josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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9 Jul '02 09:57:35 AM

Wilco's rhythm section is so white.

9 Jul '02 09:27:47 AM

Maybe my little story is just an absurd extension of the idea of being open-minded (some might say, being objective) to its extreme. (Perhaps its absurdity marks it out as something to strive for, though.) But what if we take a look at it, and want to reject it? I just want to listen to records I like. I don't care about being objective. I don't care about stretching myself. If I want to do that I'll read books, or pray, or just get a life instead of listening to records. I don't have time for this bullshit. It's impractical. Etc.

Well. At the very least, it seems like this experimentalism, this attitude toward pre-given tastes, still tells us something important, or useful, just because we can conceive of it: it underscores the importance that these life experiences can have, do have, for the records that we don't have to spend years with, that we don't have to stretch for. And if I like different records than you, and it's because of my different experiences, my different tastes, that can tell us something important about those experiences - both yours and mine. Moreover, if we hold the experiences of other people to be important - and despite moments of callousness, forgetfulness, indifference, and everything else, I think we want to regard them as important - then that matters to how we want to treat other people for liking the records that they do, what they think about those records, all of it.

9 Jul '02 09:10:18 AM

To be fair: there is always the demographic of people sending dedications to people they knew long ago in a different place, and who they expect to still listen to Casey Kasem twenty years on. Vast, to be sure.

9 Jul '02 08:17:15 AM

A certain kind of experimentalism is (I think) a virtue for listeners. That's a strange way to put it, because what I'm thinking of sounds like open-mindedness, on the surface. But I want the word for it to sound unusual because I want to emphasize the way this experimentalism involves a certain attitude toward one's tastes.

Willingness to try anything, or at least lots of things, is supposed to be open-minded. So is willingness to try things more cautiously, or to go back to them over time. So is willingness to try things that seem especially foreign to one's past experience.

All of these things are virtues, I suppose, but I think they don't go far enough. It's one thing to allow for a little give-and-take in one's tastes, to see if they're not as fixed or as limited as it might seem. It's another thing to actually let the experiment run its course.

What does that mean? It seems appropriate to fairness, or objectivity, in some sense of those overloaded words, to give new music the same shot at being liked, at being approved of, as the old. A conceit:

A man likes a certain sort of woman. He likes them to be serious, but not to take themselves so seriously that they can't laugh at themselves, or anything else. He likes pretty women, of course, but tries not to let that get in the way of his desire to find someone that he thinks he can actually live with, talk to, share experiences with - someone who shares some (but not necessarily all) of his ways of looking at things. He tries to be open-minded about the women he meets, though, since he knows that appearances are sometimes deceiving, both in the way people look at the way they seem when you meet them. Also, sometimes, he finds himself surprised to like a woman he didn't expect to like at all, one who's not even his type. To be open-minded, he tries to go out on a few dates before he decides if a woman is worth pursuing further. He tries to get to know what she's really like. After all, he's not just looking for a fling - he's looking for the one.

That man is open-minded about his love life. This one is more radical, though, more experimental:

He's the same as the first one, up to a point. They like the same sort of women. (Maybe they're twins or brothers or something.) But this one understands that the things he's looking for in a woman aren't set in stone. They're not necessarily an essential part of his character, or something he was born with, like brown hair. He could have reasons for this, like acknowledging that he knew a girl once who was a certain way, and who made a deep impression on him. But the reasons aren't important here. What this understanding amounts to, for this man, is a commitment to the idea that what he wants, when he says he wants to fall in love, has more to do with the experiences he has, or can have, with a woman, than what kind of woman she 'is'. Whether she likes to run, or listen to his records, or talk about politics, or can stand his jokes - these all have something to do with what kind of experiences he can have with her. Certainly. But until he's experienced these things with her, until he's gone through the normal way he lives his life, only with her there, or sometimes not, but talking to him, walking with him, coloring his experiences, influencing his decisions, eating with him, doing nothing with him - until then, he doesn't really know if he could've actually fallen in love with her.

This is where things take a weird thought-experiment turn. The man is really set on finding someone he loves. So he doesn't just date them a few times and then see how he feels, see if he thinks it's worth going on, like his brother does. No, he does it all. He tries to stay with them for years. They do all the normal things, the things people do together when they like each other. Some of these things, they both like to do. Some, not. But they move in together. He changes his life for these women - maybe not drastically, he has limits, but he tries to make space for them, so that things can develop naturally. Maybe, after a long time, he decides that it probably wasn't meant to be. But he's not content to decide that without giving things the kind of test that gives the women a fair chance, the test of just the same kind of experiences that have led to the man's tastes in women being what they are at the time he meets them - life.

One reason this is a conceit (besides its length) is the way that it doesn't hold, at least not without getting into some strange discussion of experimental polyamory. Because the second man, if he were listening to records and not dating women, would be doing this with lots of records. Most of us can't listen to just one record forever (once we settle down).

But someone who listens to records like the second man dates women would be, I think, far more open-minded than someone who 'gives records a chance' by trying to listen to more records, or to more records that he doesn't seem predisposed to like, in order to see if he takes to any of them. The 'open-minded' listener like that seems to ultimately just be letting down his guard a bit, to see if his tastes change some, while not calling into question why those tastes are the ones he has, and why he should follow them.

7 Jul '02 06:25:29 PM

How pointless does Casey Kasem's "Long Distance Dedication" seem when there's instant messaging and file sharing?

Well, the sentimental crap aspect is going strong.

7 Jul '02 12:11:17 AM

"It was still 10 times better than any other record that year": it's nice to see that the Beta Band are less critical of their own wonderful record now.

But music writers referring to records as "efforts" still makes me grind my teeth.

6 Jul '02 07:22:33 PM

I find that I was probably just confused while half-asleep, because I was actually hearing "Complicated" by Avril, who is no doubt not at all related to Avril Incandenza, disappointingly. This is slightly disappointing to me because I don't want to give the vaguely lame lyrics a pass if they're actually by some stupid American girl instead of Shakira, the graceful one, "a blond-locked Colombian who speaks three languages and loves only in Spanish".

This also means, sadly, that I still think that Shakira sounds like a fucking harpy in her own single.

5 Jul '02 10:47:50 PM

Something I've been meaning to get down for a while, but which I haven't gotten to develop at all:

When you like something enough, or in a certain way, it seems to have a special kind of undeniability. The kind that probably plays an important role in people thinking records are undeniably great.

Could this sense of undeniability be key to the feeling that music has to progress to get better? And that the big breaks are the important ones, the great ones, the ones to love, whereas the small changes show lack of genius, or complacency? That new is better?

The breaks have to be big, in order to escape that sense of undeniability, of inevitability. So that it can happen again.

(Connection to Wittgenstein here.)

5 Jul '02 10:39:39 PM

I assume I've been hearing the new Shakira single on my alarm clock in the mornings, because at first I thought it was Alanis - it sounded like a shrill old harpy. But the last time I heard it it sounded casual and sweet, and Shakira actually sounded her age.