Plato to Domino

It’s been exactly five years since this “blog” began. So I thought I’d mark the occasion with an unlikely pairing – Plato and “Fats” Domino, the latter arguably the earliest pioneer of what we have come to recognize as rock ‘n roll.

Eldridge Cleaver or somebody said that, with rock, the blacks gave the middle class whites back their bodies, put their minds and bodies into it. – John Lennon

Music Making History: “Africa Meets Europe in the United States of the Blues” by William L. Benzon

I don’t think we are dealing with a simple matter of rejecting sexuality. It is a more pervasive rejection of the body. Consider:

Even the greatest Western music, on the order of Bach and Mozart and Beethoven, was spiritual rather than physical. The mind-body split that defined Western culture was in its music as well. When you felt transported by Mozart of Brahms, it wasn’t your body that was transported. The sensation often described is a body yearning to follow where its spirit has gone . . . The classical dance that grew from this music had a stiff, straight back and moved in almost geometrical lines. The folk dances of the West were also physically contained, with linear gestures. The feet might move with wonderful flurries and intricate precision, but the hips and spine were kept rigid. (Ventura, 1987b, p. 86)

The liveliest dances of Beethoven’s last quartets no longer incite the feet to dance. Instead, the “heart inside dances.” Beethoven found a new way of uncoupling the motoric output from the expression of essentic form by allowing inner forms to dance without corresponding motor outputs. . . . In his music the meaning of essentic form appears no longer as a communication directed at motoric outward expression. (Clynes, 1977, p. 85)

Ventura, writing an account of the migration of musical techniques from West African ritual to contemporary rock and roll, makes a more sweeping statement than Clynes, but they move in a similar direction. Classical music is somehow decoupled from the body, while African-American music is not.