The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Sep 27, 2010

Rock Him, Amadeus

When Seb Hunter felt old age coming upon him (in other words, his thirties), he decided that it was time for him to join the esoteric club of classical music aficionados, and step away from his addiction to popular music of all kind. He hoped that an intellectualism would dawn upon him, enhance his understanding of the world and all its emotion, and he wanted to learn what it was about classical music that enabled its lovers to sneer at the likes of him.

When he said 'addiction' to popular music, he truly meant 'addiction.' He was completely catholic in his tastes, buying dozens of discs every week, wearing his hair long, and head-banging at every possible concert in the country. So when he decided to switch to classical music, he felt it necessary to switch completely cold-turkey. In other words, during his pursuit of the classical, he would completely efface pop from his life.

This probably explains the sheer amount of cursing in his book Rock Me Amadeus: When Ignorance Meets High Art, Things Can Get Messy. This is supposedly an honest exploration of a genre by a person who is completely on the outside and infiltrates gradually, from scratch. But just like all those lazy comedians who aim for cheap laughs by using 'fuck' in every other sentence, Hunter's exploration - in strictly chronological order to start with - of classical music is interspersed with phrases such as 'lurches through the song sounding completely shitfaced' and 'I wanted to be hey-nonny-nonny-knocked off my feet by some sack-clothed motherfuckers, preferably within a sweaty, heaving auditorium full of whisky-sodden, E-popping dipsomaniacs.' Even his mother was worried his book would be a series of profanities. I'm sorry to say she well knew her son.

I guess this is his way of making his descriptions more accessible. As he himself noted, serious critics write some godawful guff, just like wine snobs. "They use words such as 'exquisite', 'mesmeric', 'contemplative', 'improvisatory' and 'idiom'. 'Surpasses', 'Bruckner's', 'entrancing', 'sense of ...', 'sentimental', 'agility'." But what is Hunter's alternative? This is what he says about Bach's 'The St John Passion' (Monteverdi Choir (Deutsche Grammophon), which he rates pretty highly:
(I have a love/hate thing going with this. It's a bit like anal sex: go slowly; be careful; your enthusiasm disappears pretty quickly; it's lengthy and painful, but you get there in the end. Respect the oboe.)
What is the bloody point of this? Admittedly not all the book is in this vein, but there are large sections of utterly random commentary, gratuitous insults of foreigners, completely useless travel pieces, and much self-congratulatory piffle, all emblazoned with vulgarity. And reviewers appear to have loved it, going by the blurbs. 'Funny and genuinely touching' (Guardian); 'Wonderfully deadpan... his book is a gem.' (New York Times). 

Unless, of course, these are spoof reviews. Who knows, these days? Having plowed through the book, wincing more often than not, I recall chuckling twice. And now I can't find those passages where I did. 

Still, I have to say that some of his recommendations are sound. Others I have never heard of. 

One day, though, Hunter went to Canterbury to listen to the Dufay Collective live. 

And this troupe of minstrels, by far, is the best lot of medieval musicians I have ever heard. For this mention alone, I have to tip my hat in his direction. Kudos, Hunter. Kudos.


km said...

IMO, that excerpt (about St. John's Passion) is (painfully?) funny. So I am definitely going to check out this book in the library.

BTW, as a popular and classical music fan, I find the values assigned to either music positively idiotic: one is immediate but crass, the other is cerebral and divine...of course, I too subscribed to these notions in my twenties :)

Fëanor said...

yes, but his complaint is that high-brow reviewers' comments are impenetrable (heh), and he aims to cover that lacuna in his book, but his descriptions are no less so. the stuff about st john's passion could easily have been said about, say, mozart's requiem, and the reader would have been none the wiser...

Post a Comment