This has not been an easy week for me. In another post, I mentioned that we are having some major renovations done to our house, both badly needed: a new roof (think of the sound of nails being pounded overhead, all day long), and a new bathroom, which will be lovely when finished, but is most disconcerting just at present: Where do we keep our toothbrushes? where did we put the toothpaste? where’s the shaving tackle? where’s that box of Unmentionable Personal-Care Products? You get the idea. Not to mention that during the day, the toilet is disconnected so that the contractor can work on the walls. My hairdresser wanted to know if we were getting a whirlpool tub, and I had to say no, we aren’t; we’re pretty minimalist people. But the concern with this project was that the caulking kept pulling away from the old tub, and we were concerned that there was water damage to the walls; so we really needed to have the whole room redone. Thankfully, no water damage, and the new bathtub has a raised lip that precludes the necessity of caulking. A clever solution to a common problem; wish we’d known about it years ago.
And on top of all this chaos – our favorite radio station has signed off the air. As of 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, WBACH has disconnected its Southern Maine transmitter; its frequency was sold at a bankruptcy auction to a group that has replaced classical programming with yet more rock ‘n’ roll, as if, you know, the cultural scene of southern Maine is going to fall apart if we don’t have one more venue for angry screaming. All is not quite lost, as we can still access programming on our computer (and thank goodness for that – I can still remember the emptiness when New York’s WNCN went off the air the first time, in 1974), but our computer is in the office, and the office is nowhere near the living room. We’re looking into getting a wireless router (or something along those lines) that will allow us to pick up the signal off the computer.
In light of the events of this past week – I refer, of course, to Libya – these concerns seem almost insultingly trivial. And there are people out there, people whom I love and care about deeply, who are suffering real tragedies and crises, so if your reaction is, “You’re in mourning over a classical-music station?! Get real!” that’s understandable. But I’m not sure the two are entirely unconnected.
Just this past week, I wrote about classical music under the topic of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and I noted that classical music’s reputation began to take a hit when “searching-for-the-lost-chord” compositions came into vogue. Thinking about it further, I’m not entirely sure that that’s the actual cause; on another level, I think it might (also) have something to do with an American trait that suspects anything Intellectual. When I was growing up – and certainly when my parents were growing up – classical music was firmly associated with the College Crowd. In those years, college was only for the wealthy, or for people who were going into High Finance; they came out of college smoking pipes, if male, or wearing twinsets and pearls, if female, voting Republican and listening to classical music. Then came the 1960s, and since then, the College Crowd seems to wear denim and eschew bathing and vote Democrat. Listening to classical music is still associated with Rich People, and as any student with loans up the wazoo can tell you, college students are by and large not Rich. (Nor are they educated to the standards formerly set by colleges, but that’s another story.)
A college education used to include mandatory music-appreciation courses, and the music on offer was exclusively classical. That’s no longer the case – even where music appreciation is offered (as an elective), the music studied is only marginally classical – so lovers of classical music continue to dwindle. And so does intellectual life, the life of the mind – dare I say, the life of the soul? My point, if there is one, is that people who like classical music not only are suspected of being slightly weird, but have always been suspected of being – well, not like the rest of mankind, anyway. Do they even know what hard work is? (Only someone who has never tried to master a musical instrument can ask this question with a straight face.) What kind of a brain actually likes that stuff?! What does any of it have to do with Real Life, you know, that place where people get their fingernails filthy with embedded grime and their hands are cracked and bleeding from hard work?
I first encountered the term “philistine” when WNCN went off the air and was replaced by a rock station. It seems to be a term describing anti-intellectualism, a dumbing-down of the prevalent culture to some level of lowest-common-denominator, a lack of appreciation for making the effort to become more than one step above Animal. Think about that, an animal’s purely visceral reaction to what goes on around it. Eat or be eaten.
Then think of the images out of Libya.
Then ask yourself what was refined about anything you saw in the news.
Then tell me that the loss of a classical-music radio station – of one more level of refinement – of being human – of being more than Animal – is trivial.
This week, the Philistines triumphed.