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The Parallel Universe Game

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 10:44 am
by howard male
I'm pinching these words of Jonathan's from another strand, in order to go off on this cosmic tangent:

Without the Beatles, I don't suppose we'd have had the Clash — or any form of punk.

I think it's these kind of statements, which hacks tend to go for too, which are the reason a band such as the Beatles gets put on a mile-high pedestal from which there is no way down.

But I find that the secret of seeing through such empty hyperbole (nothing personal, Jonathan, we all make such statements every now and again - it makes us feel good!) is to consider a parallel universe in which, say, the Beatles didn't exist. Obviously it's impossible for sure to say whether punk would have existed if the Beatles hadn't existed, but my more down-to-earth view, is that one of the other beat groups of the era would have filled the vacuum, and rock music would have developed with, say, the Who, or the Stones as its primary creative influence.

If you play the Parallel Universe Game, you can make whatever musical subtractions you like from the history of popular music, and probably come to the same conclusion that no band or solo artist is indispensable. Punk would have rolled along anyway; maybe a year or two earlier or a year or two later, but the musical forms (rock, blues, soul, reggae etc etc) are always going to be bigger than any of the individuals or bands involved. The evolution of music can't be stopped, it can only be shifted slightly in its forward-rolling journey.

All these games of deciding the best band ever, or the best female soul vocalist ever, are fun but ultimately silly and unquestionably inconclusive. Silly, because Aretha really isn't better (whatever 'better' means) than a thousand other soul or gospel vocalists of the past 50 years with a similarly powerful set of lungs, and an ability to grasp a song and ring every ounce of pain and joy out of it. You can even watch an episode of the X Factor and you'll be highly likely to hear an amazing black female vocalist who - again in another one of my parallel universes - could have been born in Memphis, in the early 1940's, and been the gospel singer who took Aretha's path.

So, who wants to play the Parallel Universe Game? Are there really any musical forces that were indispensable to the course popular music has taken in the last half century? Or do you agree with me that music would have - more or less - taken the course it has taken, even if Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, or whoever you'd like to put forward, hadn't ever existed.

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 6:55 pm
by will vine
I think I'd like to play Howard. I'm fairly sure I disagree with almost every one of your assertions, but mostly I'm not sure I understand any of what you've said.......time out please....I'll be back.

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 7:34 pm
by Dayna
I guess you might understand a parallel universe, if you ever watched Star Trek.
I haven't heard enough of Bob Marely or Bob Dylan, really. It's hard to imagine never having Elvis.

It's very hard to imagine a universe without the Beatles, because I've seen how many things were influenced by them & not just music. According to this book, The Beatles In Cleveland, pratically everything was influenced by them here.

It says students were discussing them in Social Studies, boys grew their hair longer & it says that the way people played guitars even changed.

Maybe there really are plenty of very talented people that never really got a chance to be discovered, though. Maybe that's what the real purpose of American Idol is. You think? But so far, I've only heard of a couple of those really being sucessful & they aren't very exciting to me.

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 8:11 pm
by Jonathan E.
That is a very interesting proposal from Howard and at least moderately cosmic. It is, of course, the basis of a whole school of science-fiction writing, perhaps more accurately referred to as speculative fiction. You know the sort of thing. What if Hitler had won WWII? What if Lenin had been assassinated on his train ride to Moscow? What if the U.S. Supreme Court had made the correct decision about the presidential election in 2000? What if I'd killed myself in a car crash when I was a teenager?

Now, I think Howard took my apparently over-blown statement a little out of context — and I have been thinking about exactly what I meant ever since I wrote it. So, if you'll excuse another trip into the cosmic dimensions but in a slightly different direction, I'll have a go.

My next sentence was:
The Beatles set the table for the times and were ultimately the fountainhead for all that came after, even much that came only very shortly after, or contemporaneously, like the Rolling Stones.

which would imply that I am claiming that the Beatles had this astounding influence only after their emergence from Liverpool. I have decided that this is not, in fact, the case. I believe that the Beatles also influenced what came before they became famous. I believe that the Beatles affected the course of music even before John met Paul at the village fete.

"How can that be?", a reasonable man (or woman) might ask.

