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.
The more I think about this the harder it is to write something down, so I'm just saying screw it and writing something short and inadequate so that I'll have it to reflect on later.
How much can we get out of thinking of music as a kind of affordance? A song affords us certain experiences, feelings, ideas, actions; an album, others; a symphony, others; and so on. Some music affords some experiences better than others: happy songs vs. sad songs, fast songs vs. slow ones, songs where they say 'hootie hoo' vs. ones where there are springy noises, and so on. These distinctions are made here just for contrast: I can think of songs that afford both happy and sad feelings, and not because of some complex ranging over the emotions bullshit - no, just because sometimes I can listen to them and feel happy, and sometimes I can feel sad. Whether or not a song provides these affordances depends on the listener, too: they are affordances for a listener, perhaps a particular one. This song might afford me with memories of my dead grandmother, that one might not afford me well with dancing because I don't like to dance. Also, each piece of music affords us with multiple things, or at least, most of us.
These affordances may be well reflected in the number and variety of contexts in which we listen to music, the purposes we have for it, the pleasures we get from it.
"It had something to do with lemon trees, or orange trees, I forget, that is all I remember, and for me that is no mean feat, to remember it had something to do with lemon trees, or orange trees, I forget, for all of the other songs I have ever heard in my life, and I have heard plenty, it being apparently impossible, physically impossible short of being deaf, to get through this world, even my way, without hearing singing, I have retained nothing, not a word, not a note, or so few words, so few notes, that, that what, that nothing, this sentence has gone on long enough."
Samuel Beckett, who wrote the above (from "First Love"), is the newest addition to josh blog's pantheon of nonmusicians (there is not one of these for musicians because it is too big and too subject to my whims). (Other members include: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Thomas Pynchon, James Joyce.)
I am too amazed and his writing too difficult for me to sing the praises of simply, so for the time being, here is some critical yammering from the introduction to Samuel Beckett: The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989.
"In these four stories what has been and continued to be one of Beckett's central preoccupations developed in its full complexity: the psychological, ontological, narratological bewilderment at the inconsistency, the duality of the human predicament, the experience of existence. On the one side is the post-Medieval tradition of humanism, which develops through the Renaissance into the rationality of the Enlightenment. Its ideology buttresses the capacity of humanity to know and adapt to the mechanism of the universe and understand humanity's place in the scheme. This is the world of the schoolroom and laboratory, the world of mathematics and proprtion, the world of Classical symmetry, of the pensum. For Beckett's narrators, the punctum, the lived, sentient experience of existence, the being in the world, punctures and deflates that humanistic tradition, the empiricism of the classroom, although the latter never loses its appeal and is potentially a source of comfort (although it apparently destroys Watt)."
Cee-Lo on the ethics of care:
"Hey there young man why degrade your only sister... And call them bitches and whores... What if one day someone feels the same way... About that daughter of yours"
I'm reminded of, seriously, the "Married with Children" where Kelly was going to be a slut in a rock video, and Al was angered by this and went down to put a stop to it (Al, who regularly goes to the "nudie bar").
Perhaps the position that goes something like, "this song [or movie, or TV show, or book, or whatever] may contain degrading depictions of women [or language about them, or whatever], but...", then gives some kind of excuse based on it being acceptable because the problem is part of a work of art, is drawing on the same tradition of ethical thought that's criticized by the feminist "ethics of care" position. Well, I mean, yes, it is, but maybe an "ethics of care" illuminates things somewhat. "What if one day someone feels the same way... About that daughter of yours" could be read as some kind of Kantian criticism: the maxim to mistreat women in music isn't universalizable because you wouldn't want it happening to your daughter. But already the "care" starts creeping in: does Kant think we have obligations not to hurt people's feelings? Or upset them? I don't know, but the fact that we feel them more strongly with respect to our family members and people we're close with is exactly the part of the feminist critique on which the position above ("well it's just art you see") needs an answer for.
I know the rapper (not Cee-Lo) in this Cee-Lo song didn't just say "like Turgenev", but I'm just going to pretend that he did for the time being.
It's normal for me to avoid listening to a record if I feel I'm not ready to hear it and enjoy it. If I try it once, or even more than once, and have a strong aversion to it, or feel nothing, I just put it away and try again later. If it's a long time before I try again, I don't mind. I'd rather do that than sell the record right away, because the benefit to me of happening upon the right frame of mind in which to hear a record I could never get before outweighs the benefit of finding another record that I might like immediately (I've always got lots of those at hand).
A record I've been doing this for a very long time with is the next-to-last Sonic Youth record, NYC Ghosts & Flowers. I've probably heard it less than five times since I bought it around the release date, May 16, 2000, because I was wary of my negative opinion of it settling in and calcifying.
Brent DiCrescenzo was apparently not worried. I don't know what his "real" reactions are like apart from the reviews he writes, or how they change over time, because this is all I have to go on. I think it's likely that he hardens them and expresses them more extremely (these verbs should all be in the past tense now I think) as part of his Pitchfork schtick. But, since all I have is the review: it's one of the most smallminded reviews I've ever read. Those you might think to qualify as more smallminded don't make it because they're not written with as much awareness of what a more charitable response to the record might be like. Brent's is, but he chose to bear down and force his opinion. (Ryan Schreiber does something similar in his Andrew WK review, but that one's much more valuable to me, because you can see the cracks in his shield, the places where the "fun" is able to seep through and affect him and he does not like it. Now if only he had gone on from there.)
I'm reminded of a quote I'm fond of, from Paul Berliner's Thinking in Jazz:
John Coltrane expresses exasperation at the initial response of critics to his groups' creations. "I couldn't believe it... It just seemed so preposterous... absolutely ridiculous, because they made it appear that we didn't even know the first thing about music - the first thing."
