The Year the Music Died

Freedom is the lifeblood of the West, and much like the real stuff that courses through our veins, we take it for granted until there’s a spillage.

The concept is so entrenched in Western society that few of us are committed to defending it on a daily basis. Just as you can’t value what you never had, it’s hard to put a price on something that’s always been there.

That’s why all of freedom’s manifestations are important, including (and perhaps especially) the ones we dislike.

For me, 2017 will bring a number of those, but I still defend the right of free citizens to make the choices. Two things I know for sure: there will be a lot of disappointed people next year, and I won’t be short of subject matter for these chronicles—2017 is history in the making.

It’s all about Russia, China, and the United States, and the story begins in the Mid-East, as evidenced by the recent global conference that ‘forgot’ the US.

Next come the South China Sea, North Korea, and a host of other matters.  That’s when the values of freedom will be put to the test.

One of the very first freedoms to vanish is art—the expression of thought on paper, canvas, and through image and sound.

Literature and music are particularly valuable. We live in a world of video—an immersive experience where we live the lives of others—but a poem, a story, or a song sets the mind free.

The imagined characters live by themselves: Paul Simon’s boxer, Kenny Rogers’ gambler, or Joni Mitchell’s coyote. You give them the shape, the features, the dreams—deep inside they’re your dreams really.

Since freedom is all about letting you dream unfettered, words and music are painted targets for would-be tyrants, those who know better.

In a pre-Trump article in Vox, Sean Illing wrote:

Plato thought political regimes followed a predictable evolutionary course, from oligarchy to democracy to tyranny. Oligarchies give way to democracies when the elites fail, when they become spoiled, lazy, profligate, and when they develop interests apart from those they rule.

Democracies give way to tyrannies when mob passion overwhelms political wisdom and a populist autocrat seizes the masses. But the tyrant is not quite a tyrant at first. On the contrary, in a democracy the would-be tyrant offers himself as the people’s champion. He’s the ultimate simplifier, the one man who can make everything whole again.

It’s well summed up in a tweet from Voltaire.

Le doute n’est pas une condition agréable, mais la certitude est absurde.

In Australia the new year has already come, in Europe there are still some hours to go.

We can, however, already mourn 2016 as the year the music died. The list is tragically long, starting with Glenn Frey from the Eagles and ending with George Michael. In between, Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo.

Sometime over the last couple of weeks, as Christmas songs invaded stores, restaurants, and radio stations, I started thinking about the place of music in religion, and how it varies from faith to faith.

Traditional Christmas music of the Silent Night variety obviously conveys a religious message, but what it mostly does is highlight that this is a happy time of year—a festive season.

So I decided to learn more about how other religions view music. My first port of call was Islam. In truth, my gut feeling was that music does not have a comparable role in the Muslim faith when compared to Christianity—the only music I could recall was a capella singing from the muezzin, summoning the faithful to prayer.

I asked the ‘Is music permitted…’ question and trawled the net.

You can certainly find sites that extol Christian rock, reggae, and rap, but the overall message seems to be that secular music is acceptable within fairly broad limits.

Matters appear to be different in Islam. One Imam provides the following interpretation when discussing forbidden, or haraam, singing.

The kinds of singing which are also unequivocally prohibited, are those that remove a person away from the worship and appropriate presence with Allah, e.g., leading a person to be involved with cross-gender mixing, lazing around, rather than taking a short break to relax from exhaustion…

The analysis further explains that almost all Hollywood and Bollywood songs fall into this sinister category. Given that both references are to movie and TV productions, I was a little perplexed by the connection—I am however pretty sure that any of the artists who are listed above would not be in the ‘permitted’ category.

I tried to explore further by googling ‘George Michael sales Saudi Arabia’ but all I got was a multiple hits about British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including cluster bombs that have been used in Yemen.

Then I tried ‘Wham!’ and the results were (predictably) even more sinister.

So I expanded my search to the whole of the Middle East, and, as expected, the London singer turned out to be pretty popular.

I read some more religion, and according to my source, Islam appears to make a distinction between songs and music.

The kind of music referred to as malahi are abhorred and prohibited. This kind of music is simply for entertainment for dance, frivolous enjoyment and the like.

I was curious enough to check out malahi, since I have no idea what it means. Any search leads straight to YouTube, and I can’t see anything wrong there—perhaps the lyrics are subversive.

One Algerian video showed what appeared to be street music, of the kind you might see in Paris or New York—with the difference that there wasn’t a single woman visible.

Let’s celebrate the freedoms we have, and protect them for they were hard-won.

Let’s enjoy tonight, take the opportunity to relax from exhaustion, and why not, indulge in a little frivolous enjoyment.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.



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