Bach off boogaloo

Usually I just smile and nod when I read Stuff White People Like, but #108 calls for some kind of verbal response, especially for this:

If a white person starts talking to you about classical music, it’s essential that you tread very lightly. This is because white people are all petrified that they will be exposed as someone who has only a moderate understanding of classical music. When a white person encounters another white person who actually enjoys classical music (exceptionally rare), it is often considered to be one of the most traumatic experiences they can go through.

I’m perhaps not as white as all that — got Mexicans and Syrian/Lebanese on one branch of the family tree — but I have no qualms about admitting here that I have, at best, a moderate understanding of classical music, and by “moderate” I mean “less than Lynn” or “less than Dr. Weevil” or “less than Steph Waller.” And I don’t fear discussion of the topic with any of them, or with anyone else on a similar level, if only because I stand to learn something in the process.

This commentary on Satie, though, is golden:

Composing at the end of the 19th century, Satie has risen to prominence among white people because his music has been sampled by popular musicians and featured in a number of independent films. Dropping this name at a dinner party will show that you are modern and post-modern at the same time. It is also a good idea to tell white people that your tastes in general are “modern and post-modern at the same time.” Don’t worry, you won’t have to explain it.

I figured there are two ways I can drop Satie’s name:

  • by mentioning Blood, Sweat & Tears, who, on the first post-Al Kooper album, did a couple of bits from Trois gymnopédies, which mostly reminded me how much I dislike quasi-orchestral transcriptions of piano works;
  • by quoting a story about him told by Meredith Willson, about a dustup between Satie and Debussy: supposedly, they were attending a performance of La mer, and during the first movement, “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” — “Dawn to noon on the sea” — Satie is supposed to have said to Debussy something to the effect of “I really like that part in there about a quarter to twelve.” Debussy, in return, turned his dudgeon up to 11.

Neither of these tales, of course, will accord me any concert-hall credibility.


  1. Lynn »

    3 September 2008 · 7:47 am

    Someone sent me a link to that. If I tried to respond I’d probably end up sounding really angry. That whole Stuff White People Like site is stupid. I suppose it’s supposed to be funny but I’m not laughing.

  2. fillyjonk »

    3 September 2008 · 8:22 am

    As a person who actually DOES like classical music (though doesn’t claim to be privy to reams of knowledge about composers and such), that article annoys me. (Actually, the whole site – with it’s smug, hipper-than-thou tone, annoys me).

    And I don’t like Philip Glass, nor will I ever pretend to just to look cool or intellectual.

    I think part of my annoyance is that I am really done with the “you like X so that means I can predict Y about you.” way of looking at the world. No, it just means that I happen to like whatever thing is designated by X. Don’t try to read more into me than is actually there.

  3. Steph Waller »

    3 September 2008 · 12:38 pm

    I’m so opposed to the rampant classical music snobbery that’s out there. What a load of crap it is; it goes completely opposite what music is supposed to do for us, that is, enjoy it. Anyone who comes off “better” than someone else based on the music they listen to is an enemy to music.

    When I came to classical music it was through no fault of my own. As a lifelong songwriter I’d instinctively followed a straight line from Rock to Folk to Celtic to Early Music and then to Classical. I didn’t mean to do it! I swear!

    Being self-taught, I encountered all kinds of elitism by people who had gone to conservatory, as well as those who spent their entire adult lives writing checks to their local symphony, thus acquiring their education by rubbing elbows with conservatory grads. I didn’t fit the program and that seemed to bother (or threaten) a lot of people.

    I figure styles of music are like varieties of wine: if you like one, it’s good. If you don’t like it, it’s bad. And no one should spend a lifetime drinking wine or listening to music they don’t like. Sod the snobs.

    Great post!

  4. McGehee »

    3 September 2008 · 2:58 pm

    The only thing I’m comfortable commenting on is the title — I’d completely forgotten that song, but now I think it had to be thr first time I’d ever heard the word “boogaloo,” long before that movie sequel. (And what was the original movie anyway? I don’t remember!)

  5. CGHill »

    3 September 2008 · 6:57 pm

    Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

    I am forced to admit that I actually remember this.

    And I can believe Steph Waller’s progression; after all, Billy Joel turned out some classically-styled piano works.

  6. Charles Pergiel »

    5 September 2008 · 12:44 am

    I don’t like classical music. It’s okay if it’s the soundtrack to a movie, but I am not going to sit and listen to it and relax. It’s boring. Same for opera. Tedious as all get out. Give me rock and roll or be quiet.

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