Although he never played in the Blue Band, ABBA members will recognize the name Victor L. Wooten as a five-time Grammy Award-winning bass player and one of Rolling Stone’s “Top 10 Bassists of All Time.” His latest book THE SPIRIT OF MUSIC is great, if worrisome, an allegory about where Music (with a capital M) is headed.
It is no spoiler to reveal that people wearing headphones are murdering Music here. Wooten frets about how Music has gone from a live, communal event with shared listening; to recordings that still rewarded a group sitting around a record player, sharing liner notes; to a lonely, isolating, deadly headphone-based practice heard by one person. That, Wooten says, is murdering Music.
Music is dying, sold off a single song track at a time rather than being appreciated as a collection of pieces leading to a unified mood or statement. He decries allowing industry to “own” the output of any musician. Imagine selling your children for pennies each, he challenges. Music has gone from being echoed around a café or concert hall to being squeezed through quarter-inch earbuds. Slight breaks in rhythm or tuning are electronically edited out, making Music more an engineered product than a human endeavor. Just as people fret over GMO (genetically modified) foods, Wooten frets over the reduction of Music to a sterile, manufactured product.
The book is a mix of fantasy, road-tripping, and music-based philosophy. As with any gold mine, there is some sifting required to get to the gold. Yet there are plenty of gold nuggets to be found relating to life in general and music in particular. The book is worth reading if, for nothing more, the introductory chapter (called the Prelude) and the fascinating musical numerology and word games he presents in Measures 13, 15, and 17 (he calls chapters measures).
One “measure” offers guidance on improvising and getting in touch with Music rather than simply playing notes (the games he plays with clefs and notes are fun to ponder)…a must-read for students.
The book was published by Vintage Books in February 2021 and available at bookstores, on Amazon, and other outlets.