I’m listening for my favorite part of “You Make Loving Fun,” a single superright guitar lick that occurs around 2:38. It comes and is gone, of course, immediately.
How odd that an experience of several minutes should get most of its value from one fleeting instant! It’s as though the one best part, the Hook, emptied out the whole song, driving all other meanings away.
Same thing with Mt. Everest. The mountain covers many square miles, many days’ journey worth of territory, but for most of us this big tract of land has scarcely any other meaning than that it surrounds one little point, a Peak, that happens to be the highest on the planet. “At least you can stand on Mt. Everest and enjoy the tremendous view,” you might think. Well—not really!
Is there something perverse in the notion of a peak moment? What do we take it to be? Where do we think we’ll be when we’re there—which we scarcely are? At the doorstep of Utopia?
A category related to the Peak is the Edge (as in the Cutting Edge). We’re interested in being right at the point where something importantly new is happening. We’re fascinated by people who occupy such a point—astronauts, diplomats, stars of new movies. It’s as though any encounter with novelty were a Rendezvous with God. We tend to treat the novelty itself, in its discontinuity from the world we know, as real—and this empties our world of meaning, except in the auras of celebrities.
In 1997 I went to a Peak of Hooks, a concert by the artist who then was known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Truly, the concert was set up as a holy mountain experience, a Rendezvous with God (the Artist made this clear by covering Joan Osborne’s God song at the midpoint of the show and instructing us to take “one word” home to ponder: “karma!”). It was a brilliant performance of an extremely well-designed medley of the Artist’s hits. It was just what his fans most wanted. But the highlighting approach to the hits emptied each song of its own meaning. That loud sucking sound I heard was the essence of the Artist’s music going down the great medley drain.
What’s the solution? Can our focusing and desiring be trained to fill the things in our world with meaning instead of laying them waste? The Hook, after all, is supposed to make the song, not break it. The Peak is supposed to offer the best and broadest view. The Edge is supposed to open up new territory.
Can music give us the training we need?