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Is Music Besides The Point Today?

What is the value of art in the current international culture of increasing violence? Its a question raised by the mounting regularity of mayhem of which the recent bombing of TWA flight 800 and and the explosion in Atlanta this summer are only the latest examples. From pervasive political turmoil to the general decay of our cities it becomes apparent that the world is going to hell in a handbasket at an ever accelerating pace. The question is what can we artists do about it.

Its not that artists can’t be part of the problem. As musicians do we want to be connected with the same entertainment industry that capitalizes on the broad commercial appeal of the pornography of violence to sell everything from records to movies? Some of the same conglomerates that present classic jazz recordings find it profitable to raise the threshold of violence on television and in movie theaters. For them only morality is money.

And things are not going to better anytime soon with the increasing sophistication of tools for hurting people. I fondly remember an old sci fi movie starring Walter Pidegon and Anne Francis called “Forbidden Planet” in which an extinct alien society on a once inhabited planet is discovered to have doomed itself by producing technology that ultimately destroys it. I await a hit single from the Backstreet Boys bemoaning wimps who want to outlaw the private possession of assault weapons.

In the end jazz musicians are very lucky. Without bebop and a trombone to provide an adversarial relationship I might be getting into more trouble myself. Creative energy is an overwhelming force that can be perverted by confused people and venial organizations but it is not enough for us to keep the dark side in check. The responsibility for creative endowment is to turn shadow into light. There is enormous social power in the community of artists and now is the time to flip the switch.

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