General Introduction to “The Troubadours & The Beloved” Musical Essay Series

 

As anyone who has heard any of my previous series of musical essays (either for Christmas or New Years) may have noticed, the GS is one of those people who, if they’re going to recognize any of our religious or quasi-religious holidays at all, wants to get past the habitual superficiality of our commercialized holidays and look for a deeper meaning and significance. (This was the reason for the last musical essays recently completed on the mythological basis of our secular New Year commemoration.)

 

So, with the highly commercialized and (as far as our main holidays go) light-weight Valentine’s Day, it’s admittedly a little bit more difficult to find a deeper meaning other than the saccharine hearts-and-flowers ambiance with which we’re so familiar; a day that seems merely a commercial excuse to perpetuate the most sentimentalized aspects of romantic love. Be that as it may, the GS, being the incurable romantic that he is, has tried to see if there was anything of real substance to be found in Valentine’s Day.

 

However, GS must apologize if he gave listeners the wrong impression when, at the end of his last program, he announced his upcoming Valentine’s Day program for this week. I mean, the impression that it was going to be like any other of those rather maudlin Valentine’s Day programs one typically hears, with DJs playing sappy love songs to get couples in the appropriate hearts-and-flowers mood fit for exchanging greeting cards. So, if some listeners got that impression, let the GS rectify it by assuring his audience that this Valentine’s Day program will not—I repeat—will not be one of these. No, this program will take the approach of looking behind our secular Valentine’s Day (just as the GS did his last musical essay, “The New Year & Rebirth in Archaic Myth & Ritual”) and to go back—way, way back—to trace its origins in order to tease out a deeper meaning that touches some forgotten, real amorous nerve (“the high silver nerve” of which Leonard Cohen sings).

 

In this musical essay, then, the GS will attempt the slip this Valentine’s Day program between the programs of the sappy sentimentalists on one side, who narcissistically indulge in fairy-tale notions of love, and programs by the cynical realists on the other, who pride themselves on seeing “romantic love” as nothing but an illusion that hides the animal instinct of pure lust.

 

Admittedly, again, it might be near impossible to not buy into the oversentimentality, replete with chubby little Cupids, that is part and parcel of American Valentine’s Day. Nevertheless, the GS will do his best to avoid such by taking, by and large, a historical, literary, and folklorist perspective on the history of Valentine’s Day, with the goal of discovering a more meaningful concept of romantic love than the commercialized holiday and the entertainment industry allows by way of its pop love songs and run-of-the-mill romantic comedies. In other words, the GS will attempt to reveal a message about romantic love—in all its glory and tragedy—that not only goes beyond the typical Valentine’s Day conception but also situates it in the ontological sphere as serious to human concern as life and death (as in the Romantic myth-theme of “love and death in the Western world”).

 

Concerning the music selected (from traditional to pop, from folk-rock to classic rock and beyond), the GS should point out that there is another purpose for his musical essay for Valentine’s Day (and the musical essays that follow), because the celebration of love is also the celebration of love-in-song, which after all goes back to those famous twelfth-century singer-songwriters of love song, who sang of the joys and sorrows, the heights and depths, of being “in love.” (In the history of Western culture, at least since the Middle Ages, how can one separate romantic love from poetry/song?) I’m talking about the Troubadours and their invention of amor, in what became known as the tradition of cortezia or “courtly love.”

 

Therefore, the purpose of the entire musical essay series will entail tracing the origins of the Western love song back—way, way back—in order to re-vision, along with the notion of romantic love, the secular (and popular) love song. And here we may see that romantic love and its natural expression in song were born simultaneously. This is why it has been said: “The poets and singers of the Troubadour tradition envisioned love as inspiration to song.” Thus, after traveling back to the time of the troubadours—to the Troubadour Courtly Love tradition—the GS will trace love song forward, all the way forward, in time to that special class of singer-songwriters of the Sixties and post-Sixties, in order to reveal an unrecognized continuity of tradition that has escaped, with the exception of one or two, music critics (or, if they only nominally recognize “modern troubadours,” then substantiating such by way of solid connections between the musicians of the twelfth-century and the twentieth). In other words, the GS would recognize an underground artistic/cultural inheritance, a survival of such that inspired the singer-songwriters of that Sixties era, whether they consciously knew this or not. Indeed, the GS will argue that the phenomenon of Sixties folk, folk-rock, and rock counter-culture was a veritable renaissance or rebirth of the twelfth-century troubadour counter-culture. [1]

 

For the sake of this musical essay series, the GS will call this alternative artistic/cultural tradition that of Eros, the pagan god of love (before the Roman Cupid and his contemporary caricature), from which we get our notion of the “erotic” and which in its original formulation was not limited to the strictly sexual. The GS shall argue, then, that (a) the Troubadour phenomenon was a counter-cultural rebirth of the life-principle of union—eros—in the Western world after its long repression due to Christian morality and (b) after centuries of forgetfulness and the repressive Cold War morality of the nineteen-fifties, eros was again to surge up from below and have its day in the music of the Sixties and the “make-love-not-war” ethos that inspired it. (It should be clarified here that in linking Sixties music to that of the twelfth-century Troubadours the GS is doing so solely in terms of cultural inspiration and thematic or ideational content of music, not in terms of musical forms or styles. Admittedly, if one is talking about rock ‘n’ roll, one has to recognize a multiplicity of influences: a combination of African-American genres, such as blues, rhythm and blues, boogie woogie, jazz, and gospel music, together with Celtic [Irish and Scottish] traditional music, Western swing, and country music. Voodoo has even been argued to have influenced rock ‘n’ roll—“the devil’s music” indeed!)

 

In the final analysis, the GS hopes that the scope of this musical essay series, in searching out the origins and historical trajectory romantic love (fin’amor, or “refined love,” as the troubadours called it), will show that this new invention of the heart though centered in romantic love is not limited to the amorous relationship of a couple but had, at the beginning of the second millennium, profound implications on a much wider scale; i.e., the sociological, the philosophical, the psychological, and the spiritual spheres of life—reflecting profound changes that were taking place in medieval, Christian culture. Indeed, to some medievalists, this amounted to a veritable revolution of values (“turning the world upside down”) not only in the gender relations of men and women but also for the entire medieval world. This is why the troubadours played a big part in what some medieval historians are now calling “The Twelfth-century Renaissance.”   

 

 

Gypsy Scholar

February 14, 2016

 

 

  



[1] I should note here that the GS uses “counter-culture” not in the popular sense of the term, but in technical sense literary historian and theoretician Edward Said means by it.  He writes of a repressed alternative tradition that emerges to “subvert, and up-end received wisdom; they are counter-histories written against the grain of self-contained traditions.”

 

“… in addition to the mainstream or official culture, there are dissenting or alternative, unorthodox, heterodox, strands that contain many anti-authoritarian themes in them that are in competition with the official culture. These can be called the counter-culture, an ensemble of practices associated with various kinds of outsiders, the poor, immigrants, artistic Bohemians, workers, rebels, artists. From the counter-culture comes the critique of authority and attacks on what is official and orthodox. No culture is understandable without some sense of this ever-present source of creative provocation from the unofficial to the official.” (Said, “The Myth of ‘Clash of Civilizations’”)