I was very disappointed with Bill Dobbins and his comments on popular music ("Keeping his Standards," December 4). Mr. Dobbins seems to feel that everything before 1940 is good, and everything after is bad.
Stevie Wonder, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman: These are just a few of the hundreds of great songwriters who've done their work since 1940. If Mr. Dobbins is so enamored of Duke Ellington, perhaps he should remember Mr. Ellington's dictum: "There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind." If Mr. Dobbins can honestly listen to the work of the composers mentioned above and lump it into the latter category, then I feel sorry for his students at Eastman.
Clarence Washington, Flanders Street, Rochester
For love of music
Often when people fall in love with a particular style of music or art or literature, they have a tendency to (unfairly) judge other styles based on the features that make their style what it is. A great example of this type of judgment can be found in City's interview with Bill Dobbins ("Keeping his Standards," December 4).
Singing the praises of Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Alec Wilder, and (albeit a few things by) Stephen Sondheim is one thing. (In fact, it's a great thing; they all deserve many kind words.) However, speaking poorly about the Beatles' harmonic sense, rock 'n' roll and r&b's "simplicity," Herbie Hancock's attempt to bring more modern pop music into his already vast repertoire, and Coltrane's exploration of various styles of music is another thing entirely.
Through all of his talk of "musical objectivity," Mr. Dobbins seems to forget that music means different things to different people; that the music of the Beatles or Peter Gabriel or Don Henly or Stevie Wonder or Prince or Kurt Cobain (all of whose compositions are represented on Herbie Hancock's "The New Standard") can be, and is, very powerful to many people (including myself and many other Eastman students) who could care less how many chords are involved.
There is a very simplistic, and consequently easy to digest, view of music that professes that it contains three elements: melody, rhythm, and harmony. I would argue that there is more to music than that; however, the other aspects are less tangible and therefore get swept under the rug of the academic who tries to keep things as neat and tidy as possible.
Texture, emotion, intensity, social comment, silence, orchestration: these pervade such fantastic recordings as Peter Brotzmann's Fuck De Boere, John Cage's Indeterminacy, Frank Zappa's We're Only in It for the Money, Steve Reich's "Come Out," The ICP Orchestra's Oh, My Dog, Bob Ostertag's All The Rage, John Oswald's Plunderphonics, De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, Mats Gustafsson's Impropositions --- the list goes on.
Unfortunately for all who wish to make things easy, these recordings cannot be compared with each other without understanding from where and by whom they were created. It would certainly be in bad form to make judgments about the quality of these recordings from the perspective of "The Great American Songbook." They are not worse or better, just different.
If you hear some music that doesn't appeal to you right away, ask someone who takes pleasure in listening to that style what about it appeals to them. If you still don't like what you hear, by all means dismiss it if you wish (realizing that other people enjoy it), and listen to something else, or better yet, put out your own record. Music is truly subjective and it stands a better chance of lasting and growing if it stays that way.
Josh Rutner, Rochester (Rutner is a senior at the Eastman School of Music)
Hey, Jack Doyle! Did you not expect a reaction when you uttered that filth? And... uh, Jack: what color is Republican? I don't think anyone is to blame but you; you said it, and you knew that it was subject to inference, whether you meant it or not.
Read my lips, Jack: I want to hear you make your statement accurate in more than five sentences. How are you going to get Monroe County to believe that it is not a racially charged statement? Step up, Sunshine, and make me think that we do not have a Trent Lott in our midst.
Tom Catalano, Rochester
Fear and feeling
I'm well into my 40s and have lived through the bra-burning years in New York City, the years of hunching and covering my breasts with baggy clothes because I happen to have a D-cup breast on a petite frame and couldn't handle the male stares, and the pain and joy of breast-feeding two babies.
Through it all, I loved and hated my breasts just as I have loved and hated the rest of my body. Why? Because this crazy culture of ours is so hung up on attitudes of female perfection, sex, and emotional expression, and I fell right into the deep well of it all.
The reason people found your cover art so distressing? I think it is essentially because we're all so hungry for life, but so darn afraid to taste of it. Our bodies are just a means to express and experience each other and all of life. If we accept our bodies and other peoples' bodies, that makes us "feel," and then we're vulnerable. And, lord, no, we don't want to be vulnerable!
Finally, after all these years, I'm comfortable enough with myself to acknowledge that I have needs and fears and am closer than ever to viewing my body honestly and welcoming others to do so as well. I say I am closer, because I still have a way to go.
