Welcome to My Blog

After spending many years playing bass in the Boston Pops Orchestra, and even playing in the Boston Symphony here and there, there was this nagging question that would not go away: Why were a few rare conductors so much better at leading the orchestra than so many others? In particular, what was it that made Arthur Fiedler the most successful conductor ever, for 50 straight years? This last question was particularly vexing, given that Arthur was below average in almost every way, and possessed none of the attributes most people think a great conductor should have.

This cognitive dissonance led to reading up on Toyota Lean and Peter Drucker, trying to find answers.  While there are many conductors on the lecture circuit offering management and leadership advice, I offer books, articles, and live presentations with a very at different take on management, i.e., from a bass player’s perspective.

About me:  I grew up on a farm in Ohio, and my main claims to fame (along with playing bass in the Boston Pops for 18 years, and still working on the TV shows thereof), are my books:

Real Men Don’t Rehearse” — a humorous collection of gig disaster stories) and

Principles of Applied Stupidity.” This latter is an explanation of how the top conductors do what they do.

About the title of “Principles”:  simply stated, we grow up in school, learning the broad cultural dogma that “smart” is universally good, and “stupid” is universally bad. I challenge this concept. Many things that we label as “stupid” behavior in academic settings are actually extremely effective management tools, and are in fact what the top conductors all did.

A little podcast excerpt (thank you Chris Smit):

Then there are the “kid shows”– Peter VS. the Wolf and The Phantom of the Orchestra. These programs are performed by orchestras all over the world. Publishing them all these years has led to a lot of thought on the topic of “Arts education.”

And finally– my “speaking thing.”  I am always eager for any opportunity to stand up and tell my fun stories and share these unorthodox theories of management. So if you if you are casting about for guest speakers for your next management training session, and especially if you are looking for something different and unusual, here I am. (And of course, the stories from “Real Men Don’t Rehearse” are universally appealing– see below.) I am also happy to appear as a guest on podcasts.

So do feel free to call me at 781 330 8143 or email me at justin locke1@gmail.com!

Thanks for reading! – JL


Some of my more popular blog posts:

The True Purpose of Arts Education

The Three Elements of Creativity

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An Introduction to Dealing with Crazy People in Power

I have a dear friend who grew up in a house with a raging alcoholic mother. While the normal response to such information is shock, pity, and empathy, you should understand that to her, the insanity was just another day at the office.  Kids are survivors, and if your mother is crazy, you just adjust and cope.  I am fond of saying of this person, if I had to parachute in behind enemy lines, she is the person I would choose to take with me. She knows how to handle adversity.

Since I had a somewhat similarly crazy set of parents, she and I had a lot in common. We would sit and have brunch and try to top each other with the most outrageous happenings from our respective childhoods.

We did share one other important common experience though. We had learned early on not to tell these stories in general public spaces to people who had grown up in somewhat normal functioning families. People who grow up in relatively normal homes, where at least one parent had a steady job, and there was generally heat and hot water and food, are simply not equipped to deal with stories of extreme emotional abuse and general neglect. Whenever either one of us made the mistake of going too far over the line and telling a story that was beyond the capability of our listeners, we would get what my friend called . . . “the look.”

“The look” was a moment when someone has simply been exposed to an idea of negative human interaction that was beyond their capability to handle.

Thus, for much of my life I have kept many of these wacky survival stories to myself, but lately I have discovered that my strange and wild childhood has rather magnificently equipped me to deal with the vicissitudes of modern American life. All the poverty and drug abuse and sexual abuse in our society has grown too large to be kept in the dark corners any more, and people who suffer from this kind of trauma have risen to high office. And now, far from being thrown off kilter, I feel like B’rer Rabbit in the briar patch.

Unfortunately, the average journalist sent out to cover and report on such people are, all too often, people with loving parents, and they try to use that template/ world view to comprehend something they can’t quite grasp, which is a person who in power is mentally disjointed. In this case, “the look” is a reaction of non-comprehension of this other person’s behavior. To deal with it, they will use entirely inappropriate tools, such as logic and requests for empathy.  They will list the transgressions and the many flaws in this crazy person’s logic . . . and it is assumed this will serve to alter their bad behavior, when in fact such bad behavior is designed to override and confuse, and it does so with great success.

