I confess that I am – and have always been - sceptical of Jerry’s guru status. I’m sceptical of the concept of gurus per se. From Christ to the Maharishi, I have resisted them all. Not even Bob does it for me.
This is primarily because my instinctive scepticism is more engrained than any leaning towards mysticism or spiritualism or any other form of esotericism. And this (healthy?) scepticism manifests itself most clearly in my response to the arts in general and literature and music in particular.
I was a strange kind of hippie. Listening to Dark Star live, back in the early ‘70s, I was in no sense at one with God. I was not transported to a state of other-worldliness. I was not cast into some quasi-religious trance. I was there but I didn’t inhale.
“Music is never about anything. Music just is. It’s a lot of beautiful notes and sounds put together so well that we get pleasure out of hearing them.”
Leonard Bernstein was being disingenuous when he said that back in 1958. But when he went on to discuss the difficulties of expressing an idea rather than a mere feeling, not so much.
But that was then. The issue of popular music, as in culture and society at large, was standardization. In his essay On Popular Music, written in the early ‘40s, Theodor Adorno characterizes pop(ular) music as an escape from monotony. Standardization “leads the listener to become enraptured with the inescapable. And thus it leads to the institutionalization and standardization of listening habits themselves. Listeners become so accustomed to the recurrence of the same things that they react automatically.”
What happened in my youth, in the ‘60s, was the sudden fusing of politics, music and technology. It was not ubiquitous – you only have to look at the best-selling music of the era to see that the same old shit was regularly at the top of the charts. But there was enough of it to know that it was different. It was non-standard and non-standardized.
Jerry (and Bob) were at the forefront of this. And they and their music have been central to my world and world-view ever since. I love them, respect them, admire them. But I still watch the parking meters.
And as the days between come to an end, I have concluded that Jerry’s enduring legacy is the songs and the performances of those songs. Nothing more, nothing less.
David Berman, who sadly died the other day, nailed it:
Songs build little rooms in time
And housed within the song’s design
Is the ghost the host has left behind
To greet and sweep the guest inside
Stoke the fire and sing his lines.