The answer is simple. Time is not a linear force of nature moving only in one direction, from past into the future. It is both a spiral drawing us into the future as we go towards the centre, but it is also a repetitive wave form that expands and contracts over extremely long periods. Long at least to us small Western humans with our limited cultural perceptions. This centre of the spiral is not only the future, but also the past. We can travel in both directions in much the same way as there is both centrifugal and centripetal forces at work throughout the universe.

Many so-called "primitive" societies and spiritual practices embody some aspects of this non-linear nature of time. It is the basis of the Mayan calendar, which some of you may know predicts the "end of time" in 2012 (although it is not as simple as that). In shamanic trance there is no time while in the trance, whatever may be happening in the "real" world. Hindu mythology, which is really a collection of small local religions, thinks of the universe as eternally expanding and contracting with time starting again and again over and over. And the rate at which time passes is extremely variable as even most modern Westerns know from their own personal experience.

These paradoxical and difficult to understand qualities of time lead to some interesting propositions. One, that derives from the spiral nature of time, is that as the coils of the spiral wrap around each other they influence the next coil over. One coil would, of course, be the "past"; the other, the "future." Hence, the ability to time travel or make prophecy — and for cosmic creative influences, such as the Beatles, to act as "strange attractors" and to form the conditions prior to their emergence in order that they themselves may manifest. Without the Beatles, we wouldn't have had Elvis Presley. But since the Beatles were the fountainhead, we would have had them whether or not we had the Clash.

The variable nature of time also leads to cultural phenomena such as the considerably faster career arcs of musicians today. The Beatles had almost a decade at the top spread over, what?, half a dozen albums, while the Clash had only a couple of years and a couple of great albums. Of course, those two great albums were actually comprised of five vinyl LPs, so actually time isn't necessarily as varied as all that.

Now, in case you think I'm completely off my rocker, there remains one thing I cannot understand which is, given that music is inherently time-based, how does music operate in this spiral, ever contracting and expanding, pulsing version of time? Perhaps music is, at least in part, an attempt to capture and express this concept of time. After all, time can do strange things when one is listening to music.

Maybe this will all help to explain why I believe the Beatles to be the most underrated band in British history.

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 8:29 pm
by CantSleepClownsWillGetMe


PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 8:53 pm
by Jonathan E.
Note that the title of the topic is The Parallel Universe Game!

Re: The Parallel Universe Game

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 8:58 pm
by Jonathan E.
howard male wrote:So, who wants to play the Parallel Universe Game? Are there really any musical forces that were indispensable to the course popular music has taken in the last half century? Or do you agree with me that music would have - more or less - taken the course it has taken, even if Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, or whoever you'd like to put forward, hadn't ever existed.

Just to play the game Howard's way, yes, I think that those names he mentioned — The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Bob Marley — all influenced and changed the course of popular music in ways that would not have happened if they had not appeared. Beyond the talent, they had the vision.

If it was a Tuesday, I might make the opposing argument.

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 8:59 pm
by Gordon Neill
Clowns blurted:


I think what Jonathan is saying is that, without you saying 'pardon', he would never have said all that stuff about time travel (although there was no mention of what horse is going to win the 3.30 at Epsom).

What I'm trying to consider is: if Howard didn't exist, would we need to invent him?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 9:04 pm
by Jonathan E.
I thought we did. I know I invented somebody recently. Just can't remember who.
Gordon Neill wrote:Clowns blurted:

I think what Jonathan is saying is that, without you saying 'pardon', he would never have said all that stuff about time travel . . .

Correct — and the 3:30 at Epsom will be won by a horse.

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 9:18 pm
by Dayna
Maybe Bob Marley is actually Jacob Marley, who came forward in time from the Victorian Times.

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 9:20 pm
by CantSleepClownsWillGetMe
Clowns blurted:


Sorry about that. I just always wanted to write 'Pardon?' after somebody's really long and involved post.

I'm so ashamed 8-(

But a wimp errs?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 9:28 pm
by Gordon Neill
So, presumably, this thread ends when someone says 'big bang'?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 9:44 pm
by Jonathan E.
Let's try it!

The Clash were the big bang!

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 9:46 pm
by Dayna
Not really. The Ting Tings were supposed to be popular the same time as The Clash, but they were just late for some reason.

PostPosted: Sat Sep 20, 2008 9:49 pm
by Jonathan E.
Err, yes, that's what I meant last Tuesday.