So as a public service, and I want to thank Alice Miller for most of this, for those of you whose parents were not insane, here is a quick primer in how to deal with crazy people in power:

1) First of all, before you try to make any sort of change or argument, bear in mind that until this crazy person sits down and consciously faces the truth of all the trauma that was visited upon them, nothing, and I do mean nothing, will change. You have 3 choices: you can become/remain a victim, you can become a similar perpetrator, or you can become a healer. Bear in mind, systems cannot be changed from within; you have no power to change your relationship with them unless you first leave that relationship.

2) Understand that loyalty to the parents who did the abuse is an overwhelming force here, and the victim of the trauma will protect their grandiose cover story myth of the abusers with extreme passion.

3) Be aware of what Alice Miller called the Re-enactment Syndrome. The idea here is, if someone suffered some sort of abuse, they will, as adults, re-enact what happened to them, either as victims or as the perpetrator. Remember all those priests who abused little boys? It is thought that 90% of them had all been molested as children. They were not being randomly cruel and perverse by conscious choice; they were trying to find their way back to their true self re enacting the trauma. Only if you view their behavior in this way can you find logic in it. And head-on logical arguments are useless against it. Instead, the damaged soul must be found and healed.

4) Again, recalling Alice Miller, people who suffer from such extreme trauma often get taken up in what she called grandiosity. Rather than accepting the reality of where they are, they seek to put on an act of grandiose glamour or status.

5) Understand the basic elements of shame states. Our preferred healthy way of being is to feel strong bonds of connection with other people. If this is lost, the result is a “shame state.” People who find themselves in shame states seek a kind of substitute form of connection by achieving higher rank than others, mainly by achieving power. And part of the deal is making people with less power suffer, to remind all others that this power is possessed. The sadism is a replacement for contact and intimacy.

5) And this last is my own contribution, I call it “Justin’s Rule of Opposites.” This means, when a person has escaped from their inner reality, most of their denial consists of the exact opposite of reality. For example, if they are stealing money, they will exclaim that everyone else but them is stealing money. If they are incompetent, they will claim that they are the only one who is competent.

In conclusion, I certainly laud and admire people who protect their children from crazy people, and I am of course endlessly envious of people who had loving parents who fed them and supported them and provided mature emotionally stable role models. But at the same time, the children of such people have never had to develop skills in coping with traumatized people, and in the first meeting, the traumatized people always overwhelm . . . sort of like Hitler and the French army.

I hope this guide helps your decision making.

© Justin Locke

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The USPS and the Waning American Empire

Like many Americans I have been much disturbed by various assaults on Constitutional rights of late, but the Postal Service issue has struck me particularly hard.

What consistently gets lost in political debates is the broader notion of nationhood, which is a sine qua non of all other rights (and powers) we may discuss. We freely talk about red and blue states like that’s no big deal.  Such talk is dangerous.  Maintaining an empire– and the Unites States is, by definition, a collection of separate states– is a dicey operation. In my lifetime I have witnessed the fall of the Soviet empire, and it was not that long ago that France, Spain, and of course England were major empires as well. There is no guarantee that our empire will be here tomorrow.

Using self inflicted budget shortfalls as an excuse to hamper the flow of the United States mail is one of the most egregious threats to the American empire I have seen in my lifetime.

One quick example, as you may or may not know, I publish various programs for orchestral kiddie concerts. A few years back, The Guam Symphony Orchestra called me up and booked the programs. I had to box up about 15 pounds of sheet music and send it half way around the world. But . . . because Guam is part of the United States, all I had to do was saunter over to my local post office, slap about $17 worth of priority mail flat rate postage on the box, and off it went. And I am just one of who knows how many people and companies selling things to Guam (and Hawaii and Alaska).

Without that line of easy communication, it would have cost me what, $200 to ship the same thing? And if enough resistance to commerce built up, perhaps the folks in Guam would get sick of us and ask China to come take things over? This is how empires fall.

