Friday 19 August 2011

Why do we care about singers?

After slogging my way through a few hundred pages of peasant uprisings and beheadings in my brick of a book The Balkans, I very happily came across an (English!) copy of The Ground Beneath Her Feet in a pile of Serbian art history books. Salman Rushdie is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I have been wanting to read this book for a long time. Coming up on my last few days in Serbia, this passage struck a bell in my head that has not stopped ringing.

Why do we care about singers? Wherein lies the power of songs? Maybe it derives from the sheer strangeness of there being singing in the world. The note, the scale, the chord; melodies, harmonies, arrangements; symphonies, ragas, Chinese operas, jazz, the blues: that such things should exist, that we should have discovered the magical intervals and distances that yield the poor cluster of notes, all within the span of a human hand, from which we can build our cathedrals of sound, is as alchemical a mystery as mathematics, or wine, or love. Maybe the birds taught us. Maybe not. Maybe we are creatures in search of exaltation. We don't have much of it. Our lives are not what we deserve; they are, let us agree, in many painful ways deficient. Song turns them into something else. Song shows us a world that is worthy of our yearning, it shows us our selves as they might be, if we were worthy of the world.

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