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Let’s Make Music—let’s Make Trouble
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Let’s Make Music—let’s Make Trouble

( or “Can You Tell Me How To Get-- -How to Get To Guantanamo Bay?)

Recently unearthed info regarding the ‘non-torture’ of imprisoned terrorists reveals that music from Sesame Street (a Public Broadcasting System TV-series that 1st aired in November of 1969) was being used as an interrogation technique. So, our torture technique has become more sophisticated!—they used to use “Barney the Purple Dinosaur” songs—which had nowhere near the aesthetic value of Sesame Streets ‘Opus’ and managed to torture listeners with a single hearing, rather than as an endlessly-repeated psyche-out.

As the news anchor pointed out—'all you parents of young kids know just how tortuous the repetition of those toddler ditties can be'. My favorite was when the US Military used Heavy Metal from a huge perimeter of speakers to drive Manuel Noriega from his Panamanian sanctuary in the Vatican Embassy there.

Another troublemaker was Richard Wagner. Wagner was a racist and anti-Semite. A favorite of Hitler’s, his music was used in concentration camps, as was Richard Strauss’s music, although the majority of it was German marching songs and military anthems. Because of this, and out of respect for holocaust survivors, these composers’ music has been shunned within the State of Israel. Richard Wagner, having written a blatantly hateful reference-book entitled “Jewishness in Music”(sic!), is especially despised.

Adolf Hitler was an ardent fan of "the Master", though many high-ranked Nazis weren’t-- the historian, Richard Carr, said they resented sitting through lengthy operatic epics at Hitler's insistence. One survivor of the death camps recounted that speakers were set in the corners of Dachau’s cafeteria. Music blared during meals. Walter Hornung says the prisoners were to “enjoy hearing the works of our great composers” [.…] “Now we ate tripe with a military march potpourri, had the blaue Heinrich (blue peter) with the Blue Danube by Strauss.” and “Preislied” (“Prize Song”) from Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”.

Prisoners were oppressed by ‘background music’—it was a disruption and a nuisance. “The entire hall,” says Hornung, “became a great big brassy noise that pounded on one’s eardrums until they could no longer react. This brassy music filled the room to its bursting point.”

This happened before the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor—and this ‘detail’ is used by holocaust-deniers to support claims that his music was never played at Nazi death camps “during World War II ”. Yes, the struggle abides.

Because they associate Wagner with anti-Semitism and Nazism, the performance of his music in Israel, by Israelis, remains a source of controversy. Barenboim, leader of the Israeli Symphony, has held controversial audience discussions during encores wherein he led the musicians in a work by Wagner.

Daniel Barenboim’s championing of musical peace continues in other ways as well. Just last year, the Israeli conductor circumvented a de facto government ‘delay’ of the Israeli Symphony performance in Gaza. He achieved this by corralling outside orchestral members and having the ensemble enter Palestine through Egypt rather than Israel. Barenboim makes performing in Palestine a duty of conscience—his personal mission for peace.

In January 2008, after a Ramallah performance, Barenboim received Palestinian citizenship (honorary), becoming the 1st Jewish Israeli citizen to enjoy that status.

Barenboim, in May 2011, conducted the "Orchestra for Gaza", a Gaza City concert coordinated in secret with the United Nations.

The orchestra flew all around Europe, like a school bus, to El Arish on a plane on Barenboim's dime, using the Egyptian Rafah Border Crossing to reach the Gaza Strip. The musicians, escorted by United Nations convoy, was the 1st (ever) performance by any internationally-recognized classical ensemble in the Gaza Strip, and attended by hundreds of schoolkids and federal workers, who applauded.

"I am Palestinian," Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim told an audience following his first-ever performance in besieged Gaza. "I am also Israeli. So you see it is possible to be both."

I have my own crisis about this—I like “Liebestod “ (German: "Love death"), “Ride of the Valkyries”, and some other early Wagner stuff—but I never listen to it unless it is part of a good movie’s score. I do this in my personal solidarity with the oldest and most persecuted of religions. If I were not an atheist, I would choose Judaism—it seems to be the religion which is most adaptable, the most science-and-logic-friendly of all the major faiths (plus I always root for the underdog). The Holocaust was a hard lesson for the world to learn—it’s important to try and keep anything similar from happening ever again.

But that dream is already a failure. Genocide in Syria, Africa, Eastern Europe, and lesser discriminations across the globe all testify to our failure to learn as a species.

Some musical trouble-makers are far less serious—in fact, they’re downright fun. Was it Bernard Hermann’s composition or a barely adult Danny Elfman’s arrangement that taught our skin to go all goosebumps at the sound of stretto violins in the upper register? I guess the blame must go to Mr. Hermann, Alfred Hitchcock’s film-score composer-of-choice. The idea started with him, making the music for Hitchcock's ‘shower scene’ in "Psycho" as haunting as it remains to this day.