Bear in mind I have no love for Jeff Bezos but at the moment, when you buy from Amazon, you aren’t always buying from Amazon. Thousands, perhaps millions, of small cottage industries market their goods on Amazon, but they ship the products themselves. In other words, there are tens or hundreds of thousands of small relatively independent sellers and manufacturers out there, and while UPS does a lot of the shipping, I am willing to bet that the USPS does a whole lot more.

The Romans ruled the Western World because they built roads, the Venetians the British built massive empires because they built ships. Empires are built on ease of commerce. The lines of communication are what make us collectively great. Reducing the speed of the Postal Service is tantamount to blowing up roads and bridges. Commerce cannot occur without the means of transport.

I really try to not be political in my blog posts but this 3rd grade reading level in the White House has gone far enough. You cannot shrink to greatness. Smooth efficient operation of the Postal Service is essential to American commerce, hence American greatness.

© Justin Locke

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Creating the Monster

So, the provenance of this post:  a few weeks ago Bill Maher posted a video on his facebook page where he pretended to give Donald Trump’s Eulogy.  I am not sure how the chain of creativity occurred, but I posted a comment somewhat on the fly, that went something like this:

” In the upcoming Xmas movie “Screwged,” Trump has federal agents gas the Ghost of Christmas Past, fires Bob Cratchit, sues Fred for his tell-all memoir, takes away Tiny Tim’s healthcare, and pardons Jacob Marley. It is what it is.”

Okay, a fun little play on the Dickens plot, I figured I might get a few dozen likes, and I went about my business.  But amazingly, and this is by far a personal Faceboook best, I got over 600 likes, along with a total of 90+ comments.  No money of course but, nice to be noticed.

While the vast majority of the comments were complimentary (My fave:  “You won the internet today”), a handful were not.  It doesn’t make immediate sense to me why a fan of Donald Trump would even visit Bill Maher’s page, much less watch the video or read the comments, but . . . they did.  And here is the key:  instead of making any logical argument, the Trump fans basically said I was stupid, or a moron, or something similar.  It was remarkably consistent.  And patterns like that set me thinking.

Now normally in our culture the word “stupid” is an effective shaming tool, and I suppose the goal here was to silence me with shame (good luck with that guys); but since I wrote the book on the science of stupidity, the hoped for effect of essentially seeking to silence me with shame did not work.  Instead, it gave me an insight into the minds and souls (yes, souls) of these Trump voters.  And here is what I discovered:

With all our eagerness to send kids to school and test their intellectual capabilities, the people (now I am making a presumption here) who run the schools and administer the tests tend to lean democratic, and I think that group is not seeing how they are helping to create the Trump voter block.

Here is the deal:  if you score high on a test, good for you, but what if you don’t? What if the public school system repeatedly shoves your low tests scores in your face and repeatedly tells you you are “stupid”?

Bear in mind, for a helpless little kid going through that kind of shaming experience over and over, for all the good intentions of measuring academic achievement, I think the big picture is getting missed.  Those kids have collected a massive pile of shame, and they associate it with any and all things academic.  That includes their teachers as well as any kind of intellectual or scientific expert, as that is the group of people who shamed them so often.  That resentment has been building for decades, and now Fox News and the Republican Party have recognized the potential lying therein.

As Alice Miller explains, when people are traumatized in childhood they seek to heal themselves via the “reenactment syndrome,” meaning, they repeat the abuse, only this time they are in charge.  And these Trump fans who told me I was stupid were trying to put me through their worst childhood experience, of being told one is socially unacceptable due to a mental defect.

I could explore this issue at much greater depth but the point I wish here to make is, if you are an education professional, have you ever taken a moment to look at this block of Trump voters and wonder, we spent on average $100,000 of taxpayer money on “educating” each one of these kids; and did we, perhaps inadvertantly, create the monster which supports this kind of anti intellectualism, and eagerness to visit shame and social ostracization on some vulnerable party?  In dumping shame on others (sometimes violently so), are they merely reenacting what school did to them?

