“Pop (music) belongs to the last century. Classical music is more relevant to the future.” - Paul Morley
English music journalist Paul Morley spent much of the 1970s and 1980s writing for pop music publication New Musical Express. He’s interviewed and written about some of pop music’s most enduring icons including Jerry Garcia, Brian Eno, Lou Reed and, more recently, the likes of Adele and Harry Styles.
A founding member of the synthpop group Art of Noise, Morley is also a broadcaster and has been a band promoter. His latest book is 580 pages all about classical music. It's called A Sound Mind: How I fell in love with classical music (and decided to rewrite its entire history).
"It was a great music scene to discover... I wanted new music to write about and to my surprise I found the new music I was looking for was sometimes centuries old. But it was new to me."
“I think the big thing for me was a) could I ever write about it, which seemed daft as a writer about music for four decades, and b) could I ever interview any classical musicians without feeling intimidated? So I guess I set myself a series of challenges. And the book became the story of those challenges.”
"When I was growing up, classical music was over there and my music was over here and the two things... were somehow separated. Some of the greatest moments in classical music history - and indeed all music history - is where the genres make contact with one another and new hybrids appear. Not awful crossover music, but wonderful music that appears because one thing meets another that maybe shouldn’t have."
"What was elitist about classical music wasn’t necessarily the music itself or the minds of those making the music who were usually revolutionary and radical and experimental, it was the institutions that got embedded around it. The way that they would use it to signify their own specialness. Once you strip that away and get to the real human beings behind the music, that sense of elitism falls away.”
Morley has always been interested in how classical music has managed to adapt over the years.
"Classical music seems to survive all sorts of threats, economic, technological and so on and still keep going. So I thought it had a lot to say to pop and rock and other forms of music about where its future will be.
"I suddenly had this vision that classical music will sound more relevant in the 21st century than a lot of pop and rock, which would date very quickly."
"I think for the next generation it will be interesting, because obviously pop will be as much behind them as classical music is and they will be putting together their music in a very different way. That’s what happened to me. I realised I was listening to music like The Velvet Underground but it was 50 years old, so if I was listening to music that was 50 years old I might as well listen to music that’s 100 years old."
"My idealistic anticipation of music maintaining its meaning is [that] the next generation or two will really find out about classical music without worrying that it isn’t hip… or isn’t fashionable. We live in avant-garde times generally in terms of our daily routines and one way to cope with those pressures is when you’re used to listening to music that is a bit challenging. Great musicians have anticipated strange times and helped you understand how to deal with them."
"Music is a kind of religion. Music is something more than just content, something more than just distraction. It’s obviously a huge help to how we deal with all sorts of personal and world problems."
Paul Morley's Playlist - three pieces that will make you want more classical music
A Sound Mind: How I fell in love with classical music (and decided to rewrite its entire history) is the Book of the Month for March 2021 on Daybreak with Cynthia Morahan. Listen in weekday mornings from 6am on RNZ Concert or enter here.