In my recent rant about loud in-store music, I almost added the descriptor, tacky. Almost. I know a class of once-upon-a-time college sophomores who would think that’s rich, coming from the guy who tried to teach them about economic growth using Steve Earle’s song, “Hillbilly Highway.” They were, unanimously, not-amused. Our different tastes in music were seemingly unbridgeable.
I like to think of my musical tastes as moderately eclectic. Yet if you scanned my library, you would find more than nine-tenths of it in the category called Americana, with only brief smatterings of blues, ancient rock, classical, Taize hymns, movie scores, etc. Of hip hop or recent pop and rock, I am in total ignorance. While I was enthralled by Ann Patchett’s novel, Bel Canto, and have read it more than once, my knowledge of opera barely goes beyond Elmer Fudd’s Wagnerian, “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit.”
So I am intrigued by a review of the musical, “Hamilton,” in a recent issue of The Economist. A hip hop musical about Alexander Hamilton that can be praised by both Barack Obama and Dick Cheney? The reviewer finds in the musical a hopeful statement about where this country came from and where it is going, a vision of an inclusive nation, despite current trends toward exclusiveness. A bridge builder.
To judge from the current presidential campaigning, this is “the winter of our discontent.” Deep discontent. A mood of anger and distrust and fear and exclusion. An us-vs-them, zero-sum victimhood of despair that sees walls as solutions. And yet, James Fallows’ article in the March issue of The Atlantic (“How America Is Putting Itself Back Together”) chronicles dozens of stories to the contrary at the local level in communities all across the country—stories of cooperative action and partnership and initiative and welcoming the newcomer, stories in which distressed communities are turning their fortunes around and moving in positive directions.
What has this to do with my parochial musical tastes? I could argue—with some justification—that taste is taste. That overcoming innate preferences is infeasible if not impossible. But, deep down, I suspect that more than taste is at stake. If I listened with an open heart, I could learn at least to appreciate, if not enjoy, what others see in hip hop and opera. I wonder, then, if my too-ready dismissal of other genres as uninteresting is perhaps, at the least, emblematic of the same attitude that dismisses otherness, demonizes the alien, acquiesces in the building of walls.
By the calendar, it is still winter. And yet, this week I see signs of spring all around. Crocus are blooming and dogwood buds are swelling. Flocks of robins visit our yard and the upland chorus frogs are calling and mating in Nancy’s pond.
Mr. Fallows sees signs of spring. The author of “Hamilton” sees signs of spring. May we seek an end to the winter of our discontent. Let me see—no, let me BE— signs of spring. Let me build bridges, not walls.