Music is the driving force behind our sonic spectrum. There is no such thing as speech if music didn’t come before it. There wouldn’t be any sort of vocalization of ones thoughts if music had not established itself first.
Music is the thing that a great many of us find purpose and passion in. It’s built societies, and torn down others. It’s moved mountains, and according to some, appeased them. Why then, is music so human?
We often think of music as something greater than us, but should we? Music has forged the idea of ‘stardom,’ it has realized some of the greatest minds in history. But ultimately, it’s grounded in each of us. It’s emotional, and has moved the hearts and thoughts of so many people in one direction or another. It’s important, its natural and pure…to a point. It’s almost immortal, it’s a construct that lays lingering in the minds and thoughts of everyone on Earth.
Everyone has their own likes and dislikes, their own selection of qualities they like to see when it comes to music. It’s a force like no other, it divides people. Directs them, even. But at the end of the day, music is community in a way that no other divisive force can be.
Now then, why is music as a concept put on a pedestal above the head of the musician? Why is the conceptualization and the direction of music generally more important than the person who came up with both of the former? And mainly, why is music more important after the death of its creator?
Look at the most popular musicians of decades past. Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Nirvana. And some personal favorites, The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, The Clash, Sonic Youth, David Bowie again. All these bands, these artists, are long gone. Whether their careers were ended by age, unfortunate events, or the oppressive strain of being a professional musician, all of the above are gone.
I could be here all night and all day naming bands that have come and gone. I could spend my time here spouting songs I like and albums I cherish. In the end, the important part is that each of these artists and groups of musicians represent a charitable item. Something we all look to in one way or another.
But why is it, that as a musician ages and their music with them, that they falter? And why is it that once a musician is dead and gone, their music sells better? For this I’d like to look to one of the great minds of ragtime; Scott Joplin. As a common reader, you probably haven’t ever heard the name, but he’s an important figure, and you’ve definitely heard his music. The classic tune in a western saloon, or the great crackle of syncopated piano notes in the ballroom of a Chaplin movie. Or maybe just on a radio show, or referenced in those looney tunes you watched as a kid.
Scott Joplin is the man behind this music. Ragtime. An important style of music with a dark history, rooted in minstrel music, among other things. Because of ragtime, we wouldn’t have the same music as we do today. No Jazz, no Blues, nothing quite reaching the breadth of what we have today.
There’s an unfortunate history behind ragtime music and Scott Joplin, but not one we can ignore. Joplin died at the age of forty-eight in a psychiatric hospital in New York, penniless, buried in an unmarked grave. But his story wasn’t -and isn’t- over.
Joplin’s sheet music was found again, long after his death. It was reproduced by a piano player by the name of Joshua Rifkin, recorded, and released as an album. With this new recording, Joplin’s music found itself in a resurgence. It became one of america’s first pop greats. Gaining national acknowledgement, and winning Joplin both a rendition of his opus (the opera “Treemonisha), as well as a Pulitzer Prize, awarded posthumously.
Scott Joplin became the first American musician of noteworthy status, many years after his death. And that trend hasn’t gone away, some of your favorite artists -if you’re at all like me- are buried deep.
Whether it be under national praise of just a few feet of dirt, the buried bodies of some of the worlds best artists are preserved indefinitely. They’ll live on, long after all of us. And maybe they’ll grow to be even more popular; who knows. Remember to love music. It’s not going anywhere, but it’s greatest minds surely will.