And who was the evil genius that invented Muzak? Who decided to use Johan Sebastian Bach’s “Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor for Organ” as the theme for Horror flicks uncounted? Who wrote the lyrics to the themes of the TV Series: "The Addams Family" and "The Munsters "? (I confess, I can still (like nearly everyone else of my generation) sing these jingles’ lyrics start to finish, word for word!)

Music may offer clues to human nature—in music, comedy and the macabre seem to go hand in hand: I own a CD of one of the oldest practitioners of ‘specialty songs’, Spike Jones and His City Slickers. These guys used inappropriate sound-effects to tickle radio audiences—not unlike his modern-day counterpart, PDQ Bach (aka Peter Schickele, PhD). But Spike Jones pre-dated even the late Victor Borge (d. Christmas Eve, 2000) and Spike included popular songs more often than classical music.

In the sixties, we saw the music troublemaker of the Psychedelic Age, Dr. Demento, whose specialty songs included some very strange (and funny) creations. But the good Doctor was eventually supplanted by one of the funniest musicians in the world, "Weird Al" Yankovic. His song parodies and tongue-in-cheek movie scores are merciless send-ups of musicians, media, and our culture—and are invariably hilarious (assuming you’re not the target for his satire).

Many times in Stalin’s Soviet Union, the composer Dmitri Shostakovich, from the 1930s until his death in 1975, was threatened with censure, loss of employment, and possible transportation to a work camp—all because his style of composing was considered politically dangerous. Most of you will join me in a rousing “What the heck? How is a symphony anti-Soviet?” Or we may ask ourselves “Why is a raven so like a writing desk?” The tragically stupid details of this struggle, beginning with convincing the Soviet Commissars that music can still be composed by an individual, rather than the original committee-composing that obtained during Stalin’s earliest reforms, are even more soul-wrenching in our post-Soviet global community—now, when even the participants are either dead or have ceased to care.

Lady Gaga had to cancel a recent, upcoming concert tour of Indonesia, a nation of more than 99% Muslims, which denied her permission to enter the country on the basis of her Western-inspired, controversial and delectable public liberalisms (like revealing her cheeks in public—Hey buddy. Buddy! Her face is up here!—in the eyes of Islam I guess either pair are equally taboo). It’s their loss, if you ask me—she’s very entertaining. But I give those people points for being upset only about her appearance, and not her musical style.

So, who’d I leave out? Who are other musicians whose work caused controversy? Well, there’s Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, Stravinsky, Woody Guthrie, Sammy Davis, Jr., Nat King Cole, Elvis, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Billy Holiday, Jerry Lee Lewis, both the Beatles as a group, and John Lennon individually, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, Sly and the Family Stone, Jim Morrison, the Rolling Stones, every performer at Woodstock (and the one who missed it, but wrote the iconic song, Joni Mitchell), The Who, Kiss, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Cher, Prince, Sarah McLachlan, … and I’m leaving out the last thirty years of pop music, none of which has impacted me enough to learn the names—excepting Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Snoop Dogg, Jewel, hip-hop, gansta rap, Kanye West, Katy Perry and Brittany Spears (and some stuff I’ve heard about, but haven’t ever heard, like Ani DeFranco—my daughter, Jessy’s favorite).

Well, this will never end. I’m gonna stop here, but not because I’m out of memory--really. That just leaves the OWS movement. These folks have got to get on the ball—an outdoor protest without singing (vastly more effective than chanting) is like a day without protest.

Who’s it gonna be? Who wants to be the Phil Ochs of the 21st Century? Which of us will decide to write a warning on our guitars: “This Machine Kills Financial Analysts!” or start a drum circle on the steps of the Wall Street Stock Exchange? Not me (if only I could) but I wish the rest of you good luck sticking to your musical guns.


Street Talk

I love you, you love me, were a happy family........ I really needed that in my head tonight... LOL. Good article Chris, I did not know they had such good taste in music

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

I remember there was a viral-ey popular video of someone interrupting Barnay's singing with an Uzi! First time I saw it, I watched it about ten times--so satisfying...

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

I bet! let me reload that sucker

  
  about 1 decade ago

Informative - I didn't know this. Thanks for sharing.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Dear Christopher, Another articles that provides a lot of information and history, an enjoyable read.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Thanks, Alfred.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
AJ  

Interesting article, Chris! Thanks for getting a few songs stuck in my head today :)

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

the "Fish-Heads" song - top weird song of all time..

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
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