I wrote previously about the music of Brian Wilson: that he’d chosen to make something gentle and peaceful, rather than something that simply reflected the pain and struggle of his own experience. I like that choice. It is quite a hard one to bring off without lapsing into sentimentality (though in my opinion Wilson’s music succeeds in this), but I think sometimes an anxiety to avoid sentimentality can lead to a kind of unremitting grimness which affects to being tough and gritty, but is really just sentimentality in reverse. (This is an age in which you can go to an art gallery and look at cans of shit, and pickled corpses, and children with penises instead of faces, as if the function of art was to rub our noses in horrible things).
Kurt Vonnegut wrote (I’m not sure where) that artists could help to prevent nuclear Armageddon, not by preaching, but by making life feel a little more worth living. He thought that a lot of people secretly longed for their lives to end, and therefore had no real interest in trying not to have a nuclear war. Art (pompous word, but I can’t for the moment think of another) in this conception of it, is not there just to reflect the world, or to comment on it, but to add something to it.
Brian Wilson is not an articulate man, but he often speaks about trying to put love into his music. And come to think of it, my objection to those cans of shit (and their equivalents in writing) is not their grimness as such, but their lovelessness.