I fear that for people who did well in school– those who had parental support, better qualified teachers, perhaps also paid coaches to help the more average among them get by– really don’t have a good grasp of what this kind of experience can do to a kid who is on the edge anyway, with divorced parents, abusive parents, or poverty stricken parents in the mix.  That shame energy needs to go somewhere, and a charming leader can exploit that energy by telling them to direct it at his enemies.

In our eagerness to test and test, we of course create a select group of elite high scoring winners, but in so doing, are we not also creating a far larger group of low scoring losers?  And is any thought being given to this massive mound of intellectual tailings piling up year after year?

People who live at the top end of intellectualism and academic elitism have precious little direct experience with the kind of intense shaming and embarrassment that so many C and D grade American children go through.  The emotional scars can be so great that they can overwhelm the conscious logical mind.

The Treaty of Versailles had many good intentions, but the unintended consequences– of humiliating and impoverishing many of the German people for 20 years– created the collective crazed anger that allowed Hitler to rise to power.

Politics these days is seldom about logic.  It is about tapping into the worst  buried memories of wounded vulnerability that overwhelm the conscious mind.  People who seek power do not hesitate to tap into these dark emotions, and before we complain about it, we ought to ask if we have contributed to the problem.  With the best of intentions, have we created a lower intellectual caste that is burdened by overwhelming amounts of anger towards society, a caste that that might someday outnumber us?

(c)  Justin Locke


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It’s Time to Buy a Bidet

Many years ago I visited the city of Paris.  Besides the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, one of the most interesting things I found there was the bidet in my hotel room.  Here was a thing that essentially removed any need for toilet paper . . . and it did a WAY better job at doing that task.

So here I sit in the middle of the great Covid 19 Toilet Paper Rush, watching people posting on social media asking where they can buy some toilet paper.  And I just shake my head.

Two years ago, after years of wishing I owned a house with a bidet, I discovered there were all sorts of portable bidets.  I bought one for $13 on Amazon and, pardon the phraseology, I have not looked back.  My annual outlay for toilet paper dropped by 90%.  

We Americans walk around with a lot of shame regarding elimination of bodily waste, but it’s time to grow up and face facts.  Along with doing a 2nd rate job, toilet paper requires the DAILY cutting down of 27,000 trees.  And once flushed, all that paper pulp gets thrown in with the regular fecal matter in massive piles of compost.  That says nothing of the fuel and the 37 gallons of water needed to make a single roll, and the attendant carbon dioxide that is generated as well.  You should also figure in all the wrappers and the inside cardboard tubes, that’s what, 250,000 of those put into landfills every day.

Look online, they have nifty little squeeze bottle bidets for $14.  And for about $45 you can get one mounted on your toilet seat, altho one with hot water (you really want that) runs a little more.   Even so, it pays for itself in a year or less.

Then you can sit back with me and observe the odd phenomena of people crazily buying and hoarding something they don’t need.



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Latest Podcast Guest Appearance

Hello all,

So I got invited onto a podcast done my a drummer turned financial advisor, a guy named Thomas DeSchutter, out of Vancouver . . .   I have to say the guy did a great job.  He really has the whole podcast idea down.  Anyway, throughout the show I got to pontificate and expound at length about many of my favorite speaking topics, including what made great conductors great, the Principles of Applied Stupidity, and since he is a finance guy, we got into my Rich Kid Poor Kid book as well.   Anyway, here it is, click on the pic or the link, I start talking at about 8-10 min or so.  A perfect cure for insomnia!   – JL










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Patty Duke Water Pump Moments

Okay, for those of you who have never seen the movie “The Miracle Worker,” it is a classic, with Patty Duke portraying a young Helen Keller. Helen Keller was blind and deaf from age 2 and her family had learned to live with this person who had no means of communicating with them.

