Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pat Metheny * Zero Tolerance for Silence



Pat Metheny, guitars * December 16, 1992


Some people don't want to eat their musical vegetables. They consider music only a dessert on the buffet table of the arts, and because Zero Tolerance is no twinkie they reject it. Because of this, the album has slipped out of print, condemned by critics and fans alike.

But for those who have the courage to listen to music which pushes back; music which provides a type of psychological and spiritual resistance to our fast-food culture, this album is essential.

This music was born in a time of reductionist destruction. Grinding guitars and grunge appropriations of '60s pop music was dominating the charts, and a generally cynical and sinister take on our society was exploding on the alt-rock scene. Disturbing as the music and poetic of Kurt Cobain (and those of his milieu) was, it was important for at least one indispensable reason: it warned us as a society that we weren't as clean, guiltless, and virtuous as we might like to pretend we are.

In the face of this, what was a great musician like Pat Metheny to do? Ignore it all? Deny the obvious sonic criticism that was shaking our musical culture? A true artist can't ignore what he hears around him. I believe Pat Metheny's answer was Zero Tolerance for Silence.


Zero Tolerance can seem like an aural endurance test, and in a way it is. The haunting, institutional light that dangles on it's cover seems to fritz away at us, in a holding pen or interrogation chamber. And the music will indeed try to get a confession out of us. But this is music with profound shape and direction--and that direction, which seems to take us through a type of destructive experience, is ultimately positive. Zero Tolerance is ultimately a massive, hopeful piece, and a valuable precursor to Metheny's later magnum opus, The Way Up. Its message suggests that even if we get hit by a tremendous, seemingly relentless blow, we can still stagger back out into the daylight, put one foot slowly in front of the other, and rebuild.

There will always be listeners who like the "London" Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams, but who find his F minor Symphony "too disturbing." There are those who prefer Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, but "can't handle" Mozart's Requiem. Some people love the Firebird and wish Stravinsky had never written Rite of Spring.

Zero Tolerance for Silence is America's F minor symphony, and just as revolutionary. In 1934, Ralph Vaughan Williams shocked his listening audience, who expected more pastoral grace and expressions of musical peace, by producing a symphony of violence and warning--ending with a shocking buildup of tension and the orchestra slamming the argument closed like a door. Zero Tolerance is as shocking as RVW's symphony, and with as unexpected an end result--a staggering, hopeful (if injured) working forward. We should be grateful for it. Get a copy while you still can--they aren't going to be around much longer.

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