Monday, March 21, 2011

Living Art versus Dead Art

Last Friday I attended a Philadelphia Orchestra concert at the Kimmel Center. I obtained a ten dollar rush ticket and sat in the first row. They were in effect giving tickets away. I'd say 95% of the audience was over the age of sixty. Most were in their 70's and 80's. Believe me, it's a bizarre feeling to be one of the youngest persons in an audience!

Symphonies are dying. Their audience will for the most part be gone in a decade. The demographic model they've obtained is a nightmare. Orchestras survive, of course, only through extensive fundraising.

The concert, by the way, was artistically exciting. It included a piano concerto full of skill, drama, and passion-- anything an art could want.

What, then, is the problem?

The problem is with presentation. In many ways, the literary world today is in a similar situation.

Take the standard literary reading. It's very polite and it's also extremely boring. Yet this is the face literature is giving to the world: authors who have no business being at a podium reading their story or poem in a monotone while they refuse to make eye contect with the audience.

It's the model that was destroyed last decade by the Underground Literary Alliance. We took our example from the history of rock n roll. Instead of an audience sitting still and silent listening to classical music, we sought to provoke and rouse that audience, and to do so we thought of Screaming Jay Hawkins in the 1950's rising from a casket, or Iggy Pop in Detroit in the 1970's expressing himself with "Raw Power," with fake-and-real violence on stage. In other words, theater. The ULA was a throwback to Shakespeare's plays at the Globe, where interaction with the audience, hostile and not, was part of the play. "For those of you who've been offended, think of this, and be amended."

Rock's theatrical presentation, its more creative promotion and marketing, and its very founding by carnival barkers and low-rent hustlers like Colonel Parker and Alan Freed-- plus its appeal to all classes of society-- were why it prevailed.

In the late 50's, classical music was yet a vibrant art. Leonard Bernstein did popular TV shows and wrote the score for a popular Broadway play and movie. Tenor Mario Lanza starred in films, gave sold out concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, and achieved rock star-style publicity. Pianist Van Cliburn was given a ticker tape parade in New York City and performed, I'm told, before a crowd of over 100,000 in Chicago, and large crowds other places. Rock "stars" meanwhile for the most part were like Buddy Holly living in flea bag cold water apartments and doing shows in obscure spots like the middle of Iowa while flying from show to show in creaky puddle jumper airplanes.

Nothing is written in stone. The top dog today can be nowhere tomorrow. The literary underground has the opportunity to achieve great things. Whether it will or not remains to be seen.

(For an example of how the ULA was exciting everywhere we went, see a relatively objective writeup of one of our events at )

1 comment:

msandidge said...

I am a classically trained musician. I used to play French Horn. used to. It's not a good instrument for jazz.