Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Pure Joy

Artists: Buena Vista Social Club; Rubén González
: s/t (BVSC); Introducing... (RG)
: Promo (BVSC); bought new (RG)

I am not surprised by the fact that I am about to refer to High Fidelity to make a point about this music; rather, I'm kind of surprised it doesn't happen more often. (Really, if there's a more solid portrayal of the experience of loving music a little too much, please direct me to it!)

Anyway, the movie version of Hi-Fi opens with Rob musing on the possibility that exposure to your pop music might be more damaging to the young psyche than many of the more commonly ID'd culprits. The general levels of emotional devastation conveyed by most rock music are enough to put chinks in even the most solid personal armor, or at the very least create some weird ideas about how people relate to each other.

The long tail of broken hearts and warped personae becomes especially apparent when putting music like the Buena Vista Social Club on the stereo. Sure, some of this music is born out of hardship (the real kind, too; not that air-conditioned gypsy crap peddled by a lot of cushioned rockers), but the sound that comes out of the speakers is joy.

Pure joy.

These guys aren't just happy to be making music; they're thrilled down to the bottoms of their shoes (the shoes at least one member of the BVSC was shining for a living before Ry Cooder set up these sessions) and the joy is palpable, drenching every note. Nevermind that you don't understand the lyrics--the message behind every lyric is crystal-clear.

The sensation of hearing music like this typically makes me questions my general listening habits. Hearing Rubén González grin through the 88 teeth of his piano puts me right there with him, and that joy is restorative. Why not listen to stuff like this more often? Why go dark and/or noisy so often?

I'm not sure I have a good answer. I mean, this is not lightweight, disposable Happy Pop. These Cuban guys are masters of their indigenous music, and they're channeling history in some profound (but still blithely accessible) ways. I've got more bits o' The Beast that fit the bill for this kind of emotional deposit; the fact that I don't crave it more often probably says more about me than about the nature of music, though there is something in the latter that communicates the downsides more forcefully.

The little blasts of sunshine poking through The Beast are not legion, so it makes sense to hold onto what I've got. Really, the BVSC disc is the primal document, with Rubén's solo turn sort of an addendum...but it's a solidly enjoyable side dish (the fact that Cooder described Gonzalez as, "a mix of Thelonious Monk and Felix the Cat" should be enough to sell anyone on the project). I also thoroughly recommend the PBS documentary about the making of the BVSC album; this Cuban story might just contain the single best example of the Jewish concept of a mitzvah, a good deed with a holy bent to it, as I've ever seen. It is, to be sure, joyous.


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