27 June 2009

Another "great man" joins the throng

Though I always tend to think of it in a politicoeconomic context, the "great man" theory of history is a tough weed which can grow anywhere. One might think, from many accounts, that there would be no calculus without Newton, evolution without Darwin. Despite my admiration for the achievements of those figures, I doubt that their fields would have withered on the vine if they had not been born ... someone else, or several someone elses, would have come along. Leibniz, in fact did come along in the case of calculus; Russell for evolution; but even they were not necessary. The development of ideas had in each case reached the point where it was inevitable that calculus and and a theory of evolution would sooner or later emerge.

So it is in western popular music. I grew upon the myth that Elvis Presley had single handedly taken it by the throat and dragged it into a track where it wouldn't otherwise have gone. Later, the Beatles gained the same mythic status. Don Mclean dubbed Buddy Holly's death "the day the music died". I have no feelings one way or another about Presley or Holly; I enjoyed McLean's song, and was a Beatles fan in my day; but all of them rode a wave of the time rather than creating it.

Now, with the death of Michael Jackson, we repeatedly (five times in half an hour, yesterday evening) hear an American fan describe this too as "the day the music died". Not having ever been much affected by his work, I'm in no position to judge whether he was as great as everyone is saying he was; but I can see that he is already being installed as the latest "great man", and being credited with the same single handed paradigm shifting status. While rejecting that mythologising, I hope that he is remembered for his music (whatever its quality) and not for the freak show media circus around his life and lifestyle.

No comments: