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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21 Aug '03 10:01:00 AM

This kernel of the personal is one reason I have often been reluctant to get rid of old records I no longer listen to. Even once I have acknowledged (to myself) somehow that I don't really think the music is that interesting or good anymore, or I just don't want to make time for it, time to maintain an interest in it (it takes work, more than you might care to admit, even for 'good' and 'great' records), I don't want to break off the contact with the record. Whenever I try to make lists of my favorite records, I fall into indecision quickly. The indecision usually gets bad as soon as I get into a spot where I think of records that I haven't really listened to for a while. Then, I worry: is the kernel still there or am I just trying to insist it's still there because I don't want to admit that it's gone? And if it's not there, I'm not really interested in putting the record down for other reasons, or fond memories. If I've changed, even if it's through my own inattention, then I've changed. Why not admit that?

21 Aug '03 09:50:08 AM

I find it surprising how little serious thought I give to anything at all. It's wasteful, lazy, almost.

21 Aug '03 09:29:55 AM

I don't read or even like the New Yorker, but since I was an undergraduate I've carted around a framed copy of the cover of the June 5, 1995 issue. It was hanging in the bathroom of the first apartment I lived in, and as my roommates moved out it eventually became mine. So, feeling untypically happy about sentimental tradition-building, I took it to my next apartment, where I lived alone, and kept it in the bathroom. In the next place I put it up above the bathroom mirror, and kind of forgot about it because it was hard to see. In my present home it's on the dining room wall next to the kitchen, but I would feel better if we hung it in our bathroom - to maintain the tradition. It's not that I find the picture very attractive or interesting. It's in the style typical of covers of the past however many years, and like other parts of the New Yorker it strikes me as smug. The theme, whatever it's supposed to be, is based around the use of multiple languages. A man is standing at bottom center, turned away from the viewer, and off behind him are signs and billboards (and a television image) for typical American products and institutions. But the words on each sign are in a different language: Smokey the Bear advising people to endut forest fires in German, a sign for the US armed forces in Russian, Bela Bartok advertising Gap khakis in Hungarian, something in some Romance language, maybe Portuguese or Italian, for the police or the fruit-pulp office or something, a Calvin Klein underwear ad in Greek, three squiggly languages of which one is Arabic and two are totally inaccessible to me without some sort of picture associating script and name of language, a Hebrew Pepsi ad, something Chinese I suppose, a billboard for Cats in French (or maybe a billboard for an animal dating service), and probably some others I am forgetting. I think the only English words, in Latin script, are 'Sony' (the logo on Smokey's television) and 'hotel' (disappointingly not at all associated with any of the transliterations and translations in the rest of the scene - unless it's 'hotel' in some other language). It pleases me slightly to have some idea what most of the languages are, but for the most part I don't find the cover that interesting in itself. Its familiarity to me, or not even that, maybe just its persistent presence, is part of why it's important to me. It's such a minor, personal importance. I wish I had a weaker word for it. 'Significant' is just as bad. If I lost it, I don't think I'd feel bad. Maybe as bad as I'd feel if I bought a hamburger and accidentally dropped it on the ground, or if I had to throw out the comforter on my bed. But it's mine and it's always there and it's been there, been with me, around me, for five or six years. That's nowhere near the attachment Tom and Isabel had, I'm sure, to their rabbit, and thus nowhere near the importance of her picture of their rabbit. But it's enough, for something. What, I don't know or can't say. But the thought that the same sort of personal attachment, seemingly based almost solely on shared proximity over some length of time, is present in so many of my experiences listening to records and thinking about them - that thought strikes me as wonderful in a suitably modest, ineffable way. Music is so much more important than my dumb magazine cover hanging on the wall, and so many times when it comes down to it it seems as if that little kernel of mine can share so much in the importance of music - particular records and time spent with them in any part of life - that it trumps any reason I might have to care what anyone else says about my music, or anyone else's. It's tempting sometimes to just opt for comfort, to let it trump everything, and just go off and listen to my records in peace.

21 Aug '03 05:56:25 AM

I wonder how much Django Reinhardt I have to listen to before the songs don't all sound the same (except the slow ones, of course).

21 Aug '03 05:18:20 AM

Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians also has a structure to be apprehended, or analyzed, or whatever the hell it is you're supposed to do with structure. Though if I remember correctly, in an interview included in the liner notes Reich says that the structure is there for people who want it, but that there are other ways to listen.

