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  • Late Capitalism on VinylNeoliberalism, Biopolitics, and Music
  • Jeffrey R. Di Leo (bio)

Without music, life would be an error.

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Music has an incredible power over life. For some, music reveals this power through its ability to move our bodies and inspire our minds. Who cannot resist moving their hips when Chubby Checker asks us to do the twist? Or does not feel intellectually uplifted when listening to the music of J. S. Bach? Or politically committed and socially engaged when listening to Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" (1976), N.W.A's "Fuck Tha Police" (1988), or Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" (1990)?

For others, though, the connection between music and life is far stronger than mere affect. For people like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Miles Davis, a case might be made that "music is life." Not just in the sense that their lives were consumed with making music but also something far stronger, namely, [End Page 107] that for each of them, "there is no life outside of music." Understanding what these two complementary statements might mean involves a consideration about the relations not just between life and music but also death and music. It also opens up a related question: What is the capacity of music to "foster life" and to "disallow it to the point of death"?

The composer of over 600 works, including many of the most well-known and revered works of classical symphonic, operatic, concertante, choral, and chamber music, Mozart was a musical prodigy. Though he died at the age of 35, almost all of these years involved musical composition in some form or another. For Mozart, it seems fair to say, music was his life.

As a three-year-old, he watched his seven-year-old sister, Nannerl, take keyboard lessons with their father. After her brother's death, Nannerl reflected on Wolfgang's early interest in music. "He often spent much time at the clavier, picking out thirds, which he was ever striking, and his pleasure showed that it sounded good." "In the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier.…He could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time.… At the age of five, he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down" (Deutsch 1965, 455). In short, his brief life from his earliest years of age was completely consumed with music and its composition.

Though Miles Davis, like Mozart, had a parent who played violin and keyboard, Cleota Henry Davis was not a composer or an experienced music teacher like Leopold Mozart (Davis 1989, 14). Davis says in his autobiography that "the first time I really paid attention to music was when I used to listen to a radio show called 'Harlem Rhythms.'" He "was about seven or eight" at the time, and then "when I was nine or ten I started taking some private music lessons" (28). Like Mozart, though, music was Davis's life.

"When I got into music I went all the way into music; I didn't have no time after that for nothing else" (Davis 1989, 29). "By the time I was twelve," says Davis, "music had become the most important thing in my life" (1989, 30). Though for a five-year period from 1975 to early 1980 Davis didn't pick up his horn even once, his life, like Mozart's, was devoted to music. "I had been [End Page 108] involved in music continuously since I was twelve or thirteen years old," comments Davis about his musical hiatus (Davis 1989, 333).

It was all I thought about, all I lived for, all I completely loved. I had been obsessed with it for thirty-six or thirty-seven straight years, and at forty-nine years of age, I needed a break from it, needed another perspective on everything I was doing to make a clean start and pull my life back together again. I wanted to play music, but I wanted to play in big halls all the time...


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