My students, like Allan Bloom’s, live inside music. Their musical lives may well be their spiritual lives. It is hard to say, because they don’t talk about music very eagerly. In class I can get a conversation going about God with no problem. And students love talking about alcohol and its effects on the human mind and spirit, theirs in particular. A conversation about sex is easy to start and quickly goes way further than I’d imagine—and sometimes further than I want. But try asking about music.
Students listen to it for hours a day. They trot around the university grounds with headphones on; they plug into their tunes when they sit at their computers. Music, usually rap, is the iron-hard heart of their parties. There is surely a competition, at least among English-major types, about who listens to the most recondite bands. Sometimes students name them in discussions: the Fruit Bats, the Shins (now no longer obscure), Fatkid Dodgeball, Pimp the Cat, Full Throttle Aristotle, Disgruntled Sherpa Project. I sometimes make up a few myself and throw them into the mix.
But when I ask what role music plays in their lives or why they listen to what they do, there is silence. When I tell them what Plato had to say about music and that he’d disapprove of almost everything they listen to for being far too raucous, far too stirring, far too close to anarchy, they bristle and tell me that Plato is wrong. I ask them if listening to hard-core rap might influence their attitudes toward sex and money—major themes in rap, of course. They tell me that I’m being silly—which to me is a little like saying that the food you eat has nothing to do with how your body feels and how it functions.