Something I just wrote,
won’t bother linking it here (anyone following the inside-everywhere-baseball of the last 48 hrs of semi-drama should check out the thread again now that everyone’s cooled off a bit):
To me rock criticism has the opposite problem [of academic fields that continue asking the same questions through research and scholarship]; there are tons of great insights and ideas, lots of intellectuals contributing various bits of knew knowledge; and these people often come from strange places and can be wildly interdisciplinary. Some of the best books and pieces on music I’ve ever read come from neurobiology, history, musicology, media and cultural studies, journalism, network theory, [and fan boards, conversations, comment threads,] and fiction. Over time, the isolation of all of these voices and ideas takes its toll on the field, which, especially in a time when funding is being systematically slashed and academic silos get paranoid about letting outsiders in, feels disparate and unsatisfying, despite its bright spots.
I think this better highlights what I’ve been thinking about lately. The reason I’m thinking about it so much, in full disclosure, is that I’m making decisions about where I can and should use what effort I make to talk about cool things with other people. It doesn’t have to be here, doesn’t have to be music.
Realistically, I’ll probably follow in the footsteps of plenty of other people who started in music and moved away from it, which is to post less, and when I do be particularly crappy at following up on what I do post. (I’ve already been doing it in the past two years — anyone put off by my sometimes exasperating persistence and poking in the last couple days probably wasn’t following me in 2006-7.) Maybe fewer posts will be better quality overall. Maybe I’ll combine interests, and when I’m writing about “that,” I’ll also be writing about this.
There’s some promise in music and music criticism that I’ve never found anywhere else — if life is full of (to quote the poet Homer) dizzying highs, terrifying lows, and creamy middles, most academic research and conversations strike me as aspiring to creamy middles and the identification of other people’s terrifying lows. Music itself (with or without formal music criticism) offers the kinds of dizzying highs that I don’t tend to get (consistently) elsewhere. And I can also find those highs in music criticism, both formal and informal, in very unexpected places, whereas (for instance) it’s difficult for me to overlook the poor writing in a grocery store paperback to teach me something meaningful. (When my dad decided to stop “keeping up” with literature outside of his own field, which is software engineering, he bought hundreds and hundreds of these paperbacks specifically for the purpose of not thinking much about them.)
Anything should theoretically be able to surprise me with poetry and depth and insight, not that it necessarily will. But in practice, it’s music that keeps doing it, despite my professional interests elsewhere. And I think similarly, music criticism — and here I’m defining music criticism broadly enough to encompass Beliebers and kids I work with and professional critics and strangers I overhear on the street, something you do rather than something you (just) are — can hit many of those highs. (Perhaps the strong visceral/analytical connections in listening to music makes it hard, or impossible, to separate the two in how we write and talk about music, too.) I keep hanging out with music critics because there’s a lot of MUSIC there. (Sometimes in the words, but at least always in the music.)
Jonathan Bogart: “Like any game, when any particular instance is no longer fun for you — when you get hurt, or you feel like you’re getting too old for it, or you can’t find a way to support yourself and keep playing at the same time, or you just want to do something else for a while — you stop playing. And the people who have decided that the game is actually a serious intellectual pursuit complain that nobody wants to keep playing after other people have concluded their campaigns, after all the yes-ands have turned to no-buts.”
I reject the idea that the “game” can be turned off or opted out of any more than life can be turned off or opted out of. That’s defining “music criticism” way too narrowly. When you listen to music, you’re in conversation with it, the yes-ands are happening; the no-buts are happening. Even when you’re alone, you’re in conversation — with yourself, with imagined others, with the people and the sounds and the ideas around you, or in your head. “Intellectual work,” let’s just call it analysis, isn’t a negotiable part of experiencing music, for anyone, ever. The effort to make sense of that work, and to remember the work, and return to it, and go out of your way to challenge it, is hard (if it isn’t hard, I’m usually suspicious of it, even though an easy solution to something isn’t unheard of). It’s just as hard for the kid who wants to figure out why Alicia Keys “reminds her of people she lost” as it is for me playing cards with Marit Larsen and Norah Jones and wondering why and how they showed up at the same party.
I can give up on Marit and Norah (and Jonathan and Frank and Erika and Tom and Kat and anyone else, and I probably will give up on many people, and on myself, over and over and over again) for now, but the game will be back for me. It’ll come for me no matter how hard I try to pretend it isn’t there. Unlike most games, you might walk through the mall or the supermarket, you might bump into a neighbor, or hear noise blasting from the floor below you, and find yourself in the middle of a pick-up game you never asked for and maybe never wanted. (And there are two questions, maybe with or without answers: why didn’t I ask for it, and why didn’t I want it?)