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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2002/06/28
by David Steinberg

Timelessness

After all I wasn’t mourning for Sam Cooke. His voice was alive and I
would hear it again and again. I wasn’t even mourning for Buddy
Holly, because Mother told me that he still lived inside me, and that
his music was immortal.
I was morning for Mother. I was mourning for me.
We were not immortal. – Bradley Denton (from Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well On
Ganymede)
Last month Jesse responded to my column about political music.
Jambands could use a point/counterpoint site. Dueling columns could
be a slow motion version of it.
The one thing that shocked me about the response was Charles claiming
that the ‘I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixing-To-Die Rag’ could be reworked to be
about Afghanistan. That song really is a period of its time and I
hope it is never relevant again. The anger of it is the anger of
people forced into service to kill and be killed and no one ever did
really explain why they should care at all. If someone asked, ‘What
are we fighting for?’ about the current conflict, they would be taken
into a room and shown CNN coverage of September 11th. No one was
drafted for this conflict. No one who is fighting doesn’t understand
why this is happening, even if they might not agree with the tactics
being used. It would take a lot more than changing a rhyme to make it
relevant. It is that which makes the song an interesting historical
document – and there’s no question that the song will always be
relevant as history – but irrelevant for current use. The more a song
reflects its times, the less it can be used for future times.
My fascination with timelessness comes from David Brin. I was reading
his second Uplift Trilogy. In it, the characters think in terms of
hundreds of millions of years. They’re illegally occupying a planet,
and they just want to make sure that there will be no signs of their
presence when the next survey comes. While I liked the characters and
the plot was solid, it was just that timeframe that fascinated me.
We’re so used to thinking of the immediate future. Long term planning
means thinking about next month. After spending about 900 pages in
that world, I started thinking in a longer term. While I only
occasionally think in million year blocks, I do like to speculate
about longer periods. One question that I like to debate is, ‘What
musicians from our era will still be remembered 200 years from now?’
When you start thinking about it, it’s amazing who is already dropping
out of the race. Elvis would have been an obvious choice, but it’s
starting to look like his main contributions were historical as his
musical legacy begins to fade. I fully expect Jimi’s techniques to be
known forever, but his actual music might not make it out of this
century. As much as I love Phish, I don’t think anyone will be
playing Mound in 2302. My prediction for the best known popular
musicians of the 20th century in the future are The Beatles, Bob
Dylan, Bob Marley, and the Grateful Dead. Why them? Because those
are the artists most frequently covered.
Ultimately, the troubadours will be the ones who decide this. You know
the type, they sit in front of record stores and play their guitars.
That process is what turns a song from being a pop hit to being longer
lasting. That’s what happened in the middle ages. Lots of people
wrote songs, only a select few got sung over and over again. It’s not
often that you can see Darwinian selection in action, but it happens
at every street fair. Listen to the songs they choose to play.
You’ll start to notice trends. Those songs will last forever.
It comes down to that. If Bob Dylan covers your song, then you have
a right to be proud. If a boy band covers your song, then you’ll make a
fortune. If people on the street start covering your song though,
then you have immortality. It’s the ultimate democratic decision.
Only songs that inspire people to learn how to play them make the
cut. It might not be the best way to judge music, but at least it’s
mine.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New
Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live
music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His
Phish stats website is at
href=‘http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html’>www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html
and he was the stats section editor for
href=‘http://www.phish.net/mockingbird’>The Phish Companion.
Timelessness
After all I wasn’t mourning for Sam Cooke. His voice was alive and I
would hear it again and again. I wasn’t even mourning for Buddy
Holly, because Mother told me that he still lived inside me, and that
his music was immortal.
I was morning for Mother. I was mourning for me.
We were not immortal. – Bradley Denton (from Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well On
Ganymede)
Last month Jesse responded to my column about political music.
Jambands could use a point/counterpoint site. Dueling columns could
be a slow motion version of it.
The one thing that shocked me about the response was Charles claiming
that the ‘I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixing-To-Die Rag’ could be reworked to be
about Afghanistan. That song really is a period of its time and I
hope it is never relevant again. The anger of it is the anger of
people forced into service to kill and be killed and no one ever did
really explain why they should care at all. If someone asked, ‘What
are we fighting for?’ about the current conflict, they would be taken
into a room and shown CNN coverage of September 11th. No one was
drafted for this conflict. No one who is fighting doesn’t understand
why this is happening, even if they might not agree with the tactics
being used. It would take a lot more than changing a rhyme to make it
relevant. It is that which makes the song an interesting historical
document – and there’s no question that the song will always be
relevant as history – but irrelevant for current use. The more a song
reflects its times, the less it can be used for future times.
My fascination with timelessness comes from David Brin. I was reading
his second Uplift Trilogy. In it, the characters think in terms of
hundreds of millions of years. They’re illegally occupying a planet,
and they just want to make sure that there will be no signs of their
presence when the next survey comes. While I liked the characters and
the plot was solid, it was just that timeframe that fascinated me.
We’re so used to thinking of the immediate future. Long term planning
means thinking about next month. After spending about 900 pages in
that world, I started thinking in a longer term. While I only
occasionally think in million year blocks, I do like to speculate
about longer periods. One question that I like to debate is, ‘What
musicians from our era will still be remembered 200 years from now?’
When you start thinking about it, it’s amazing who is already dropping
out of the race. Elvis would have been an obvious choice, but it’s
starting to look like his main contributions were historical as his
musical legacy begins to fade. I fully expect Jimi’s techniques to be
known forever, but his actual music might not make it out of this
century. As much as I love Phish, I don’t think anyone will be
playing Mound in 2302. My prediction for the best known popular
musicians of the 20th century in the future are The Beatles, Bob
Dylan, Bob Marley, and the Grateful Dead. Why them? Because those
are the artists most frequently covered.
Ultimately, the troubadours will be the ones who decide this. You know
the type, they sit in front of record stores and play their guitars.
That process is what turns a song from being a pop hit to being longer
lasting. That’s what happened in the middle ages. Lots of people
wrote songs, only a select few got sung over and over again. It’s not
often that you can see Darwinian selection in action, but it happens
at every street fair. Listen to the songs they choose to play.
You’ll start to notice trends. Those songs will last forever.
It comes down to that. If Bob Dylan covers your song, then you have
a right to be proud. If a boy band covers your song, then you’ll make a
fortune. If people on the street start covering your song though,
then you have immortality. It’s the ultimate democratic decision.
Only songs that inspire people to learn how to play them make the
cut. It might not be the best way to judge music, but at least it’s
mine.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New
Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live
music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His
Phish stats website is at www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html
and he was the stats section editor for The Phish Companion.

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