A morbid obsession with three preludes

Tomorrow is the twentieth anniversary of the murderous air attack on the World Trade Center in New York, . Whatever its moral grounding, the attack marked the beginning of America’s deposition from its central hegemony. It is an awesome unfolding.

Reflection occurs on many levels, not all of them conscious. Like Romans and Britons before, we find ourselves pondering “how could anything so big and self-assured have ever entered into such a fall? And as often happens to melancholics, our mourning takes musical form, an endless looping of George Gershwin‘s Three Preludes. [1]

It was Gershwin’s genius to effortlessly combine so many forms-jazz, ragtime, blues and more into instant, easily accessible bites. Which, because of their popular nature were rooted in the culture-moral, industrial, geographical-from which they grew. The Gershwin years of the 1920s and 1930s were marked by the United States of America as the only viable way of organising a modern state. To listen to the Preludes is to ride again by echo as this power still burgeoned. Through the modern canyons of New York, the vast factories of the midwest and the immense agricultural and mineral wealth of the hinterland, All looked to the US in technology clothes, transport, architecture, films, and music. You will see it still in the paintings of Edward Hopper,[2] Hollywood films, and the great book of its architecture. But the soundtrack above all was Gershwin’s.

Now that time is passing, as all things do. We leave the analysis of all this to wiser heads. But we feel a nostalgia for the passing age of Demos, the Common Man (and woman). Sinister new Imperiums lurk menacingly in the offing. They will have little time for the tender sensibilities of University Professors, Merchants, lawyers and all the other layers in the comfortable classes of the West. Listen, then, one more time to a close but vanished age. Then think about your future- very hard indeed.

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