Monday, May 24, 2010

The Songs of Present Earth

If there's any one sci-fi novel that'll make you think long after you've finished it, it is Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter's novel The Light of Other Days. I've talked about wormholes and privacy and whatnot in previous posts. This time, I want to bring up Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth. The story takes place on an island archipelago on a planet far from Earth. The colony that has been sent there was chosen, as most colonists are, as the best genetic specimens of our species. With them was a computer database filled with the art and music and literature of mankind. What was left out of the collection was anything that had to do with religion, or mankind's prejudices. Which meant that many works of art had to be left out. Handel's Messiah, for instance. That little caveat, however, is not what I want to focus on. It really is a good book, which I would suggest reading.

We fly around on this ship we call Earth, and the amount of literature and music and art pile up, with fluff and useless pieces of garbage (see Transformers 2) being hailed as important (through people's wallets, anyway) while masterpieces of human creativity are quietly forgotten, to be lost to mankind. Maybe this is my hoarding genetics shining through, but I've always wanted the masterpieces to be kept in the public eye. There are books which I have read which are now out of print and will eventually be forgotten in the landfills of human materialism. Take Christopher by Richard M. Koff. Only kids book he wrote, only one of two period. But it was magnificent. And yet, I wonder how many copies are in Georgia, where I live. Forgotten on bookshelves and discarded from libraries because they haven't seen the light of day. How wonderful it would be to see these books brought to the top of the ocean's current, like an upwelling of water to see the sunlight. Or take Frank Bonham's The Missing Person's League. Yes, it's a little dated, but this 1970's sci-fi novel of environmental disaster and families disappearing was amazing when my 5th grade teacher read it to us some 20 years later. But now it's out of print, and who knows if it'll be reprinted.

In music, we do have some artists who see the brilliance of songwriters from past times and are trying to keep them afloat. In my last blog, I talked about Natalie Merchant's Leave your Sleep. And a few blogs ago, I reviewed David Gray's Thousand Miles Behind. Both of these albums are tributes to the poets and songwriters which came before these two singers. Gray covered tunes from Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Tim Buckley, and others. So many wonderful songs that will simply sink to the bottom of the ocean of material that mankind has made these days. We have to keep those masterpieces alive. To give something to the future colonists so that they know more of the human race than songs by Lady Gaga.

On Fox News last week, Bill O'Riley ran a story about the anniversary of Youtube, and it got me to thinking. Youtube is our database on this ship. It's where we can all look and find supposedly forgotten pieces of our lives brought back to life. Television shows, songs, works of art, pieces of music. It's all there, for whatever purpose we should give it. And sure, some of it is junk. Some of it drives home the most vile of human qualities. The videoed school fights and the pieces showing how utterly despicable we can be, sure, those are on there. Our dirty laundry for the world to see, and we show it proudly, for some reason. It makes no sense. But the truth, as it is presented in such a twisted way, shows also how marvelous mankind can be when it wants to. The exalted are sat side by side with the depraved.

His poll, at the end of the story, was whether or not the viewer thought that Youtube was a good or bad influence on society. Now, of course you can't answer that with a simple yes or no, because it's both. But the positive aspects of the web site far outshine that of the negative. Youtube is, ultimately, a capitalist adventure. They show commercials and run adds just like any other website does. But they also are used heavily by promoters of movies, music, political races, etc... The flip side of Youtube is that, ultimately (and hopefully this won't change, but that's another subject), it's free. People can upload movies, for good or for ill, anytime they want into a public storagehouse for everything that goes on in the human world. It is a true melting pot for mankind. And while the ocean of information keeps growing (Youtube now hosts more space than all of the Internet in 2000, a mere 10 years ago.), the ability to easily find videos, which are linked by keyword to other videos, is amazing. Years from now, when archeologists dig up the remnants of this world, if they still have the Internet (or some equivalent), Youtube would be the greatest time capsule they could ever hope for. It would tell of the human condition, both good and bad, for the whole universe to see.

As an addendum to this blog, I wanted to include links to a couple of the Youtube videos I found. One is David Gray singing Tim Buckley's work "Song to the Siren," from the above mentioned album. The video is a picture with an mp3 file embedded, so it's not necessary to watch it. The second is a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" by Jonathan Coulton. Again, just the lyrics with the mp3 backing. Which is good, because live concert clips don't have the best audio. Maybe not the best representatives of Youtube's millions of posts, but they are masterpiece songs that shouldn't disappear from mankind's database.

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