Radio 3 is one of the great institutions of England- this evening I was listening to a great program on Miles Davis. They were discussing Davis's Carnegie Hall concerts in 1962. One anecdote though interested me in a more than musical sense- amongst my many failings is that I do not understand music as much as I should- and that was that it was often incredibly difficult to get Davis to record anything. The point was not that Davis abjured publicity- if your profession is playing instruments in front of people, you can't be shy! But that his concentration was on the music and not on the crowd around him, or notionally around him at their gramophones and in their houses.
Its an interesting thing- and I suppose constitutes a really important question that we often lose sight of. There are a hierarchy of pleasures. Davis felt them in the right way- music first and then publicity. Others today seem to feel them in another way round- with publicity and fame overtaking the pleasure of making music- the far end from Davis is populated by someone like Paris Hilton whose interest in music is purely notional. The question that we have to think about is whether its worth assigning a value to what someone feels as the keener pleasure: is a civil servant's joy in his job as praiseworthy if he enjoys analytical argument, working for the public or the money and security. Its probable that he will enjoy all three- but the hierarchy that he sets between them tells you a lot about his priorities in life.
And that really is the point here- the reason why we can condemn Hilton and exalt Davis is not merely their respective musical skills but also their sense of what is important in life. Fame is ultimately something that whilst attractive is meaningless and fuels competition and a desire for further acquisition. It is in that sense very similar to money- it is a good which is emulative- I know I am famous if I am more known than x, I know I am rich if I am richer than my friends (the great example of that principle recently was Alex on the apprentice who said he was successful because he was more successful than those he knew!) The point is that emulation is a natural and productive desire- but it is hard to think of it as a morally good desire. Contrast that to a passion for something- when I am passionate about something I seek out those who are also passionate and, though partly I wish to be known as 'the' expert, partly also I want to have someone to share my love. As love is a good, and it drives the passion- for history, cars, wine, football, dresses or jazz- and makes the passion an instrument to the creation of friendship so is the pursuit of the passion a good. That is why ultimately the musician who cares more for the music or as much for the music as s/he cares for the fame, is preferable to the musician who cares more for the fame than for the tunes.