Friday, November 30, 2012

Muisca 451: A Modest Grant Proposal

An Open Letter to
Mr. Rocco Landesman
Chairman, National Endowment for Arts

Dear Mr. Landesman:

What follows is a sort of rough draft for a NEA grant proposal. Despite my mercenary work as a bookkeeper, I'm actually not that great with numbers, so this is a grant proposal without any dollar figures. This seems apropos to me, given the looming fiscal cliff: It would be truly disheartening to see my pet project gutted along with the national defense, social services, money to keep poor people from freezing to death, etc.

"Experts" claim that the fossil fuel supply is finite and, thus, some day we will hit "peak oil" when our major source of fuel runs out -- I hate to bring up an awkward subject that the CEO of your corporation (the U.S. federal government) and his opponents in the G.O.P. would prefer not to discuss. And the scientists have probably made it all up anyway, as they are wont to do, to keep themselves occupied, since blogging in an of itself is not sufficient to do so. But just humor me.

Each year, the music industry, in both its non-profit and proprietary iterations, expends millions and millions of dollars in producing recordings, electronic broadcasts and podcasts, etc. The old timey crank-it-up phonographs being in short supply today, all of these recordings and broadcasts require electricity. But what will happen to all of this when the (ostensible) peak oil apocalypse occurs? Essentially, music lovers like you and I will be screwed. (Incidentally, I wouldn't put too much stock in that pipe dream they call "clean energy." I don't have a lot of confidence, for example, that scientists will ever come up with a way to convert the sun's rays into energy.)

So here's what we should do: Let's start redirecting our national resources away from the electronic media altogether.  Let's appropriate some grant money for the following projects:

1. Your bio on the NEA website doesn't say whether you read science fiction, but perhaps you'll recall Ray Bradbury's classic book, Fahrenheit 451, a distopic vision of the future, in which books are banned and are subject by law to burning. A secret cadre of subversives living out in the woods -- I know living in the woods is a physical impossibility, but this is, after all, a sci-fi novel -- where they memorize and recite entire books.

Why couldn't we do the same thing with music?  When our electricity is rationed and we can't run all our IPads and hi-fi systems 24-7 anymore, how will we be able to enjoy the world's music? We should pay musicians to memorize all the world's great music. When I was growing up, MTV taught me that even rock music -- well, some of it, at least -- can be rendered with acoustic instruments. I assume the same is true with country music as well, one of your own passions. (Alas, there will be no more Taylor Swift videos when peak oil comes! But her music may live on in the voices of young women for generations to come.)

Classical music (the experts tell me), blues and even jazz have learned to make due without electronic instruments. So let's have our best musicians in all genres allocate some of their practice schedules to memorization so they can make all manner of joyful noises when the end of civilization as we know it arrives.

2. In order to have enough musicians to memorize everything we need to have, well, more and better trained musicians. So we need to spend the money to train them.  And, since all those fancy computers that convert sounds into sheet music won't work without electricity, we also need to teach musicians how to read and write music. I've heard the theory that written music can printed on sheets of paper and even bound in books.  I'm not sure how printing will be possible without electricity, so I'll have to leave that problem for more mechanically minded people to ponder.

3. In the old days, people used to read something called a "newspaper." These newspapers used to have a searchable database of classified advertising that one could access (somehow) without a computer screen or keyboard. Such ads often had listings for used pianos and guitars that people were trying to unload. Well, why couldn't we put some government money toward buying up old musical instruments and reconditioning them and selling them at low cost to the new trained musicians (see no. 2 above)?

4. Finally, I propose we allocate some of this grant for the construction of front porches on houses (assuming anyone can afford to live in them anymore). Let's face it, when the power gets shut off, it's going to be too hot stay inside. So lets build front porches with rocking chairs so people can go out on a hot winter's evening in New England (which the "global warming" mythologists say we'll have to endure) and sing and play Taylor Swift songs on their reconditioned banjos and fiddles.

Your thoughtful consideration would be much appreciated.

Yours truly,
A Fellow Musicphile