One of the great joys in life is talking about music as if one’s passion for a given song, album, artist, must be shared in order to enrich another person’s life.
This isn’t proselytizing so much as a bounding, beautiful need to connect with another human and spread a form of wonder. When John Lennon sings, “I’d love to turn you on,” I always thought he was talking about his record collection.
A lot of friendships begin with music. A loaned record, a texted playlist. It’s a way for people to get to know each other — the music we love says a lot about us — without having to be all mushy-mushy. Vulnerability that’s real, but doesn’t seem as fraught with risk as other forms of vulnerability.
Music is about the ineffable, which is one reason I detest the concept of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, whose latest inductees were announced today (Eurythmics!?). In recent years I’ve witnessed Twitter wars of people going after each other regarding which acts deserve inclusion. One will see bands discussed as though they are baseball players. A sports Hall of Fame is built on facts. A player has a statistical case to be there. No one is selected purely because they were the most memorable player, or the most famous. It’s all about — in theory — those numbers.
Numbers are reductive. A sports Hall of Fame is, in its way, reductive. One could argue that they don’t really allow for a capacity for wonder. For the transcendent. They’re built around facts of accumulating 3,000 hits, 600 goals, three rushing titles, a 24.7 points-per-game average. A player has these things or they don’t. Mojo and miracle don’t have anything to do with it.
Music and talking about music has that power to connect people because it doesn’t deal in facts, nor numbers. It deals in truths, which pull rank on that which is merely factual. And if you really think the number of platinum records or Spotify streams is what makes someone enter the canon, well, then I don’t think I can help you.
When a person takes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seriously as a vetting service, there’s the risk of undercutting the otherwise limitless nature of what music can do and mean.
The best art doesn’t possess the kind of quantifiable value one gets with what is expected of a Hall of Fame. But that’s what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ends up putting forward as a thesis: This band deserves entry more than this band, but why? A genius, Bach-like ability to modulate on bridges and thus make a concluding chorus more powerful? The ability to connect with pimply teenagers or angst-ridden twentysomethings or middle-aged married couples?
The art of music is too vital to human life to be reduced to a kind of glorified popularity contest that has come to be taken more seriously over the years. There are acts with a lone album that can be a work of art for the ages, a work that has changed thousands of lives at the very core of those lives, but they’re not getting in. How do you measure truth and beauty as a stat?
No one debates music for stats. That aforesaid need to share comes from the ineffable power of what music can do. That power may be undeniable, but don’t allow a Hall of Fame to let you lose contact with what you cared about most in the first place. There was a band, there was a sound, and there was you. That was all you needed — because that is everything.