dimanche 8 août 2010

Published in Gene Lees' Jazzletter, September 1995 :

A majority within all age classes today, not just the young, buy products, music, and ideas that are originally manufactured and promoted supposedly by and for the youngsters.

But of course, today anybody under sixty has grown up in a system that is reinforcing infantile behavior, so that adults do not just behave like kids because they refuse to age but because the values they acquired as young adults were infantile to begin with. Why did this happen, and why did it start in America?

For generations of Europeans who were told to obey and conform, America was the place where individuals had a chance to make it on their own terms. This culminated between the two World Wars, when an efficient economy gave people access to new technologies – film, radio, recording - at all levels of society, and at the same time an explosion of creativity occurred in jazz and cinema, where an incredible number of highly individual artists had the opportunity to develop and, through those technologies, meet a huge audience. Certainly the myth of the “land of opportunity” had a lot of substance then, and the American Dream seemed to have a chance to come true. European film directors, for instance, were going to Hollywood not only to escape from a very sick Europe, or for money, but also because California was where their craft was being constantly reinvented.

And then, quite suddenly, things got out of hand. Material freedom, for many, increased beyond expectations, and television, like a high-tech mirror, filled the void and reflected our confusion. For the first time in history (in America after World War II), an economy was efficient enough to free a large number of people from poverty and give them a choice trough political and economic democracy (the market economy), making all sorts of things instantly available and developing technologies (television) geared toward that goal. And the overwhelming majority’s choices have been indeed the ones children make when given no guidance; anything that is immediate, requires no effort, and entails no responsibility.

Once it was established by the late ‘50s that those where “popular” choices, products that were comforting them increasingly became the only ones available, since they were more profitable. Previously, only those individuals sufficiently armed to gain power (including artistically) would influence the values of a society; that produced historical tragedies and good art. Now the produce of no concept and no education is given a vehicle that broadcasts it cheaply everywhere. Through radio and especially television it lays itself over the culture of the world. And its vehicle is so powerful economically and psychologically (we naturally tend to accept images as truth) that it is much more competitive than the established cultures.

It is so much easier, requires no effort, and we are not supposed to be responsible for what it shows. It is also so “democratic” that we can all understand it. Likewise, rock is more “democratic” than jazz: we could all potentially play some rock; to play jazz you need to be a musician to begin with. And that’s elitist!

Before this loop was closed (people are given the financial means of choice as well as the easiest alternatives and choose them; then no other alternative is available) it was still possible to have a functioning market for the tastes of minorities. In the ‘50s jazz was not anywhere near the popular music that it was in the ‘30s. As such it was already being replaced by rock, and still the ‘50s were an incredibly creative period for jazz, and it was finding its market with dedicated fans. But those fans grew up in the previous decades. After that, almost everybody who could by a record was given an opportunity to indulge in a natural penchant for laziness when he was forming his taste as an adolescent, so that every incremental investment to record the umpteenth version of some rock trash was finding a bigger, more profitable market than the recording of jazz.

The same economic system that gave individuals a choice made sure that they would make the same choice as everybody else – choose the lowest common denominator – and would not form their own values but buy the same ready-made values as all the others. Not surprisingly, there grew at the same time a sense of estrangement from the world around us, and while we destroy our planet, we are absorbed in creating “virtual reality”.Psychiatrists tell us that nothing is so dangerous as a child’s mind in an adult’s body, where the sublimation process (the expression of impulses in constructive forms) has not happened. That is not a bad definition of what has happened to our society.

It is irresponsible to give children all choices without giving them the tool to make them.
We need more people who think and choose as individuals instead of buying what they are told they all want.

God bless the child that’s got his own.

Claude Neuman (in Gene Lees’ Jazzletter, September 1995)