Enter Anne Bancroft (yes, who also played Mrs. Robinson) who plays a teacher of deaf and blind children. Throughout the whole movie she does her darnedest to teach little Helen how to communicate using sign language, by making individual letters with finger positions than one can feel in the hand. It’s 90 minutes of struggle until near the end, when Helen Keller “gets it.” She runs to a water pump and Anne Bancroft spells “water” with her hand in Helen’s hand. Suddenly, Patty Duke/ Helen Keller grasps this amazing new level of possibility of something that well, not that it seemed impossible, it was just not something she had ever thought of, period.

SO now I refer to such earth shaking life changing shifts of consciousness in my own life as “Patty Duke water pump moments.”

Now bear in mind, PDWPM’s don’t occur in a vacuum. They usually occur in an environment where limitation is accepted as the norm. There are people who have accepted the dogma– e.g., that little Helen will never be able to communicate and that’s just the way it is . . . and then there are people like Anne Bancroft saying, no, there is a better way, but it’s tough to grasp and it conflicts with current dogma which some people are actually happy with maintaining.

I will illustrate with a personal example,

When I was a teenager I had taken up the string bass, and it became my path to something better. I was able to get out of the farmhouse in Ohio and get to see a little bit of the larger world because I was willing to play the bass.

Unfortunately, I was okay for a high school kid, but I wasn’t all that good. I am a very competitive person, and whenever I bumped up against any real bass playing competition, I always came in at 5th place. This bothered me to no end. But I did not know what to do about it.

I actually practiced a LOT, but I was practicing the way that everyone in the music school dogma soup taught me to practice, i.e., just play a piece through from beginning to end and then go back do it all again. This made minor temporary levels of improvement here and there, but for the most part, it did not work. I was stuck in being a third rate bass player. This endless failure suited the teachers who profited by my taking their lessons, and it profited the music schools who collected tuition, but I was going nowhere.

Enter Joe Scheer, a very skilled violinist who was my age, and I asked him what I could do to improve myself, as following the standard procedures had not worked. He looked at me like I was an idiot and said “Go home and practice your scales and arpeggios.”

This, folks, was my first real Patty Duke water pump moment. Joe had gone on to say that “All the (tonal) music we play is just bits and pieces of scales and arpeggios, so if you can play all the scales and arpeggios, you can sight read anything, and do it perfectly.”

So I went back to that little farm in Ohio and instead of “practicing for a lesson” I just started to play nothing but scales and arpeggios. The fundamentals of music. Over and over and over again. 8 hours a day, seven days a week. I did that for 3 months, and then 2 months after that, I had leapt over all my competition and become one of the top pro bass players in Boston.

That PDWPM forever changed how I approach, well, just about everything.  In my humble opinion, no matter what it is that you are trying to accomplish, I am totally convinced that while you are surrounded by people who are hacking their way through with no mastery, often guessing and hoping and faking, there is always some basic underlying principle that, if you can just master THAT, everything else becomes simple and easy and you achieve total command of the situation, instead of hoping your fingers will magically land on the notes you want to play.

Bear in mind, there were a fair number of people who were not happy with my transformation. Once I achieved technical mastery of the locations of notes on the double bass, I quit taking lessons, so my teacher was not happy about my lack of need for his services. The music school I was attending was not happy to lose my tuition money either– their business model was based on my endlessly seeking to improve but never actually doing so. And of course the other bass players who used to be better than me weren’t all that thrilled either.

So when I see things like vague advice on leadership that has long lists of what successful people do every day at breakfast, or studies of “emotional intelligence” that have a vast amorphous plan of attack, I have to roll my eyes and ask, “What are the fundamentals needing to be mastered here?”

Real teachers that can take you through to a Patty Duke water pump moment are actually kind of rare, partly because they just are, and partly because there isn’t very much money in teaching in this way, as your students don’t hang around for very long. Very often people who have achieved mastery do not share their secrets, in part because, as I have learned, most people do not seek to achieve it. They like just poking along, fitting in with the other amateurs, and not making any major changes.

So now, whenever I write or speak about management or self improvement, it always comes from that experience of understanding and mastering fundamentals. It’s what actually works.


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The Grapes of Shame

In the aftermath of World War II, several eminent psychologists of the day, including Erich Fromm and Alice Miller, wrote books that all asked the question, “Why?”  They wanted to find the core psychological forces that had taken Germany, the most civilized nation on earth, to being one of the most brutal and murderous.

