Felsenmusick - The Weblog of Daniel Felsenfeld
The Web Log of a Certain Daniel Felsenfeld: Composer, critic, avid reader, aspiring
bon vivant, capricorn, shadowy figure, advice for the lovelorn

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pulitzer Agita

Every year I promise myself I am not going to get riled up over the Pulitzer Prizes--they are, after all, just trumped-up journalist awards (a kind of "for us by us" inside the profession, which then gets trumpeted as important by the journalists)--and every year I end up in a tizzy, especially sparked by an article in the Los Angeles Times which not only accuses the Pulitzers for music for being traditionally "stodgy," but also cites John Adams' who, having just being given his Pulitzer a few years ago, said that this award tended to ignore "visionaries" and some of the great musical minds of his time--presumably, in his eyes, a trend that was broken when the award was granted.

Not to brag, but I number among my friends winners and nominees of this award, and often think it goes to great things or great people. But every year the same story is dragged out: that Thomas Pynchon did not win it for Gravity's Rainbow, thereby illustrating that the committee is a gaggle of arch conservatives. I think these arguemnets--almost always rehearsed and advanced by journalists--still see things as an either/or, and that the committee perhaps has a dictum to right this wrong?

Now I know I am going to get a lot of grief for saying this, but the whole idea that jazz is somehow less stodgy than classical music seems to moot and unconscionably reductive, and that offering an award to Winton Marsalis somehow represents not a change in the committee's aesthetic point of view or an on-high mandate, but a move to Deep Elvis, to hipness, to edginess, a contrast to the stodginess of Say, John Adams or John Corigliano--neither of whom are especially stodgy, except that they work in what is considered an "old form." But then again, don't novelists and playwrights?

I've few illusions about the place of so-called "classical music" in our at-large culture--how could we, as we are often reminded how poorly we are faring by Sandow, Lebrecht, et al--but to think that the work of even the finest experimental jazz pioneer (Ornette Coleman certainly is that) or a bebop preservationist (no finer than Mr. Marsalis) is somehow more "with it" is really displaced. Yes, I've also strongly disagreed with some of the choices for Pulitzer, including this year's, but that's a matter of taste and politics (and, frankly, envy). But I do object to the idea that somehow dipping into another genre is the across-the-board answer.

But then again, now I wonder why I comment. After all, it's just a prize. A trumped up prize. But then I wonder: why not, rather than trying to say music is music, regardless of intention (thereby qualifying Andrew Lloyd Webber, Christina Agiulera, Bjork, Dave Brubeck, Glenn Branca, Psychic TV, David Rakowski, The Shaggs, Justin Timberlake, James Tenney, Regis Philbin, Van Morrison, Dave Matthews, Justin Timberlake, Don Byron, Fred Ho, Shaggy, Moby, Cher, Boz Skaggs, Joe Walsh, T-Bone Burnett, Scarlett Johannsen, and Raffi to compete in the same category) can there not just be a few music Pulitzers given out?

Call me crazy.


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