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Downbeat

Cabbages & Kings

By Jay Cantor

THE MUSIC of the past, Bach, the Blues, Rock music, is the music of slaves. It reassures, it comforts, it says everything is all right--basely falsifying because, in truth, we are in a desperate situation.

It is the beat that so comforts and reassures. One-two-three-four. ONE-two-three-four ONE. The beat mimics the repetitions of daily dull lives--mimics them and calls them art. Get up-eat-work-sleep GET-UP and on and on giving our lives a dignity they don't possess. The beat is like the clock they give a kitten when they're taken away his mother, so he won't be scared. Where is the music of live souls, of people who live with the knowledge that no instant repeats? Where is the music of free men?

Bach, the protestant composer, is the worst. He transforms the repetitions of our lives so they shimmer and seem transfigured. But underneath it all is the beat. Bach is a fraud contributing to the rise of Capitalism in his proclamation of a transcendent life for businessman and worker. But are these lives rightly transfigured into grace?

Henry Ford brought Negroes from the South to work in his auto factories. City blues begin in Detroit. The heavy beat of electric blues is the beat of the machines that ground the Negro down. It is the sound of the piston, the rhythm of the steel press. And the life of blues is the arpeggio of release, the moment when a few high beautiful notes free themselves from the beat and dance and dream of freedom.

Everything is ground down by the beat. The pleasure in physical sensations becomes a parody of itself. The honesty and directness of rural blues, their exuberance, their affection, become self-conscious. Pleasure becomes cheap vulgarity. Mytch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.

The beat divides time into repetitive intervals of silence, intervals to be filled with measured amounts of sound. But there is no such thing as silence. Life is constantly in process, constantly producing sounds. And there are no repetitions. There is only one single beat, one pulse, the single infinite exhalation of the universe.

The music of free men is an awareness of this unruly, though palpitating, world. We need only open our ears and cleanse our souls of the need for reassurance. Take a lecture, Listen to the in regular emphasis of words, the variable length of phrase. It is a kind of recitative. The scratching of the pencils is accompaniment. New instruments enter: coughs, sniffles, and murmuring.

We need only learn to live in uncertainity. No two moments of life are ever the same. And to waste them all in absurd routines? We need no comforting lies. For music we need only stop the drummer's strangling beat and listen. Listen.

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