What Can We Learn From Anna Nicole’s DNA?
For years now, I have been writing articles about what we can learn about music from the body parts of celebrities. In my article, “What Can We Learn From Janet Jackson’s Breast?”, I discussed how sex has been used to sell rock music from the early days of Elvis “The Pelvis,” to the Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” of Janet Jackson.
In my article, “What Can We Learn From Beyonce’s Bottom?”, I discussed the more recent phenomenon of mixing sex and violence in music, specifically how the selling of the gangster lifestyle is being used as a way to make money at the expense of young people misled into embracing a lifestyle that is far different from the privileged one that many rock stars actually live. In both articles I lamented how true musicianship had been sidelined in our culture by the marketing of sex and violence.
Now we find another celebrity in the news; however, this time the notoriety isn’t due to sex or violence, but self-destruction and untimely death. Anna Nicole Smith is no longer with us, therefore I find it unseemly to speak of her body parts. But since DNA holds the blueprint for who people are, and since Anna Nicole’s DNA has also been in the news (in order to determine who is the father of her baby), I felt it appropriate to see if we can learn anything about the state of music in America today from the life of Anna Nicole.
It used to be that to become famous you had to be really good at something. In olden times you had to be a great military leader, or artist, or author, or religious figure, or something, to gain fame. In the world of music you had to be a great composer, instrumentalist or singer. With the help of technology, people who weren’t trained musicians could gain fame by portraying sexuality, and more recently violence, through their music. The musician became the “artist,” someone who was as much a performance artist as he was a musician.
This led to some interesting musical developments, but it also led to the lowering of musical standards. With the event of rap, those standards were brought even lower. While there certainly were some exceptional rap “artists,” in general, the effect of rap was that now one could become a famous “musician” not only without playing an instrument, but without singing either! In essence, poets who spoke to a beat were sidelining singers in much the way singers had sidelined great instrumentalists (like the great jazz and classical musicians) in contemporary pop culture.
It seemed like it couldn’t get any worse. Gone was harmony, gone was counterpoint, gone were “chops,” even melody disappeared. A guy who knew virtually nothing about music, speaking into a microphone to a beat was the new “rock star.” But wait…there was still one thing left that could be taken away: rhythm, the beat itself! And in walked Anna Nicole! She couldn’t compose, she couldn’t play an instrument, she couldn’t sing, she couldn’t even rap. She could not do anything musical at all. But what did it matter? She proved that you could get rich and famous without doing anything that was traditionally called talent. Indeed, with Anna Nicole we have witnessed the death of talent!
You may think I am being facetious, but I’m not. In some ways we must respect what Anna Nicole accomplished. She broke through the final barrier that prevented the untalented from achieving fame. Why should someone have to study music hours a day, for years on end, in order to obtain the rewards of fame? Why should one have to sing, or dance, or act, or rap? What Anna Nicole taught us is that your life, your very essence, is your art. Just being you, and not being afraid to be you in front of the whole world, is the new ticket to fame.
In this environment, why study music? In fact, the trend of making the study of music less and less important has been going on for years. How many parents today want their children to dedicate their lives to music? They may be happy to see their child become a “star,” or to get some kind of job in the “music business,” but who wants their kid to spend hours a day studying the counterpoint of Bach, perfecting the jazz improvisation of Coltrane, or composing highly intellectual classical music ala Elliot Carter? There are some, to be sure, but the vast majority would rather see their child become a doctor, a lawyer, a banker, a businessman, or a teacher.
Anna Nicole, if anything, was a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. She figured out how to look like her, pose like her, even act like her. But Marilyn Monroe was an actress! She starred in several movies to critical acclaim. Though the way she acted in public added to her mystique, she would not have been in the spotlight if she weren’t a damn good actress. Yet Anna Nicole was perhaps the greater genius. She realized that today, the media has become so entrenched and pervasive, that the more certain path to fame and fortune is in public acting, not movie acting. After all, we’ve all seen great acting…over and over again. How many times can one watch chase scenes and romantic plots? But a shocking, uninhibited and compelling personality is always interesting!
So, what is the lesson for the young musician of today? If your goal is fame and fortune: stop practicing! Develop your personality, not your fingers. Develop your skills in front of the camera, the gift of gab, a sense of style, the ability to draw attention to yourself. But if your goal is truly musical, if it is simply to excel at performing or composing music, if it is to discover new regions of the soul, if it is to uplift society through philosophical concepts turned into sound, if it is to educate the masses about a beautiful tradition in our culture, then by all means practice, hone your skills, indulge your inner artist, and become a MUSICIAN!
Maybe it is for the best that Anna Nicole and others have blazed the path of the talentless celebrity. Maybe this new career path will help shake out of the music world those who are not really dedicated to the spirituality of sound. Perhaps if society once again produces truly educated, skilled, and talented musicians, the public will once again embrace music, real music, music that is a true expression of the soul, music that portrays a vision of a better world, music that can lead us to a better reality, a reality of which we can all be proud!
I wish a peaceful afterlife for Anna Nicole, who seemed to suffer so much despite her fame. Yet I also yearn for the day when musicians, dedicated musicians, can in this life, once again bask in the spotlight!
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