20 Aug '03 09:29:05 AM

I had never before paid much attention to the epigrams at the beginning of John Berryman's 77 Dream Songs, but tonight the one taken from Olive Schreiber caught my eye, for obvious reasons: 'BUT THERE IS ANOTHER METHOD'. Here is the quote in context, taken from the preface to The Story of an African Farm.

'Human life may be painted according to two methods. There is the stage method. According to that each character is duly marshalled at first, and ticketed; we know with an immutable certainty that at the right crises each one will reappear and act his part, and, when the curtain falls, all will stand before it bowing. There is a sense of satisfaction in this, and of completeness. But there is another method -- the method of the life we all lead. Here nothing can be prophesied. There is a strange coming and going of feet. Men appear, act and re-act upon each other, and pass away. When the crisis comes the man who would fit it does not return. When the curtain falls no one is ready. When the footlights are brightest they are blown out; and what the name of the play is no one knows. If there sits a spectator who knows, he sits so high that the players in the gaslight cannot hear his breathing. Life may be painted according to either method; but the methods are different. The canons of criticism that bear upon the one cut cruelly upon the other.'

19 Aug '03 07:52:57 AM

Oppose tension, excitement, to laziness, a relaxed attitude: one of the few pieces of advice a high school band teacher gave me about soloing was that repeating the same thing builds tension. Some things sound so simple.

19 Aug '03 07:49:11 AM

On the surface, the lazier quality of the It Club date seems to be most significantly due to Rouse. Monk is more relaxed too though.

19 Aug '03 07:34:55 AM

Now I would really like to hear the six new Monk reissues I mentioned last week. As I said then, the only recordings I've heard from that period are Straight, No Chaser and the live sets from the It Club and the Jazz Workshop. But I was reminded today of the dates these recordings were made: the It Club recordings were on October 31 and November 1, 1964; the Jazz Workshop recordings were on November 3 and 4, 1964; and Straight, No Chaser is comprised of recordings from November 14 and 15, 1966, and January 10, 1967. (Incidentally, ten of the tracks on Solo Monk were recorded on October 31 and November 2, 1964.) This makes me a little unsure about what I said here about hearing the soloing on the 'later recordings' as a process of continual variation. It was very important to what I was thinking about there that the playing sounded so constantly close to the original melody. But now, listening to the It Club record for the first time in a while, I see that things are more complicated. I didn't say so, but I kind of had in mind that part of the reason the Jazz Workshop and Straight, No Chaser performances sounded the way they did is that Monk was well-established and had a band with a long-lasting, stable roster. Maybe that it was easier for him to impress his style on (or demand his style of) everyone in the band - and perhaps because of their youth? (I don't know how old the band members were around then, but Monk turned 50 in 1967.) But two years separate those two recordings, whereas both live dates are only a few days apart. I had been hearing the repetitive qualities of the two later dates as some kind of progression or advance in rapport between the musicians, or maybe just in the degree to which Monk could get his band to sound the way he wanted it to. Next to those recordings, the It Club recordings sound much more ambulatory, stretched out, relaxed. The solos are still regularly connected to the original melodies, but the connection doesn't feel as tight - as if the soloists are attached to the melody by a long piece of elastic, as opposed to a very short, tight piece on the two later records. As a result the It Club sets don't really even sound unending to me - I can definitely feel the passage of time when listening to them (as opposed to the kind of time that feels especially static, even if it is obvious that time is passing). In some of the bass and drum solos I even feel noticeably closer to the boredom with which bass and drum solos are easily received. (I've come a long way in the past ten years - I don't feel lost anymore, well uh I feel a lot less lost.) But I doubt the band made some sort of enormous strides in the two days between November 1 and November 3. And the It Club recordings aren't bad, not at all. So it seems as if the differences between all these records are just contingent upon however the band happened to play in a particular performance. Perhaps a certain kind of sound results when the band plays a certain way, but I don't know if there's anything more to be said about that (i.e., whether the sound just comes from the band deciding to play more like that, or whether some other decision or intuition just led them to sound similar on both occasions). None of this invalidates my point in that remark about continual variation, but it qualifies it a bit. Maybe in a way that is only of interest to me, since I don't see why anyone else would have had to have understood my earlier remark the way I did, since I didn't really say anything like the above.

(I have considered that the two similar recordings may just be on average faster than the It Club set, but I don't think that's true. It could be something less obvious - to me - about the rhythmic uh mojo on those dates, though.)