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Don't Let This Die

Jeffrey Schrader

Hello everyone – you haven’t heard from me in a while; that is because I have been incredibly busy. I think the last thing I wrote for this page was a social commentary on third world debt relief, and before that a bunch of short stories which I now hate and in re-reading have found a number of big grammatical mistakes, which just pisses me off (not including the intentional mistake in one of the titles; I was attempting to pull off some clever word-play with a few layers of meanings, but I’m not sure if it was successful). In any case, this is my latest diatribe … this is something in which I have believed for a number of years and have been preaching for as long as I can remember, but for some reason never wrote an article on it (probably because I rarely write articles … I tend to just speak to whoever will listen).

The Romantic Movement (in literature) as we know it began with the publication of Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge in 1798; however, it was a French author, Theophile Gautier, who in 1835 wrote an essay as an introduction to one of his works of fiction (Mademoiselle de Maupin) that sets forth a theory that applies not only to writing, but to all art forms. This is a theory with which I wholeheartedly agree, and I will attempt to convince the reader of this article that this is the proper way to create, view, and enjoy art; this is a theory that I believe many bands in the hardcore and punk genres have ignored, but to which (I believe) everyone should adhere. Simply put, and to quote Gautier (via translation of course), the theory is this: “Art for art’s sake.”

Too many bands write music with some sort of motive— a “message” if you will. I will discuss the dangers of this a little later; for now, I want to describe what true art should be. Any piece of art, whether it is a painting, movie, poem, play, novel, sculpture, song, or etc., should be created for no other reason than the beauty of that individual creation, and for its own sake. The least important aspects of a piece of art are its moral, intellectual, or philosophical values. How can I prove this? – I can’t necessarily; all I can do is cite examples and ask questions of the reader. And why is this important enough for me to write at all for a music-culture e-zine? – Because too many bands get caught up in something other than the music.

I’m not saying that aspects of belief or personal philosophies should be absent from art; I’m saying that they should be there subconsciously, should not be an underlying theme in every single creation by the artist, and should (in the very least) be displayed in a subtle and artfully ambiguous manner. What I despise most is when an artist leads me like a child; it feels as though my intelligence is being insulted and as though the artist is holding my hand to the post-coital warmth. The meaning of something to me does not have to be the same meaning for you. A system of thought should not be spelled out in any piece of art.

How many times have you gone to a show and heard a band take the stage and through a dense e-crunch buildup say something like, “Hey everyone we’re so-and-so – we’re a straight-edge, vegan, crucial-core, Christian, anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, environmentalist, Buddhist, Krishna, atheist, old-school, new-school, anarchist, metal-core band”? (I know – I’m hyperbolizing. But what do you expect? — I’m a cynic.) In any case, I want to spend a little time talking about why any band (or any artist for that matter) that labels itself is doing something quite dangerous. Honestly, I don’t care at all what your beliefs are; that’s not relevant at all in regard to the topic at hand. What is important is knowing why letting these beliefs come before a creation of art can be disastrous. Personally, I think hardcore, emo, and punk rock are dead, and mosh pits are nothing more than a violent release for football players who couldn’t pick up an appropriate date-rape that particular evening … However, for the sake of helping to preserve somewhat of an artistry in a scene that’s not so underground, and really not all that important anymore, I will explain why a constant philosophical thought for a band is a horrible, horrible aspect. For the sake of offending the largest number of people, let’s create a hypothetical situation with a band we’ll refer to as “Band X” that considers itself a “Christian hardcore band.” Band X consists of five members, each above-average concerning talent and musicianship, and each in love with not only hardcore music, but also with his or her Christian beliefs. Is there anything wrong with this? – Some might say yes, but that’s not the issue; the problem occurs here: when the music begins to suffer. As stated, the members of Band X are talented; however, the actual music takes a back seat in order for the band’s philosophy to be the central aspect of each song. Musically the songs are good enough, but what matters most to Band X is that Christianity remains the vital focus of everything. The band begins to preach between songs about topics that the songs already preached enough, and the songs don’t vary enough to be extremely compelling. Yeah, Band X is all right; the 15 year old kids with ultra-baggy pants, freshly dyed hair, headbands, and special shirts picked out a week ahead of the show love the songs – they crowd around the microphone and scream along every word. Some of them have actually begun to follow the beliefs discussed by Band X. In every sense Band X has been extremely successful as a band and as ministers. But have they been successful artists? The topic of each song was expected; almost anyone could make a correct guess on what a song would deal with and how it would be discussed … sure, the exact lyrics might not be known, but they didn’t need to be; the meaning was disgustingly obvious even before the song was performed. The sound of the band was also expected. Okay, so each song differs a bit, and newer songs would get more complex and technical … but still a certain sound was expected and delivered. Band X was beyond successful as a Christian hardcore band, but my question is this: were they successful as artists? Now maybe artistry wasn’t all that important to Band X; maybe it was all about a philosophy. In that case I would suggest taking a different route; don’t degrade an art form (and yes, music is an art form) for the sake of a philosophy.

Okay, I think I may have gone on for a bit too long and been a bit too sardonic, but that’s me. I’ll leave with this: an artist’s imagination is his or her only true source of inspiration. When art is created for any reason other than for its own sake it becomes a media tool for a school of thought – an advertisement. Remember that art can be a product, but a product cannot be art. There can be metaphysical, moral, and emotional values in art, but they should be aspects of the piece— not the reason for the piece. When art is created for any reason other than art, it ceases to be art and instead becomes a boring, wannabe-didactic, opinion of the creator. It doesn’t matter what you believe; let your inner-vision do the creating. Close your eyes and create— don’t think, just create. Use your mind to revise whatever your heart has created, but make sure that what has been created is from the heart—not from a philosophy. Art is not a luxury; it is an integral aspect of life. Don’t ruin its integrity for the sake of a message you feel everyone needs to hear.

As always, if you hate what I have to say feel free to send me an angry e-mail (use bold, red, capital letters to signify yelling), and I will be more than happy to write back:

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