Song written by Sylvester “Sly Stone” Stewart and performed by Sly and the Family Stone
Straightening up the house again. Probably not a surprise, but we have a lot of books. Some of them go upstairs and some go over here and some go over there. Then, later on, you try to find that book about Pompeii and it has disappeared. Let’s not even try to find that one novel about the thing that happened to the guy who lived in the place.
Then there’s the moment when you and a significant other have crossed that ill-defined border from impermanence to forever. Before iTunes, the moment was commemorated by the great mixing of the record collections (or compact discs or cassettes or 8-tracks- even worse, a combination of all of the above). Miraculously, you could in fact argue about the alphabet, let alone whether or not Bob Dylan was folk, rock, or pop. Of course, that depended on how you organized the music, right? Did you do it by genre? Even the classical stuff that ended up finding a home way over on the right? Also, who bought these show tunes? What do you mean they were a gift?
Book stores and record stores are just all of the above writ large. Libraries can be just as imposing, no matter what Dewey or the Library of Congress say about it. Amazon and Apple would have us believe that it is easier to find things online, but that ends up being a falsehood- it’s just virtual sorting based on someone else’s decision.
try this experiment: walk into a record store (find one first) and wait for someone to ask, “May I help you?” Then answer, “I was looking for something to listen to.” Don’t expound further. Just smile pleasantly and wait. Maybe shrug when they ask all their follow-up questions.
We just don’t like broad definitions. We have trouble with wide appeal. Art for everybody is usually dismissed as art for nobody. I’m not talking about mass market art- I’m just talking about art that defines our categories. Evelyn Waugh and Édouard Manet are good examples. I don’t know- they did good work and we should all check it out.
Growing up in America, you always had re-enforced which audience was yours. There is no way around the fact that a quick glance in the mirror helped answer those questions, but it took commercial culture to tell you which characteristics defined you as a consumer. As for the arts, once those become viable commercially, then the same held true.
A lot of music tried to be universal and a lot appealed to multiple cross-sections of the population, but few wore their universality as successfully as Sly and the Family Stone. To this day, they may be the only answer to that hypothetical record store question. For any clerk wondering what to put out front in the window, this is easily the best choice that you can make.
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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 134 more to go.
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