Some Unwarranted Aphorisms from the 90s

Michael Morse

Some aphorisms for general entertainment, written over the last decade or so:

  • Praising Bob Dylan as a singer is like praising W.C. Fields as an actor.
  • Jazz: music which arises from the address-to and spring-from the individual beat.
  • Stan Kenton: the question is not whether it’s jazz, but whether it’s music.
  • Post-Modernism’s relentless, frenzied indifference to the marvellous..
  • Mozart’s instrumental music is often exquisitely refined, but without dignity; a disquieting coalition.
  • Canada: the Not-So-Great Satan?
  • LeRoi Jones praises the stance as a core and crucial value of American black music. What he misses is the art required to bring it off. From the playing the dozens to the bandstand at the Five Spot, the stance is a social gesture which rests on artistic craft. The relation between the stance (and social gesture generally) is elusive and complex, but this much, at least, can be said: when the stance as such subsumes craft, the stance itself is subverted, since it devolves into mere posturing.  (Difference between Miles Davis or Dizzie Gillespie and Elvis, Bob Dylan.)
  • Tristan: Dionysian madness proffered with Apollonian calm; this score perhaps Nietzsche’s deepest inspiration.
  • Wagner “bombastic”? Wrong word entirely. “Verbose” is meant.
  • Adorno’s eloquent perorations against the perils of routinized sterility appeal  to artists because they so frequently combat this danger directly. That does not, however, make Adorno’s struggle theirs, nor should  it confer honorary artistic status on Adorno’s view. However consoling the temptation, it is a mistake to consider the polemicist the confrere of the creator. Being on the same side is not the same thing as doing the same thing.
  • Debating who was the greatest musician who ever lived is a vain enterprise for two reasons, first because it’s a futile question. And second because it’s so plainly Joseph Haydn.
  • Contemporary literature seems to require so much profanity that the ostensible rule must be “Damn and be published.”
  • What did the composer of West Side Story learn from Prokofiev about the tragedy of Romeo & Juliet? That theirs is a tragedy of children, not adults. (Once this consideration is addressed, all the specious objections to Prokofiev’s purported lack of tragic sense disappear.)
  • If Beckmesser’s serenade is supposed to sound Jewish – well, all I can say is that Wagner must have had absolutely no talent for ethnomusicology.
  • A Schoenberg scherzo – now there’s a joke..  (A very great musician, but, like Coltrane, humour is not his long suit.)
  • Believe me, I hear the passion in your playing, the drive, the dedication. I hear how fervently you wish you were Miles Davis. And I agree. I wish you were Miles Davis, too.
  • Sociology is not a compassionate science, since, strictly speaking, that’s a contradiction in terms; properly understood however, it is the science of compassion.
  • Who so little string quartet music from Stravinsky? Too expressive.
  • Academics scornful of academia are one of the main reasons academia is so worthy of scorn.
  • Don’t misunderstand, I do like John Taverner’s music – but for some reason, it always makes me thirsty.
  • Feminism's usual cure for virtually any problem is an overdose of heroine.
  • “This is not a good time to talk.” Perhaps to listen, then?
  • Critical, “New” Musicology? Taking the use of deceptive cadences as proof of the composer’s dishonesty.
  • “Head” and “heart” are adjectives.
  • “If you don’t count on your fingers, how will you know for sure you’ve got the right answer?” (Country Music.)
  • Ride of the Valkyries: wonderful. ridiculous. wonderfully ridiculous. ridiculously wonderful.
  • Most music today seems to have not a groove, but a compulsion. The rhythmic animation is so far offstage that only an intense, highly nervous shadow is left.
  • Prokofiev turns two best-known stories almost on their head. He treats the protagonists of Romeo and Juliet as what they really were, children. And he presents Cinderella’s dilemma for what it is, a grim, very much adult conflict.
  • Puccini: not very-smo, just rather-smo..
  • Glenn Gould’s Canada: a land of unassimilated cliches (loon cries, throat singing..)
  • Diana Krall’s intense lack of intensity..
  • Who doubts Vivaldi’s musicality – a surprisingly large cohort – should listen carefully to the (quite unsurpassable) sensitivity with which he balances forceful strings with delicate mandolin.
