Music hath more than the power to charm wild beasts; according to some people, it can drive the beast in you wild.
After Jimmy Swaggart denounced WalMart stores in a televised sermon condemning rock music, Wal-Mart leaped on the bluenose bandwagon. Just days later-and less than two weeks after the Meese pornography commission's call for a pom purge-Wal-Mart ordered the removal of certain records and rock-oriented magazines (including Rolling Stone) from its 900 stores.
Wal-Mart spokesmen later said Swaggart had nothing to do with the decision, though the company did ask for a copy of the sermon and Swaggart relishes taking responsibility for this moral enlightenment. (As in the case of 7-Eleven and other convenience stores being browbeaten into removing Playboy and Penthouse from their racks, intimidation tactics often reveal deep reservoirs of timidity among the nation's retailers.)
The current knee-jerk, overreactive surge of antimusic mania, fueled by preachers, "concerned parents," and exploitative politicians, may seem like something dreadfully new, a threat unparalleled in world history. In fact, the hysteria is as old as music itself. As Tolstoy said: "The older generation almost always fails to understand the younger one-they think their own immutable values the only ones....And so the older generation barks like a dog at what they don't understand." The barking has been going on a long time.
In the fourth century before Christ, Greek historian Ephorus warned, "Music was invented to deceive and delude mankind." This suspicion is reflected in the works of Aristotle ("The flute is not an instrument which has a good moral effect; it is too exciting") and Plato ("Musical innovation is full of danger to the State, for when modes of music change, the laws of the State always change with them"). The centuries that followed featured variations on those themes.
In 1572 a Vienna ordinance on public dancing laid down the law: "Ladies and maidens are to compose themselves with chastity and modesty and the male persons are to refrain from whirling and other such frivolities."
By 1595 "voluptuous turning, jumping, or running hither and yon" were also banned. (Apparently, "hither" was snuggling somewhere beneath the bandstand while "yon" was out in the dark Vienna woods.) A sermon of the time denounced dancers for "letting themselves be swung around and allowing themselves to be kissed and mauled about....They cannot be honest while each entices the other to harlotry and offers a sop to the devil."
In A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, Jeremy Collier (1650-1726) decreed that "Musick is almost as dangerous as Gunpowder; and it may be requires looking after... /Tis possible a publick Regulation might not be amiss." And in An Irreverent and Thoroughly Incomplete Social History of Almost Everything, Frank Muir describes the effect ofthe waltz when it was introduced into England from Germany in 1812: "Guardians of public morality immediately pronounced the waltz to be will-corrupting/ disgusting/ 'immodest'; an 'outright romp in which the couples not only embrace throughout the dance but, flushed and palpitating, whirl about in the posture of copulation/ "
In 1957, Meredith Wilson's The Music Man had Professor Harold Hill warning the people of River City, Iowa, about the evils inherent in ragtime (but you'll have to go listen to the record; permission to quote the passage was denied). Contemporary audiences laughed, but in fact, ragtime-perhaps because of its origins in bawdyhouse parlors, performed by itinerant black musicians like Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin-was no joke at the turn of the century.
The Musical Courier exclaimed in 1899: "A wave of vulgar, filthy and suggestive music has inundated the land. Nothing but ragtime prevails, and the cake-walk with its obscene posturings, its lewd gestures.... Our children, our young men and women are continually exposed to its contiguity, to the monotonous attrition of this vulgarizing music. It is artistically and morally depressing and should be suppressed by press and pulpit."
I am heartily in favor of a board of censorship for the unspeakably depraved modern popular song. Its effect on young folk is shocking.
The vicious song is allowed in the home by parents, who, no doubt, have not troubled themselves to look at the words.
As a result, the suggestive meanings are allowed to play upon immature minds at a dangerous age.
It is from the popular song that the popular suggestive dances spring. Together and apart, they are a menace to the social fabric.
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