Caveat: Art should be arcane

Two musical threads of my life have finally been knit together in an unexpected way. I found this entertaining, two ways to Tuesday.

What I’m listening to right now.

Merle Hazard, “Ol’ Atonal Music.”


I dedicate this song to my father.

My dad was a composer,
Modern was his style.
His music always made you think,
It never made you smile.
He wrote for chamber orchestra,
Now and then, for voice
Tonality, in Daddy’s world, was just another choice.
Yeah, Poppa’s compositions came in rigid, twelve-tone rows,
There was no tonal center to the music he’d compose.
He was a lover of complexity;
Some have said pretense.
His music wasn’t joyful,
It was just abstract and dense.

Gimme some of that ol’ atonal music.
It lingers in my ears!
Schoenberg and Alban Berg were the genre’s pioneers.
You can keep yoru Bach and Chopin,
They’re melodic and passe.
Gimme some of that ol’ atonal music,
Like Daddy used to play.

Give ’em some, Alison!

[Banjo solo]

That’s right.

Since dear ol’ Daddy left us,
Life has been so hard.
There aren’t enough musicians
Who embrace the avant-garde.
No one plays atonally at their home or on the stage.
I miss Igor Stravinsky, my Dad, and ol’ John Cage.

[“Piano solo”]

Gimme some of that ol’ atonal music.
Like my Daddy used to write.
It was hard sing if you rehearsed,
Impossible by sight.
Emotion is for simple folk.
Art should be arcane.
Some compositions feed the heart;
My Daddy’s fed the brain.

Gimme some of that ol’ atonal music.
How I love those random hops!
I’ve tried to write that way myself,
But I’m not as skilled as Pops.
You can keep your Brahms and Chopin,
They’re melodic and passe
Gimme some of that ol’ atonal music,
Like Daddy used to play.
Like Daddy used to play.
Like Daddy used to play.

I miss you, Daddy!

One Comment

  1. Bob Gehrenbeck

    Thanks for posting this, very enjoyable! Now someone should write and perform an actual atonal bluegrass song. While the banjo solo in Merle Hazard’s song is highly dissonant, the rest of the instruments continue playing tonal music during the solo. I liked it just the same, and the reference to John Cage’s 4’3″ was cute.

    I checked to see whether Mr. Hazard’s father was actually a composer, but, according to his website, he was a coal miner. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but I imagine coal miners who are also atonal composers are quite rare. Have you listened to any of Hazard’s songs about economics?

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