Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Oct. 18, 2001 at 5:58 PM
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"Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast."

Thus wrote William Congreve in the 19th century and apparently his homily is deeply rooted in the American psyche.

At least that is a notion propounded by this month's TIME magazine special edition in which music occupies the entire periodical from cover to final page. Except, of course, for the ads.

The all-encompassing title for the special edition is "Music Goes Global."

And so it does. Stories include the new music and stars of Europe, Asia, South and North America, Africa and the Caribbean. Notably missing (excepting Israel) is the Middle East.

Chiefly responsible for this issue is Time's music critic Christopher John Farley, a native of Jamaica who is aware America's music plays a significant role in the lives of young people worldwide.

Farley, a naturalized American citizen, believes our pop music appeals to most young people. Ergo, it is a powerful influence in many cultures, including those in the Middle East, appealing to far-reaching religions and philosophic ideals.

Indeed, the Taliban in Afghanistan and some political extremists in some Muslim countries ban Western music, abhorring the influence of American rock 'n' roll, rap and hip-hop on their young. They suspect egregious propaganda.

Even ballads and love songs are verboten in some cultures where things American are considered capitalistic, godless invasions by our heretical civilization.

"Music appeals to all people from the most primitive to the highest sophistication," Farley said this week.

"We emphasize this in our stories in this issue of TIME. It is devoted to music of the world and the commonality of its appeal.

"Yes, American music is predominant international with its appeal to youth. But it succeeds partly because American music absorbs the beats and rhythms of other cultures, as emphasized now by the influence of Latin songs and artists, like Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera."

TIME's cover offers such diverse international stars as Bjork, Brenda Frassie, Marc Anthony, Utada Hikaru, Max de Castro and Shakira. Farley acknowledges music has not been a dominating factor per se in historic world events.

But he believes music offers tremendous emotional stimulation from the strident power of national anthems and stirring marches to the passionate strains of symphonic elegance and operatic arias.

The beat of American pop resonates in the world's youth. Its lyrical messages of non-conformity, rebellion and idealistic vistas of a better world wherein brotherly love and peace prevail, is threatening and dangerous to restrictive, inhibiting governments.

Music is increasingly a powerful instrument (no pun intended) in the formation of political thought. It sometimes engenders unwelcome activism is austere political regimes fearful of insurgency.

"That is not the focal point of this issue on music," said Farley, a senior TIME writer.

"Ours is a defining collection of stories, interviews and observations of the place and pace of music in society today at the beginning of (the new) millennium."

America's predominance in music is a purely capitalistic manifestation; hardly a government plot to inculcate the world with cultural messages.

But like blue jeans, boom boxes and fast food, the international appeal of things American can be unsettling to other cultures. In most countries one can't escape the U.S.A.'s pop exports. It's disconcerting to American citizens touring foreign lands seeking local flavor and color.

Tourists would like to hear polkas in Germany, romantic ballads in Italy, waltzes in Vienna and choirs in Dublin. And what do they hear?

Young people listening to pop on radio, American recordings sung in English mostly by American vocalists.

If tourists closed their eyes they could be standing at the corner of Broad and High streets in Columbus, Ohio.

"There's no denying the universality of America's music. It has been growing for at least 100 years," said Farley, a gracious and knowledgeable music lover who learned to appreciate music as a youth in Jamaica.

"There is an appeal in all manner of American music, including jazz, Dixieland, big bands, rock and country music. The scope of our music is broad, diversified and encompassing, which makes it unique."

All the same, TIME's music edition includes sections titled "Can Rock 'n' Roll Save the World?" and the timely "Rhythmless Nation," reporting the Taliban believes music is wrong; "Musicians are paying the price."

There's also a scary piece about Ngwang Choephel of Tibet who was arrested by Chinese operatives for assembling a documentary on Tibet's music and dance.

Clearly, music is playing (again, no pun) a major role in today's political beat. Apparently the bad guys are convinced music is a dangerous threat to the status quo rather than an entertaining art form.

They're fighting a losing battle. People everywhere would rather hear Britney Spears, 'N Sync, Madonna and Ricky Martin than political windbags and their nationalistic harangues any old time.

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