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March 24, 2012


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Scott Walters

Yes. God forbid that music be upbeat. Thich Nhat Hanh speaks out a lot about films and music that he thinks poison our minds. "We (writers) do not have the right just to express our own suffering if it brings suffering to others," he says. "Filmmakers, musicians, and writers need to practice Right Speech to help our society move again in the direction of peace, joy, and faith in the future." Of course, this must be stopped.


Scott, I think that Isaac is talking about a kind of music that isn't just upbeat or about joy, but is blandly, non-specifically upbeat. While I do like Death Cab for Cutie, I think it's a trend that's grown out of emo/shoegazing. Those kind of bands have traded depression for optimism, but approach it in the same, mind-numbing way.


What I dislike about it is that it's overtly preachy and message driven but written by people who tend to have almost nothing but the most generic bromides to communicate.

Not that it's upbeat. I don't mind upbeat.


"We (writers) do not have the right just to express our own suffering if it brings suffering to others..."

Oh, hell no. I've made an entire career of doing just that.


The idea of Right Speech distresses me greatly. Not only does it fly in the face of thousands of years of great tragic art that explores the pain of being alive -- from Oedipus to Willy Loman to Cobain -- but it's not a big leap from there to Right Wing Speech, which seeks to censor important artists from Twain to Kubrick, while agitating for pablum like Touched by an Angel.

In music, we saw the sort of Self Help Rock that Isaac decries here reach a pinnacle in the bombastic music popular in the Reagan era. This sort of music celebrated the cowboy myth of America by showing individuals triumphing over others through their belief in God and inherent ability to overcome adversity by believing in themselves, etc. In 80s classic "Livin' on a Prayer", the working-class protagonist can't find work because of those damn unions, so he and his girlfriend must depend only on themselves. In Kenny Loggins' "I'm Free", "nothing I want is out of my reach" because "heaven helps the man who fights his fear".

I'm in the weeds here to point out that music that seems "upbeat" and to promote "faith in the future" often runs contrary to liberal notions about community. Imploring others to engage only in Right Speech has a long history of being a tool in the reactionary toolkit. The reason it's especially troubling to think about independent music in this context is that, during this onslaught of reactionary individualism and patriotism that my generation grew up with, that music was one of the few places we could go to find something besides bland self-empowerment messaging. Independent rock took our troubles seriously and rejected the idea that it was "Morning in America". There will always be an opportunity for people who seek inspirational music -- it does, after all, sell well -- but it's upsetting to see the oasis of independent music being overrun with it.

It's also not surprising to see that a Buddhist monk is behind this illiberal notion of Right Speech. Buddhism gets a free pass from the secular left as the religion we're supposed to be OK with, but, in its focus on individual empowerment rather than community solutions, it shares a lot of common ground with Self-Help Rock.


I really resist spiritual uplift--both in the work I do, and the work I like to watch/read/listen to. Not that I'm in love with doom and gloom, but I don't think positivity necessarily comes from superficially cheery, upbeat material. It's the depth of inquiry, the risk-taking, and the honesty in the material that give me hope. For example, "Waiting for Godot" has made me feel better over the years than "Mary Poppins" ever has.

Mac keylogger

Go for someone who makes you smile because it takes only a smile to make a dark day seem bright.



The snide "Minnesota Rap" aside is just terrible. I mean, the Current plays Brother Ali (which you liked at one point?), POS, etc. Yes, Atmosphere is annoying but he's far better than what's on top-40, he's a huge positive local influence, and he -- and the other members of the MN hip hop community -- are likely far different from what your readers likely think "Minnesota Rap" actually is.

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