Musical theft periodically makes for sensational news. One band accuses the other of blindly stealing its hit melody. But what about art whose meaning primarily derives from reference to other works? This is a common aesthetic of our time, but it was already established around the turn of the 20th century with composers like Gustav Mahler and Charles Ives. In my Mahler series, this question always makes for stimulating discussion. What are the implications, resonances, meanings of musical theft?
Inspired by the acclaimed paintings of New York “psychological pop” artist Jerry Kearns, Paleface explores the persistence of the American hero myth, even as it breaks down on every level in our contemporary society. It begins with the Western cowboy mythos— horses, cowboys, folk songs and church hymns (Jesus plays a lurking role in the piece), even a gun fight. Then it jumps to the varied 20th century heroes who struggle and triumph over dark forces—detectives from pulp comics and film noir, the secret agent, and the muscled action hero. Paleface concludes with all these icons now as phantoms, struggling in the night to cohere and make sense of a world they no longer can possibly describe. They ultimately all go to church and fade away to a ghost gospel choir.