I had a task to write a two-person dialogue about music. This is what I ended up with:
Person A: It must have been something to live in Manhattan in the 1970s.
Person B: What, with all the gangs and blackouts and street crime? Must have been something, yeah.
Person A: Well, okay — but the music scene. CBGBs. All of the punk and post-punk and New Wave, it all came through there.
Person B: Right, there’s that. I guess it makes sense that all the pain and poverty and chaos and whatever would turn into some groundbreaking art.
Person A: Yeah, art in general. There was Warhol and Studio 54 and everything. The night life basically came out of this whole scene — everything we think of with dance clubs, and everything that came out of that.
Person B: Sure, I get you. But actually living there —
Person A: Well, let’s forget the practicalities and live in the glamour for a moment. You’re right, there’s a direct tie between the chaos and the art.
Person B: There usually is.
Person A: I know, but specifically. Like, the black-out, it meant all these impoverished people grabbed all this cutting-edge electronic equipment and used it to invent hip-hop.
Person B: That… is interesting. I mean, it makes some sense, if you think about what hip-hop is — it’s all of these borrowed pieces stitched together, I guess, like the equipment that it was made on.
Person A: Exactly — everything has its context, and is inextricably a part of it. That’s the trade-off you get: live in boring times, and there’s nothing to act against, except maybe that tedium.
Person B: Makes you wonder, then, why so much dark metal comes out of, like, Sweden and Norway. Don’t they have the strongest social safety nets in the world, or thereabouts?
Person A: Yeah, I guess it’s just a lack of sunlight. Everyone’s depressed up there; it’s like heart disease in the States.
Person B: Thinking about it, how far back does this go? The blues were pretty obviously created in response to their environment…
Person A: See, yeah, and that shows a point as to why so much music comes out of black America — it’s such a unique cesspool of inequity and horror that they’ve got to create some damned strong art to keep their heads up at all.
Person B: This is making me sort of uncomfortable to talk about.
Person A: It should! Just about any music with a beat that you or I enjoy is a result of cultural appropriation. We took their bodies, their labor, their wealth, their dignity — and finally their culture that they use to cope with all of our abuse.
Person B: Man, I, uh.
Person A: I know. But, we can’t help the world we’re born into; it just helps to understand what we’re working with and why it’s there, if we want to do any better with what we’ve been given.
Person B: I guess, yeah, there’s lots of raw material sitting around now to make something beautiful. I wonder if there’s any way to repay the debt, though.