  • Schoenberg said that, for elementary composers, creating an accompaniment by adding parts to a melody is too easy, while adding parts to a given bass line is too hard. In jazz, exactly the opposite is true.
  • Given the ferocity of Boulez’s condescension towards Shostakovich and Prokofiev, he must be very grateful to folks like De Gaulle, Nixon, and John Foster Dulles – who saw to it that he wasn’t required to write Stalinist cantatas..
  • Anhydrous postmodernism..
  • WordPerfect’s proofreading guess for the proper spelling of “Wynton” [Marsalis]? Wanton. Out of the mouths of programs..
  • To the war against nostalgia, Critical Theory brings weapons of mass destruction. To the struggle against intellectual sentimentality, it brings acidic self-pity; not, of course, to be confused with sentimentality, this, s’il vous plait.
  • Don Ellis, the Glenn Gould of jazz: someone who [often] got to incredibly right by way of incredibly wrong.
  • The long, hot Summa of Thomas Aquinas..
  • Verdi and Ellington? Not so far apart; both feature tenor solos..
  • Isn’t Brecht’s dichotomy of thought and feeling the same as Gene Roddenberry’s?
  • Nobody’s just a straight-up jive motherfucker any more; no, no, at best (and at least), they’ve got “Jive Motherfucker Syndrome.” Where has liberalism disappeared to? Into the maw of psychiatric medicine, I’m afraid..
  • What’s death like? But that’s easy: remember how you felt when Bush junior was elected? How you felt when Bush senior was elected? How you felt when George Washington was elected? (That last one’s what death is like.)
  • When anyone expresses distaste for Gilbert and Sullivan, my immediate thought is: you do know they’re kidding, right?
  • Aleister Crowley: patron saint of amateurs.
  • The (quint)essence of academic feminism?: “The opening scene of Jaws promotes violence against women.” (Tears for the patri-sharky)
  • We don’t expect our teachers to works miracles, plural, but only one: “Save my child–to hell with the rest–from the savage Social Darwinist order we've created!"
  • If I had to guess–I don’t–I’d surmise that Vladimir Nabokov was not a musical person. Preserving the beauty of moving things in a static form is instinctively anathema to the musical, I should think.
  • Rock & emotion: even the most tender ballad moments [go] thud, thud, thud..
  • Marsalis, Wynton, 1960- ; American-born Critic, Arts Administrator, and Curator.
  •   Social science begins when we understand that making the logic of a position more comprehensible does not constitute an advance in the direction of that position.
  • Child prodigies: Austria-Hungary has Mozart; Ukraine has Prokofiev; the United States of America has Jon-Benet Ramsey..
  • rien comprendre, c’est tout excuser..
  • Gilbert Kaplan, the businessman who conducts Mahler: most people do harm in attempting to do right. Here’s a rare case of the contrary..
  • No wonder deconstruction ended up in the vocabulary of legal scholars; for the first time in criticism, the deconstructed text has no right against self-incrimination..
  • Describing the contemporary Chinese government as “Communist” is like calling Roy Bean a jurist.
  • Much in common?: Ellington: a musician who can make “It’s Magic!” sound like Debussy; Claude Bolling: a musician who can make Debussy sound like “It’s Magic!”
  • Every story has a moral, even the Bible verses. The Gospel according to Matthew, for example: nice guys finish last..
  • “To a child with a hammer, everything looks like a nail” – doesn’t McLuhan’s philosophy come to this?
  • “earn,” v.t., also v.i.; “to get away with”
  • “It’s good, yes, yes; I know; but is it any good?”
  • At Nuremberg, we hanged Julius Streicher for doing exactly what is making Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter rich..

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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5 Responses to Some Unwarranted Aphorisms from the 90s

  1. jonathan says:

    Thanks for this. Much to enjoy here, but the Vivaldi comment may come in first. I thought canonizing Glenn Gould was a Canadian law? That’s the impression I got from my friend Kevin Bazzana. The not-so-great Satan one is great, too, but hey–don’t feel bad. We all think you’re very nice, in that nice kind of way.

  2. David Cavlovic says:

    Glenn Gould is NOT God. Take it from a Canadian.
    And another 90’s aphorism:
    Boulez bad. Gorecki good.
    But Stockhausen still rules!

  3. cbj smith says:

    “anhydrous postmodernism” Bwahhh, hah, hah, hahhh!

  4. The last decade wasn’t the 90s…?

  5. cbj smith says:

    Yeah, I wonder how Stan Kenton jumped up from twenty or so years in the grave to make his comment.

Comments are closed.