Tuesday, January 19, 2016

U is for Underground

When poet/playwright/actor/artist/activist George Hitchcock was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1957 and asked to state his profession, he said (truthfully): "I am a gardener. I do underground work on plants".

In some recent research into the new music of the '60s, the phrase "underground music" turned up with some frequency.  Now it may well be that the shelf life of the term, music-wise, has run out and now we reserve "underground"  for extreme and secretive political movements, but it would be a shame if that were the case, in my opinion not least because musical history amply demonstrates that a little subversion of the normative order has always been musically useful.  There is simply something vital to the idea that something  relatively unknown yet lively and well worth digging for — in this case music, or musical techniques, or ideas about music made in alternative ways — lays immediately below the surface of our everyday musical lives.  It might be argued that with all the information-conveying media available to us now that nothing, really, is ever too far beyond reach to be considered underground, but if anything has been demonstrated by the famed notion of a long-tail, the narrow end of said tail is so invisible (inaudible, in this case) that it might just as well be physically (as opposed to virtually) underground as the social networks in which it shakes are not of great volume or visibility.  

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