Bonny Sweet Robin
Well, in a rock context, people will react in a rock kind of way, either if they’re standing up, they want to be moved with a back beat and a rhythm. In an art context the music is apprehended more analytically. Things kind of changed. Back then in the 70s, all these things were starting to get mixed up. A key phrase that one composer after another told me in the early to mid 70s was “We wanted to make music — that’s rigorous yet accessible,” precisely because by the end of the 60s, music had gotten so inaccessible, to the extent that a composer like Milton Babbitt, a fine composer, an American composer, could write an article in the New York Times or have an article written about him perhaps, I don’t remember, entitled “Who cares if you understand?”1
The music had gotten so complex that a famous quote attributed to the fine composer Charles Wuorinen — and I don’t think he said this, but it sounds like him. That the actual performance of the piece is an unfortunate necessity, where — music had become practically a platonic thing existing in an ethereal world. And, again, to apprehend it you had to either have your master’s degree in music or be in love with someone who had one. In order to — I mean things had gotten so intellectual.2 And then we had composers like La Monte and Terry Riley, and Tony Conrad. And then after them, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Charlemagne, that made the music rigorous yet accessible. And this is something we were all striving to do back then.
And with my generation of composers, which was after the ones I have just mentioned. What we decided to do was, well, why not, let’s — we like rock and roll. That’s what we’re listening on our record players all the time. We’re composers. Why shouldn’t we work with this music ourselves in the way that a composer from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, Giles Farnaby did Bonny Sweet Robin, coming from a folk tune that everybody knew at the time. And in a way we were doing the same kind of thing, in Stravinsky’s music we hear this, and in this one and that one. Bartok of course.
But integrating it and going perhaps more deeply into it than these other composers because we were playing the music in the actual places. I mean Peter, Joe and me were playing at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.