by Paul Klemperer
One of my favorite topics is the idea of cultural renaissance, and one of my favorite rants is the problem of cultural hegemony. Now I know I’m basically a bricolage of beatnik/hippie/counter-cultural attitudes and aspirations, but I always try to see things at least two ways at the same time, if not more. So I can see how one man’s renaissance is another man’s hegemony. Yet I cling to the belief that there are underlying objective cultural realities which distinguish the two, no matter how much we dial back our critical judgment with the buffers of freedom of expression, cultural relativism and just plain old couch potato soporific passivity.
Let’s take music as a for instance. What makes a pop song a national hit, a culturally shared moment? What makes a pop singer a national celebrity, a persona that crosses over from concerts, to recordings, to television, to movies, to product endorsements? A friend of mine summed it up succinctly: MONEY.
But is that the final equation? Corporate hegemonic control over mass culture? It often seems so. Who among us has not turned on the radio and cried, “This talentless cretin has certainly sold their eternal soul to Satan”? How many times has a vacuous pop song become a hit, a doltish movie broke box office records or an irritating Johnny One Note become a celebrity personality? And now all of these examples of celebrity commodification can occur simultaneously through the magic of post-industrial capitalism; coordinated mass marketing has been honed to an exact science in the 21st century.
In fact, what with computer animation, there often doesn’t even need to be an actual celebrity to commodify. You can get your Disneytronic character figurine at Burger King; watch its animated antics on the big screen; rent the video; and buy the soundtrack, comic book and video game all in one afternoon! One could argue that such a cultural milieu qualifies as a renaissance. Certainly for each celebrity/commodity there is a team of talented and hardworking artists behind the scenes: songwriters, musicians, photographers, graphic artists, copy writers, choreographers and possibly every other type of craftsman who has ever surfaced since the Neanderthals started banging rocks together around the campfire.
A period of renaissance connotes not just a rebirth of artistic endeavor but also an interconnection among the arts, a gestalt or zeitgeist, so that one can characterize the period through themes shared by the various arts. We take pride in the zeitgeist of previous periods: the American Revolution, the Harlem Renaissance, the Psychedelic 60’s. But as technology has sped up most aspects of our lives, maybe it has sped up periods of renaissance to months and weeks, rather than years. Can a renaissance actually be built around the marketing of a single commodity? Or is that just a bunch of crap? Maybe we’re just talking about fads and trends and cold-bloodedly calculated massive ad campaigns. That is my left-leaning gut instinct. But maybe post-modern culture is not so easily summed up. It is definitely a gray area in which we live, where the difference between renaissance and hegemony is often not clear. Artistic products may be execrable and mass-produced, but they still may reflect the spirit of our time. Personal taste and aesthetic judgment may be our ultimate measuring sticks, but are these objective enough? Please let me know, and keep those cards and letters coming.
[This essay was originally published in Austin Downtown Arts March, 2002]
‘Scuse me if I get introspective in these last days of 2010. It has been a year full of changes for me and many of my friends, gains and losses, dreams coming into focus, dreams out of focus… Through it all the music keeps going. Thanks to all the hardworking and creative people in my life I was able to host and/or participate in a lot of wonderful shows, beautiful music, great parties over this year. Then I read about Aretha (Bob Herbert’s editorial in the New York Times, 12-26-10).
Aretha has been ill (pancreatic cancer), and is convalescing after surgery. She’s 68, and has been a constant musical presence in my life since I was maybe 12 years old. We danced to her music at middle and high school parties. Then I got to play her music in my early bands, then my college bands, and after I moved to Texas her music followed me from band to band. Any dance band has to know some Aretha songs: “Respect,” “Chain Of Fools,” “Natural Woman,” just to mention a few. I have played them in great bands, not-so-great bands, at lavish galas in 4-star hotels, at grimy hole in the wall bars, at surreal music festivals in a field in the middle of nowhere, at late night parties with drunk girls screaming “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” in every key except the one the band played in…. Through the years the music of Aretha has added a kind of constancy and affirmation to the musical ride. I’m sure there are many musicians, singers and music lovers out there who feel the same way.
So I just wanted to take a moment to think about Aretha Franklin and thank her for all the music.
We’re in the homestretch. Some would say it’s meaningless to measure one’s time in hours, days, weeks, years. Yes, the Julian calendar is an arbitrary yardstick (you could go by the Jewish calendar, or the Zoroastrian for that matter), but still I get a little philosophical and retrospective this time of year. So I look back at all that I have done, seen and shared over this past year, and I want to send a thank you to all the people in my life that have made the days so full. I’m looking forward to more hectic and wonderful times in 2011.
I have a few more shows over the next week. If you’re looking for something fun to do on Xmas Eve (besides watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” while weeping into your beer, join us at Romeo’s for a big ol’ music party.
My Exotic Other has one more show for 2010, this Tuesday at Momo’s. We’ll preview some new compositions of mine and have a CD giveaway!
Here’s a little taste from last week’s New Music Night at Kickbutt Coffee: We tried out some new ideas mixing Indian classical music, funk, and jazz. This video clip features Shiv Naimpally on tabla and drum machine, Amie Maciscewski on sitar, Sean Hopper on bass, and David Spann on guitar.
We had a great time playing at Central Market in Austin, TX on Dec. 16. Thanks to all my friends who came out to enjoy the evening with us. This video was shot courtesy of my hardworking saxophone student Trey Deatley, and features guest artists Amie Maciszewski on sitar and Naga Valli on vocals. Band includes: Steve Summer, Chris Gebhard, Chris Vestre, Luiz Coutinho.
This video by Joyce Klemperer moves from the woods of New Hampshire, where I spent many summers growing up, to travels, lectures and performances in China and other places. It is set to my composition “Dewa Mata” which, appropriately enough means “see you later” in Japanese.
In May of 2010, I visited China, meeting with musicians, teachers and friends there. I was invited to present a few classes and performances, as well as jam spontaneously with a number of musicians. It was a wonderful experience and I am planning to return to teach some workshops in the future.
While staying at the Red Lantern Hostel in Beijing I had the opportunity to jam with an erhu player. Big fun!
[Video courtesy of Joyce Klemperer]
Paul Klemperer draws on his background in ethnomusicology, sociology and 30 years of professional performance to present informative and entertaining workshops, lectures and group classes on a variety of topics relating to music.
Some of his presentations include:
Improvisation In Music: How To Jam In Different Styles;
Warming Up: Connecting The Mind & Body As You Play;
Jazz Styles: What To Listen For;
Latin Jazz: A Pan-American Perspective;
Texas Jazz & Blues;
Popular Music In Contemporary Society: Sound As Culture;
Social Issues In World Music;
Making A Living & A Life As A Performing Artist