I think something like this idea appears in producer Orrin Keepnews' essay excoriating jazz criticism, "A Bad Idea, Poorly Executed..." - that often musicians do know what they're doing better than listeners do, particularly critics, many of whom are not that much different from a number of listeners.
In Brent's case I think he's aware of the contrary tendencies at work every time Sonic Youth makes a record. Or rather, he's aware of how important the mutability of the mixture between the two (the noisy and the pretty? the avant-garde and the traditional? the experimental and the tested? the unpopular and the popular? the uncomfortable and the comfortable?) is to their career as a band. For a band like them, I can't make myself presume that a certain combination of those things (and it's not even that simple, really, just "how much of column A and how much of column B" there is in a particular record - it's a convenience for discussion) is the "right" way to make a record, and that the other ways are self-indulgent crap, or irrelevant, the way Brent seems to in his review. A band's truly being experimental isn't just a matter of calling all the assumptions and traditions and conventions they can into question, in order to see if they can still happen upon a record that satisfies people in something like the normal sense. It all matters, at least much more than Brent makes it out to matter, because with those things called into question we have a special opportunity to see what happens to us when we hear music made differently. That opportunity doesn't stop being special when we cross the line from "records that sound like detuned noise-punk" into "records that sound scary to me because they don't have any of the things I expect out of a record".
And this record does scare me, at times. Some of it is the kind of fear like that I get brief flashes of from tracks on Dirty, where they barely seem to have the guitars under their control - the fear of losing my balance at the edge of a cliff, the ground rushing up toward me. But more of it is scary-creepy: the sheer foreignness of some of the sounds, the way the strings sound deadened but still very clear as they chime, the intense quietude. They make the record powerful, more powerful to me on the whole than any other Sonic Youth record I've heard. I'm more surprised, by the entrances of O'Rourke's production touches, by the texture of the attack on a guitar string ("attack" the technical term, because it can be so quiet, so subtle, and still make me jump a tiny bit, inside), by the way some of the noisiest parts really start to feel massive to me, more like maelstroms than I've usually learned to expect from Sonic Youth records, which I probably came to hoping for something much more, unattainable even, as far as noise goes. The vocals are powerful, too. Yes, a lot of the lyrics sound dubious, but they also don't sound that much different from lots of other Sonic Youth lyrics. And there's always one of those most important tools in their toolbox, popping up all over the place: the love of forcing discomfort. With that tool in there, there's no way I'm going to stop listening because I think the lyrics sound dumb. The sound of the vocals carries them here, if "carries them" means "makes me listen raptly with shivers down my spine". They're recorded more intimately than ever before, and the knockoff beat poetry (which has beautiful parts in it) is delivered in a mythically solemn tone of voice, almost ecstatic for all its measuredness. And Kim Gordon. Jesus.
I don't like to Coltrane's Meditations that often. It, too, is powerful, and there are parts where I say to myself, "how can I stand this?" So too, perhaps, here.
Given that a number of bloggers (check out the sidebar, and Tom doesn't even keep up with all of the blogs that are out there) have been writing exclusively or almost so about music for quite some time, I don't like the sound of this. Of course, these music bloggers aren't "formally" part of the "music journalism arena" in the sense that reviewers and other writers for print and other media are. What is that sense? Eric Olsen notes that, of course, what record labels would get out of the arrangement he proposes (which would involve bloggers getting free CDs - or mostly free, initially - with the understanding that they're expected to write regularly about them) is more publicity. He doesn't say much else about entering this "arena", though.
He doesn't talk more about the economics involved, that is, about how the overwhelming majority of the "real" journalists (that's not a word he used, but it's one I sense) are paid for their work, as well as receiving free music (and the extra income that comes from unloading it, however slight that is). I'm not sure whether the fact that bloggers doing this would be doing unpaid work is an improvement or not. Doing work for free so that large record companies can profit seems like a big SUCK. Of course, by not being paid, the bloggers will in some sense be continuing on sort of as they have been, writing about music that they like (or don't like, or don't have a preference on one way or the other) in their spare time because of the enjoyment it brings them (or other intangible benefits, like the practice in writing and listening it provides them, or the chance to express themselves, or the chance to advertise their tastes and personalities, or...). At least, this is the line one could take if one didn't want to have to pay more people to act as basically an extension of one's marketing department into ever finer regions of the marketplace.
Perhaps pay is supposed to bias people too much (more than they are already biased by receiving free records - I have a few times, and even when I hated the record it was hard not to try being nice about it, or withholding what I thought), and the lack of pay is a way around this problem (but see previous parenthetical remark, ha, I am full of them tonight).
I think calling this "journalism" instead of "being used as a tool by the man" entrenches the bias the most, though. Suddenly all the baggage from journalistic music writing is dragged into things: the "objectivity"; the perpetual focus on the new and the popular to the deteriment of the old, the everyday, the unpopular, the personal; the traditional forms of the review the interview, the thinkpiece, the fluff piece; the habitual and lazy techniques of writing, the onesheet rip, the band bio, the cliche, the lack of ideas, the railroad spike through my fucking head. Do these necessarily have to follow? No, but a lot of people seem to fall for them when they think they're doing "journalism" rather than just writing, period.
Maybe the possibility for greater respect for non-traditional fora and forms of writing is cause for optimism. But I'm not hopeful, at the moment. "The cultural shoreline": who are the labels and journalists supposed to be, Columbus (oh dear lord please no) or the natives?
Don't be afraid to write lots of short things.
Don't be afraid to write about one idea, or one impression, or one experience. The one that's yours, or the one you have something to say about. Don't just fill up the rest of the space with the stuff you think people will expect to see for your writing to be legitimate, unless it's actually required to understand what you want to say.
Don't write in the standard forms just because that's what everyone else does. This isn't a newspaper.