Nice music

2 minute read
Kenny G: What a nice young man. (Photo by Andros 1337 via Creative Commons/Flickr)
Kenny G: What a nice young man. (Photo by Andros 1337 via Creative Commons/Flickr)

I hate nice music — not beautiful music, but nice music. There’s an important difference. Beautiful music can actually be dangerous, since it says something, takes chances, goes for broke. Nice music simply refuses to offend. It’s in the background and doesn’t upset anyone with its lyrics or its tonal language.

I’m not saying that the only good music is harsh or dissonant, either. I like a lot of dissonant music, but plenty of that is vapid, too. It’s the nice music of academia. I’m talking about insipidity, studied boringness, art for entertainment’s sake.

I hate the word “nice.” It implies a harmless lack of virtue, or a front. As I recall, George Carlin ranted about nice people and asked, “He’s nice: What the **** does that mean? Everybody’s nice!” He has a point. Nice people can be wolves in sheep’s clothing, passive-aggressive practitioners of psychological warfare behind a veneer of flawless politeness.

When I was growing up, my father wanted me to listen to nice music. A local radio station identified itself as “B101 — niiiiiice.” If they were feeling less unadventurous than usual, they might play some Kenny G. I was about 10 when I got my first jam box, as they were called back then. Remember cassette tapes? I was told I got this because I listened to nice music, that if I listened to all that crappy music with curse words like the other kids did, I wouldn’t have gotten anything quite so — nice. I’ve spent my adult life trying to catch up with the music with curse words, though I’ve often opted for more underground material, since what has been popular has been a bit too nice for my taste.

Nice. It’s like we’re afraid someone is going to say something: Brahms, that phrasing can be highly asymmetrical; Wagner, that a resolution can be delayed for minutes, or maybe even a quarter of an hour; Schoenberg, that the emancipated dissonance is pleasing to the ear; Elvis, that the strong beats can be put on 2 and 4.

Nice music mimics the past, thrives on expectations, and never breaks ground. It won’t make you think, though it might make you feel nostalgic or sentimental. It never makes you listen, since there’s nothing to hear.

I hate nice music.

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