"[I]t can be asked whom music for entertainment still entertains. Rather, it seems to complement the reduction of people to silence, the dying out of speech as expression. the inability to communicate at all. It inhabits the pockets of silence that develop between people molded by anxiety, work and undemanding docility. Everywhere it takes over, unnoticed, the deadly sad role that fell toil in the time and the specific situation of the silent films. It is perceived purely as background. If nobody can any longer speak. then certainly nobody can any longer listen." -- Adorno, 1938.
We have at least two choices when we read a typically mandarin sentiment like this from Adorno. We can focus on the ways in which it is untrue, complaining that it dismisses popular taste in an elitist fashion (which it is and does). Or, we can think about the ways in which it might be true, the aspects of experience that it resonates with. It seems to me that in an era in which we manage the anxiety of possible interaction and ward off conversation by creating an iPod bubble of sound to exist in -- on the Underground, in the streets, on the shopping queue -- there is more than a kernel of truth in what Adorno says. It isn't that music can't entertain, can't give us pleasure -- at least as much pleasure as Adorno's catastrophism does -- but that by using it is a security blanket, a shibboleth to ward off the Other, we might be unconsciously out to destroy our pleasure both in music and conversation.