I would like to offer something a little similar in the here and now.

There are many comedy TV shows that make money by making fun of the ignorance that abounds in America today.   It is tempting to take some superior-feeling pleasure, when folks from Comedy Central go to a Trump Rally and ask the attendees questions like “Can you define communism?” and just generally expose their many layers of fuzzy logic.

I think we indulge in this at our peril.  Just because many of these people lack language skills, does not mean that we should not try to understand the deeper meaning of their admittedly often hurtful language and symbolism.

When I was in grade school, I was given three “F” grades. Even though I was generally a “top” student with a better than 4.0 grade average, those rare memories, of being given an “F,” still cut deep. They were insults to my spirit; a person who had the power and authority of the “state” was judging me as being somehow inferior.

If just 3 “F” grades left that much of a resentment mark on me, a star student, what must it be like for the average C student kid, who is told every day that they are defective, flawed, in error, and judged to be a failure and stupid?

The point I wish to make here is, in all of our lofty disdain for all those who dwell in the basket of deplorables, perhaps we should lay some blame at the feet of the learned and educated.  It is college graduates, i.e., grade school teachers, who subject people to a state mandated system that repeatedly rends their spirit.  And they do this, perhaps with the best of intentions, but without any regard for the long term consequences.

Definition of grapes of wrath:
an unjust or oppressive situation, action, or policy that may inflame desire for vengeance : an explosive condition

So now, look at the oh so common disdain for science, or the disdain for the “elite.”    Instead of condemning those who manifest these attitudes, perhaps we should think  about HOW their minds were systemically brought to this state, where years of accumulated shame energy is eclipsing their ability to think rationally.

If you just leap to the convenient, appealing, and simplistic conclusion that the reason they behave this way is because you and I are just genetically superior to them, we are one step away from the Nuremberg Laws.  Oopsie.

Whenever you see a seemingly ignorant Trump supporter, take a moment to remind yourself that each and every one of them represents an expenditure of about $100,000 in local tax dollars for their K-12 education (not to mention over 15,000 hours of classroom time). If they are ignorant, is it really entirely their fault? Can it be that the cultural imperialism of the educational industrial complex is creating this ready-made seething mob, by putting masses of people through shaming / belittling / exclusionary experiences in their formative years? How many times can you give someone an F before they turn on you, and give you an F as well?

It’s always easy to blame someone else for our problems, but it looks like, as Walt Kelly so famously said,

“We have met the enemy– and he is us.”

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Blame Stasis

I am always intrigued by predictable patterns of human behavior that are not catalogued elsewhere, and I have a new one to share: I call it “Blame Stasis.”

Simply stated, when a problem comes up, one of the ways we seek to deal with it on a purely emotional level is to find someone to blame for the problem. Once that person or entity is identified, and blame is assigned to them, we can stop thinking. We can go back to a calm state of emotional equilibrium, i.e., “blame stasis.”

To “show my work,” here is something odd I noticed a few weeks ago: Someone was writing an article about a recent school shooting.  The author implied that the reason a 13 year old boy had shot up a school was because some young lady had rebuffed his advances.  In other words, an attempt had been made to blame the female for the problems, as she was the temptress.

Then someone else shot back with another article saying no no no, the girl had every right to reject him, and the little boy was to blame for killing a bunch of his schoolmates.

So, whatever your gender bias, each article gives you someone to blame for the horrific tragedy. And once blame is assigned somewhere, this has a tendency to somehow resolve the problem, and we can sleep soundly.

You can see this same pattern happening on massive scale every day. Large numbers of people blame the democratic political party for any number of problems, and any number of people blame the republican party for any number of problems. And once that blame is assigned, we can go to emotional equilibrium, as though the assignation of blame by itself constitutes a solution.

Getting back to our young school shooter du jour, if we apply simple Toyota Lean 5 why’s analysis, we start to ask, why did he shoot up a school? Because he was emotionally upset. Why was he upset? Because his basic emotional issues were not being addressed. Why were they not being addressed? Because the school and community didn’t address them. And now we start to see that all of us are partly to blame for passively tolerating a system that consistently cultivates this kind of behavior.

