Wednesday, May 20, 2009

sublime, ridiculous

I saw two performances yesterday that were as far apart as they could possibly be in almost every way.

First I watched my almost-four-year-old son Owen sing and dance and play and yawn and smile and wave his way through his preschool music concert. It was one of the greatest things I've ever seen. I don't know if anyone whose kid wasn't in it would agree, but for me it was amazing.

Then last night I watched the almost-but-not-quite season finale of American Idol. It was horrible. Mr. Lady summed up many of the ways it was horrible quite well in this MamaPop review, so I won't rehash all of that. I just want to explain how seeing these two things in one day made my head hurt and my heart ache, not necessarily in that order. It was everything that's amazing and wonderful about music held up against everything that's wrong with the music industry.

First, why is there music? I think because of how it makes us feel. Good, bad, happy, sad, excited, scared. Music triggers emotions. It's both personal and communal. You can experience music alone, and it can be fantastic, and then there's this other thing that happens when you're part of a group hearing the same piece of music together. It can transcend the individual experience. It's not always better, but it definitely has the capacity to be more, certainly different.

Watching Owen and his schoolmates perform was the second thing - the community experience, and it rocked. We were all there living in this amazing moment of musical expression and togetherness. The music was all right, but the connection between the performers (our kids) and the audience (we parents) was powerful. It felt really good. We were happy to see our kids up there, and nervous for them to do well and have fun and not be freaked out, and overwhelmed by how they're growing up and what it all means and we're all feeling all this together. And it was awe inspiring. It inspired awe.

Then there was American Idol. This thing costs millions of dollars. It's tarted up like a showgirl in Vegas, and many millions of people are watching it on TV. It's down to two guys after months of basically weekly auditions, watching their fellow performers fall one by one around them. And they're up there jumping through vocal hoops yet again for the judges and the audience and the cameras. And then they bring out a quasi-established guest "star" and she sings some crappy song as a "big finish" and you know what? It sucked. Not them, really. They're ok. Pretty good, to be fair. They can sing, each has his thing, and they've clearly been working their asses off and they're basically pretty good. But what they're doing up there is the exact opposite of what music should be. It's all showing off and trying to create a personna and nailing some kind of style. It isn't about communicating. It isn't about sharing. It's purely commercial. It's sales. It's which of these guys will sell more songs/albums/tickets/t-shirts/action figures. That might not be what it's about for all the people watching, exactly, but that's what's it's actually about.

And I think about Owen up there creating this amazing experience for a few people in a room through music. And I think that is what music is really for. And I struggle to work out how to fold music into my sons' lives in a way that makes them cherish that. The community, the feelings, the making of music. While rejecting the artifice and glitz and bullshit that is American Idol.

As I listened to "No Boundaries," I longed for "Goodbye Now and Thank You."

Edit: I just realized this is my 10th post on this blog. Hurray for round numbers! Now, let's see if this one goes to 11.



  1. And that, in a nutshell, sums up why I do not now, nor will I ever, watch American Idol. "Goodbye Now and Thank You" actually gave me the sniffles.

  2. I'm such a girl... getting all weepy at seeing little kids singing a sweet song. I'll be a goner once my kid's in school.

  3. I agree, the Idol finale was terrible. Owen, however? Sounds like a RAWK Star! : )

  4. That couldn't have been sweeter if it were drenched in simple syrup.

  5. that is cute brother. you need to switch to vimeo video service. It's a little bit more work on your end but they maintain good video quality.


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