May 9, 2008

Reveille With Beverly

This is a 1943 picture with the lovely Ann Miller as Beverly. She plays a DJ who has an early morning show (reveille) that is directed at GIs. The plot is thin, and serves more as an opportunity to showcase clips of Frank Sinatra, Bob Crosby, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and other performers of the big band era.

Beverly tells her boss at one point “There are more people who would rather listen to Freddie Slack than Beethoven. There are more people who would rather listen to Bob Crosby than Mendelssohn.” Okay, so you want to know who the heck Freddie Slack was. He seems to be pretty much forgotten now, but he was a pianist and band leader. Check out his article on Wikipedia. More to the point is that the line raises several questions.

  1. Is popularity an indicator of value? Does the fact that more people prefer Slack to Beethoven or Bob Crosby to Mendelssohn make them better than Beethoven or Mendelssohn?
  2. Is one genre inherently better than another?
  3. Is the transience of reputation in any way a reflection of value?
  4. Is the appreciation of one genre done to the exclusion of all other genres, i.e., is it possible to like both Bach and the Beatles?
Bob Crosby is probably remembered by some, though not as well as Bing, and certainly not to the extent that Sinatra, or Ellington, or Basie are, and I doubt if too many people have heard of Freddie Slack. So Beverly’s statement has been nullified in its particulars, though not in general by the passage of the time. Oddly though, the audience for Beethoven and Mendelssohn has probably remained fairly constant.

It’s certainly true that there are situations where I prefer jazz or some other genre to classical music. When I was commuting from Spotsylvania to Richmond, a distance of about 70 miles, I would not listen to chant or string quartets, because I was too tired, and I needed something stimulating while I was driving.

As to aesthetic quality, I think that the problem is that you cannot apply the same standards across the different genres. The qualities expected from a lyric, an ode, a sonnet, a haiku, or any other short poetic work, differ from those used to judge epic or tragedy. So the aesthetic criteria for the string quartet differ from those of the popular song. Now just how far that aesthetic differentiation should go, whether there should be different standards for pop, folk, ska, metal, etc. is another question, and one I’m not going to answer now.

As to preferring one genre to the exclusion of other genres, there may be some people that do that, but that is a question of psychology, and not aesthetics.