In his March Correspondence, “EMP (‘Are You Experienced?’),” Christopher Sandford asks if rock music is truly an art. The Oxford Dictionary defines the arts as “various branches of creative activity such as painting, music, literature and dance.” The answer, therefore, is an obvious yes. So what is Mr. Sandford really getting at?
He claims some rock artists took advantage of the Vietnam War; yet rock music started long before that. He claims “many of modern rock music’s progenitors” were “unexceptional” and laments how “disproportionately vast” their influence was, but one could say the same for Picasso and his “art.”
Mr. Sandford ends by saying that rock music may be entertainment, but “that’s not quite the same thing as finding a universal truth and sharing it with people.” How anyone can say that after listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence or the Moody Blues’ Melancholy Man is beyond me.
Of course it is not all art; some of it is just entertainment. However, some of it is pure poetry—as real, moving, and poignant as anything Blake or Wordsworth wrote. To dismiss rock or any music as cavalierly as Mr. Sandford does is to miss the point, because like all art and music, it is the voice of the times and the people. You just have to listen.
Mr. Sandford Replies:
I readily grasp and respect Mr. Loeper’s view. Many of us will have a favorite song or songs broadly of the type he mentions. Whether those songs truly bear comparison with the more widely accepted works of art as they have endured over the ages is, of course, a matter for our individual judgment. Oddly enough, I am sometimes accused of a partiality for certain forms of popular music. One way or another, I seem to have devoted fully ten books and some 20 years of my life to the subject. I enjoy a good tune and a well-turned lyric as much as the next man. Even now in my advancing years I’ve been known to risk a $100 investment in order to sit in the upper reaches of a Paul McCartney or Brian Wilson concert. It is often very fine stuff. One can easily be entertained and even transported during the two-hour performance. But is that quite the same thing as the sober and elevating happiness that we can derive from exposure to a Milton or a Rembrandt?