Uh oh. Quick, how do we blame someone other than ourselves for this?

There is a bit of a management conundrum here, because we are so terribly eager to assign blame to someone other than ourselves and call it done, but at the same time, the only way to acquire any power is to take the blame on ourselves. If we assign the blame to someone else we are assigning the power to fix the problem to someone else.

I am always amused that no one ever suggests that we unite into one political party in the United States. Apparently, we must always be in two pieces, so whatever group we belong to, there is another group (that we have nothing to do with), that we can conveniently blame for all our troubles, and thus feel terribly righteous while not having to do anything to fix them.

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Music, Inc.

Today’s top 40 music worries me.  It’s not that I just don’t like it.  It’s not about taste.  I am too artistically educated I guess, because I can plainly see the cheapness of it.  I think it has the same kind of dangers to our well being as industrialization techniques did to our food supply.

To illustrate,  well,  . . . most of you know the difference between homemade-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies, and a bag of cheap grocery store industrially made cookies that look like cookies but taste like notebook paper.

As you know, there’s a big difference between cookies made with Icelandic butter, and those made with hydrogenated vegetable oil, not to mention the other artificial flavors used in industrially made baked goods. Even so, a fair number of people still consume the latter.  And we see what it does to them.

Alas, I hate to be the one to say it, but the popular top 40 music we hear today is somewhat analogous to industrially made cookies.  There is not much in it.  The ingredients are the cheapest available.

This is not a discussion of taste, nor is it me being nostalgic for music of my youth.  It is not my imagination.  It is about actual demonstrable numbers.

The major record labels are run by corporations that are very much focused on the bottom line.  Musical ideas, like nutritious food, take time and effort to make.  But sadly, much of the music that is being presented to us these days is being produced on the cheap.  In case you think this is just a matter of opinion, here is how to tell the difference between industrial music and real music:

It’s actually very simple: the way to tell an industrially produced song is by looking at the amount of repetition it contains.  It’s a dead giveaway every time.  Granted, the performers are young and sexy, but that does not make the song itself any better.

Real songs contain melodies. Melodies are the musical version of sentences. They have an arc of a musical idea.  Standard “song/sonata” form includes at least two separate freestanding melodies, typically labeled A and B, and played in the form AABA.

Conversely, an industrially made song typically doesn’t have even one actual melody. In fact, technically speaking, industrial songs aren’t even songs. They are “chants.” Chants contain just fragments of musical ideas, and those fragments are repeated over and over.

Industrial cookies are all about making you think you are buying a cookie, rather than letting you judge for yourself.  Industrial Top 40 song/ chants are all about constant visual distractions from their lack of musical ingredients.

For example, after a sexy young singer repeats a single 2-4 note simplistic sonic idea for half the song, another singer, usually not even a singer but a rapper (who is mentioned in the title as “featuring xyz rapper”), will come in where you would normally have the “B” section.  But it’s not a real B section.  It’s just a guy speaking in sixteenth notes.  Once you become conscious of this technique, it becomes strikingly cliched.  Fully half of all Top Forty Pop songs use this structure to create really just an illusion of a song.

The lyrics, too, are often little just short phrases repeated over and over.

The role of an artist is to tempt us into broadening our perceptions beyond the norm. But listening to this bare minimum music can actually have the opposite effect, of numbing our emotions and lowering our expectations in terms of the spectrum of human feeling. For many people, industrial pop music songs are fabulous, because they are cheap, quick,  easy, and familiar.  They never challenge one with a political idea, or explore any new avenue of the human experience.  It’s vague issues of narcissistic teenage romance.

We often speak of “food deserts,” where is there is no nutritious food to be had, and “hostile food environments,” meaning, much of the food in grocery stores induces diabetes and nutritional imbalance by removing the nutrients.  I think this cheap industrial music is doing something similar.   But instead of corroding our bodies, it is doing something very similar to our souls.

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