the only thing that matters is the painting or the ballet or the song. Choreographer Bill T. Jones’ “Still/Here” ballet would have been great, HearSay’s certain, if Jones’ promotion people didn’t stress the point that “Still/Here” was a dance about AIDS, danced by people with AIDS. How in the world would a viewer be able to feel anything other than empathy while watching such a work? This is not “art.” It’s therapy or something else. Just don’t call it “art.” Same with anything political-rockers Rage Against the Machine did or Bruce Springsteen does in his latter days. Therapy.

Can rich people make “good” music? Yes. Can poor people make “bad” music? Absolutely. Far as HearSay knows, there is no benefit in knowing anything about a piece of music or work of art that can’t be gleaned from the work itself. The beauty of art is that it can mean different things to different people at different times. There is no one meaning. Other people may be better at seeing or hearing the “truth” behind particular works (they’re called critics), but anybody can take away whatever he wants from a song or dance or painting. Teenagers driving around in Volvos, blasting Nevermind and paying no attention to the absurdist lyrics, probably drove Cobain mad. He had his one idea of what any one of his songs should have meant and he stuck to it. That’s the definition of egomania. Here’re HearSay’s two cents: Nothing is that serious. It’s only art.

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