In my growth toward fuller self-acceptance (which goes hand in hand with acceptance of others, of course), I recently discovered running and the wonderful things that does for my body. Lo and behold: The breasts aren't quite as plump as they used to be. What a shock! And sadly for me, I have considered regaining fat in order to make my breasts huge again, but I take some comfort in the fact that I still fit into my D-cup bras!
Gosh... when will I grow up?
Thanks for City! It's the best.
Jean Sica-Lieber, Manorshire Drive, Fairport
Maybe it's the liberal in me, but I usually cringe when I see the conservative label broadly applied to this community, as City editor Mary Anna Towler did in her column on reader reaction to the November 27 story on women's breasts ("Why We Ran that Cover," December 11).
Towler suggested that one of the reasons City took some flak for putting a shot of a woman's bare breasts on the cover is that this is a conservative county in a conservative region of the state. The inference, to me at least, is that Rochester is more conservative, and more uptight about public displays of bare breasts, than the rest of New York State. I don't know about that. Once you get out of Greenwich Village and some other sections of Manhattan and Brooklyn, where are the liberal areas of New York State, other than maybe Ithaca or Woodstock?
Westchester County and Long Island, which are as close as you'll get to New York City unless you're across the river in New Jersey, are bastions of conservatism. I'd bet City's cover would have drawn heat in many parts of New York City.
It pains me to even think about this, but outside of a few oases, such as San Francisco and some college towns, there's slim pickins when it comes to liberal communities in America. As with most things in life, it's all relative, and as a native Rochesterian who moved back home after living in Ohio and Virginia for nearly 15 years, I see at worst a moderate community out my front window.
Rochester no doubt at one time deserved the Smugtown label that the late newspaperman Curt Gerling gave it, but I don't think that is so true anymore. There are many freethinkers in this community and many examples of progressiveness:
A strong, long-standing spirit of neighborhood; community and social activism in many areas; Rochester City Councilman Tim Mains as the first openly gay elected public official in New York State; a sizable, highly visible, and active gay and lesbian community; the community's embrace of Father Jim Callan and the Rev. Mary Ramerman of Spiritus Christi church after their break from Corpus Christi Church; the All May Freely Serve movement that began here after Presbyterian Church officials rejected Downtown United Presbyterian Church's decision to hire lesbian Pastor Jane Spahr; a marvelously diverse and rich art and cultural community; and on and on.
I also wouldn't accept the negative feedback on the breast cover as indicative of the prevailing public attitude. Feedback in any business usually is negative. People generally take the time to call or write only when they want to complain. That, love it or leave it, is human nature. Probably even in San Francisco.
Richard Zitrin, South Goodman Street, Rochester
What's all this stuff about breasts? I though the article was about people's attitudes!
Jeff Marinelli, Chapin Street, Canandaigua
Has anybody else had it up to here with the mainstreaming of vulgarity? I'm not suggesting censorship; I'm talking about the constant, in-your-face sounds and images that contaminate the common marketplace, the areas that should be the wide, peaceful waters of most people's everyday lives. I'm talking about everything from the sex-silly stupidity of Cosmopolitan covers to the grating excess of profanity in movies that might otherwise be good. I'm talking about the loud-mouthed rap screaming at you from passing cars and the stomach-turning nonsense of shock radio and television.
The no-holds-barred permissiveness of American "pop culture" ensures the bombardment of sights and sounds that, although they have a right to exist, should not have the right to saturate the general, daily environment.
Even hardcore pornography has a certain integrity. It doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is --- pure sex --- and it confines itself to spaces not easily trod by the person not looking for it. If you want it, you should be able to get it. If you don't want it, you should not have it blasted in your face at every turn.
America's right to free speech has become America's right to be ugly. I have to remind myself constantly that America is infinitely more than what is seen in its cheapest displays --- sex pandering, trashy manners, foul-mouthed arrogance.
Not long ago, I was on a bus where one of the passengers was wearing a T-shirt that prominently displayed the F word. The First Amendment allowed this young man to wear his obnoxious shirt in public. To this day, I am angry with myself for not exercising my own right to tell the smirky young punk what I thought of him and his doltish shirt.
The point is, don't put up with it. Get angry. This is your space, too. I have my own version of this idea posted on my bulletin board at work. It reads:
Do two things every chance you get: 1) Thank God for our precious freedom of speech. 2) Speak out against the offenses and stupidities permitted in its name.
Harold Jewell, Alexander Street, Rochester