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Bright Week            Wednesday, April 18 2001

Decadent music

There was an earlier reference here to Softcell's Tainted Love as "decadent," and an admission that I was looking for another song (still not found or remembered to any larger extent) that strikes me as somewhat decadent. What's decadent? Do whole musical categories qualify as decadent? Do you, or should you, avoid decadent music?

Probably the easy definition of decadent, from its root, decay, is that decadent applies to anything with a smell of death to it. In that sense, if death is the wages of sin, anything that misses the mark of being among things "of good report," to use St. Paul's qualifier, is decadent. Certainly anything Madonna does is decadent...that's her whole schtick. Barbra Streisand loves to tweak the nose of "straight (which I would call 'decent') society" and so she also qualifies. I enjoy some songs by both of those performers, though I wouldn't put any of them on my play list, much less buy them. I don't know anything about Softcell (and don't need to know); their famous song simply "sounds" decadent because the instrumentals suggest brokenness and the whining vocals are more than merely mournful. But they're not on the surface profane; they fit a certain not unknown (to me) mood, so it's on my list.

Frank Sinatra was never on my play list. I praised his acting during his short career in movies, but felt his whole demeanor, his public facade, was unworthy of even the upbeat songs he released (for example, High Hopes). He was the Madonna of his generation, even if he later was a friend and supporter of some conservative or "profamily" causes, especially the aspirations of Ronald Reagan.

Another member of his generation whose performance I perceive as generally decadent is Patti Page. Her talent (like Sinatra's) is undeniable, and like him she has some upbeat songs (Tennessee Waltz, How Much Is That Doggie in the Window), but the body of her work is downbeat, epitomized to my perception at least, by Is That All There Is? That song, in my opinion, is probably the ultimate American pop expression of decadence, though no doubt many popular German ones go much farther.

I've always perceived the boogie music of the big bands (which gave the origin of both Sinatra's and Page's careers) and progressive jazz as decadent musical forms. And by comparison, they don't hold a candle to rap and hiphop (not to say there can't be exceptions within even these forms).

Of course we're all tainted, and for that matter, so is our love. We all smell of death. The important distinction is the question of which direction we point, up or down. And I don't mean any judgement on anyone's motives, much less eternal soul; these comments are only about certain bodies of artistic endeavor.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

One of those days

A guy filled his gastank at a self-service station. After he had paid and driven away, he realized that he had left the gas cap on top of his car. He stopped and looked and, sure enough, it was lost.

Thinking about it for a second, he realized that other people must have done the same thing, and that it was worth going back to look by the side of the road as, even if he couldn't find his own gas cap, he might be able to find one that fit. Sure enough, he didn't search long before he found a gas cap. He tried it on, and it went into place with a satisfying click.

"Great," he thought, "I lost my gas cap, but I found another one that fits. And this one's even better because it locks..."

Sent by Zan

The main object of life

I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of my life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.

—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Sent by Reader Andrew
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