Davis: Art just doesn't mean what it used to mean

Jazz makes everything a little bit better.

Listen to some jazz next time you're walking down the street and you'll feel like a fellow in a pinstripe suit and tilted fedora.

Listen to some jazz while having a drink and you'll be back in a speakeasy telling your troubles to the barman.

In fact, listen to some jazz and you'll be in the '20s whether you like it or not.

I was listening to some jazz the other day - Duke Ellington, in case you were curious. There's only one way to listen to jazz, of course: on a turntable. Or possibly on an iPod, as long as the iPod track was recorded off of a turntable. All this polished, re-mastered, scritch-scratch free music is just so much dross. A turntable lends character; lends its own beat to the music. It's very important.

So I dropped the needle and after a few seconds' scratching I heard the sweet trumpets come slipping out of the speakers, melting through the air like butter on toast. My God, I thought, jazz is sweet.

When the Duke was done melting the speakers into a shiny miasma of happiness, I was in quite another mood and threw Tommy on the turntable and let The Who berate my eardrums for an hour or so. When all was said and done, I smoked a cigar.

Standing outside, my back to the wind in the dark, a tiny ember illuminating the world just in front of my lips, this thought came like a flash, like a vision, burnt across the clouds: We don't have anything like that anymore. And it's sad.

I haven't heard anything in a long while that actually touches something like a nerve or clouds my eyes with visions of a huge trumpet playing black man in a cabaret somewhere. Nothing that's come out recently has had the miniscule errors that make something Art. We certainly call it art, because it's made by artists, because we cannot call them what they are. Not anymore. Most of the people with recording deals today are entertainers. They make money. They entertain.

Don't get me wrong: I love going to the Inn Between and dancing to some song or another with a persistent beat. But let's face it, you could bring in a guy with a drum and he could do 90 percent of those songs just by changing the tempo.

I'm not saying art has gone from music, I'm just saying it's lost its grit. We've lost the whiskey-soaked, smoke-lunged guitarists, and the LSD-laced lyrics of the Englishmen with bowl haircuts. We try to make art without problems.

I'm an English major. My bread and butter is the study of screwed-up people. There has never, I'm convinced, in the history of the world, been a real artist who was well-adjusted and vice free. There have been copasetic entertainers and there have been watered down writers, but everyone who's created art has been messed up somehow.

My point: Those who want to be artists need to accept two things. You need to have vices and you're probably going to have a hard life. Those who want to appreciate art need to accept the fact that their benefactors will be ruined people. We need more scratchy records and less polished entertainers.

Aaron Davis is a sophomore English major who likes sin and vice, as long as it's productive.