While my brother waits for kegs to be delivered, I go on periodic music binges. I can confess this without guilt because I know that it is the first step towards healing. I get frustrated with my music library or irrationally exuberant about something I have heard and then I just start downloading. It is the internet I blame—before iTunes I used to troll through Amazon buying CDs with the justification that the used ones were cheaper. Now, even though I know the quality isn’t what it should be, sometimes I just can’t contain myself.
When I was young(er), before the internet turned us all into more efficient and obsessive consumers, to buy an album was an event, a pilgrimage along back-country roads without shoulders and to one of the few places where new CDs could be purchased. It was momentous, as well, because it also seemed like an investment: I earned $4.25 an hour in my first job making pizza at Little Caesar’s. CDs, irrationally, cost between $12 and $18.00.
A few weeks back I admitted (ok, reiterated) my own geekiness when I was hyperbolically excited about the fact that Night Riots has a song named “Berelain” after a character from Robert Jordan’s recently (and posthumously) completed Wheel of Time series. I must add, however, that my geek credentials are the real-thing: I get paid to teach about mythology and to write about ancient poetry.
(Well, the credentials are spotty. I mentioned earlier that I actually played a bard to the 21st or 22nd level in a role-playing game. At one point, I actually tried to write music for the fictional character to perform. I am so ever grateful that I don’t remember it and that the internet did really exist to record my follies back then.)
This week? I have been eagerly awaiting the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Now, as readers of this blog know, my brother and I occasionally get excited about television, but not too often. We both like The Walking Dead. He gets into things like Doomsday Preppers while I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which he will not watch). But Game of Thrones is something that we share. And there is an important reason.
A few weeks ago I ruminated on the difficulty of learning about music (in a dependable way) in an age when we are overwhelmed by both the number of bands available and the media outlets discussing them. It isn’t so much that there are more acts out there (though, there may be) but that we hear about them all. One of our frequent commenters, londongigger, who has a very nice blog where he reviews live shows, noted that in London there are literally thousands of performances a week.
From experience, I know that the scene is similar in places like New York City and Austin, Texas. Learning about new music by seeing the bands becomes a full job, a needle-in-the-haystack obsession. Who has the time (or money and stamina) to keep up with this?
At the same time, another thing I failed to mention is that the digital age has sapped the power of critics and tastemakers. While this is good (freeing up both artists and audiences from certain hegemonies) it has the unintended effect of splintering music experience and reducing the framework provided by a common canon of music. I don’t know if I am lamenting or just observing.
Anyway, writing this blog has both forced me to engage with newer music more fully and to seek out new artists at a faster pace than previous years. Recently, I have been aided in this by a younger friend, The Only D. After I reacted (with some speed) to his last list of suggestions, he hit me up with another.
One might think (if one thought quickly) that, with all of the access to information provided by the internet, it would be easy to learn about new music. This might seem especially true if we compare it to the way we used to learn about artists and songs (from friends, print magazines, fanzines, the radio, MTV). Each one of these categories could be hit-or-miss (a friend might have bad taste, certain artists could dominate the radio just as genres would dominate MTV).
Yet, we (or at least I) developed strategies for coping with these–you know which friends have tastes like your own (and the other friends might actually broaden your horizons); you can change radio stations or listen selectively to MTV (not that this is an issue any more since MTV no longer plays music). But today the situation is just damned overwhelming. I have been burned by algorithmic suggestions from Pandora, perplexed by “people who buy this also buy…” from Amazon, and similar (even less helpful) suggestions from iTunes store and the ironically named ”Genius” app.
The elder J discussed in a recent entry that this blog is about a year old. He mentioned that I (The Sister) had written for the blogmore than once. One thing I’d like to do in 2013 is to contribute more to this blog. I don’t have ideas like my brothers do, but once in awhile something pops into my head and I feel inspired to sit down and write. Frequently my brothers have mentioned our father’s unexpected passing and have discussed how the two of them have grown closer since that happened and since they created this blog. Sadly, I feel more detached from my brothers since my father passed, rather than feeling closer to them, so my thought is if I stay more involved in this blog, I may be able to enhance my relationship with them. So here goes.
So, we’re just about at the point where this blog has existed for a year. While there is something essentially arbitrary about this 365 day boundary—I mean, it isn’t like we really govern our years by the seasons any more…or something like that—but any boundary is at some point artificial (with the exception of death, I guess; there really isn’t denying that one).
There is definitely something to be said, however, for pausing a moment and reconsidering the way one has spent his or her time. As I have mentioned before, the younger Seneca, better known now for his tragedies and letters than his philosophical treatises, once remarked in De Brevitate Vitae that, contrary to popular opinion, life isn’t too short, most people just waste the time they have on this earth as to make it seem that way.
(My brother and I without really planning it authored three year-in-review posts. We apologize for piling on with the rest of the (un)-civilized world.)
I have mentioned earlier my distrust for lists and the way that they distort issues of judgment (something that on its own has issues). See, for instance, the recent “50 Best Rap Songs” offered up by Rolling Stone. (It unfairly emphasizes older and ‘original’ rappers—for the most part not on aesthetic grounds I suspect, but rather because the polled ‘experts’ both suffer from age-laden nostalgia and from the critic-typical desire to seem authoritative by tracing things back to their origins.)
The act of publishing such nonsense is of course intentionally provocative: it invites dispute, debate and engagement with the topic. And, even such a purposeful misrepresentation of the ‘quality’ relations among various artists or examples of the artists can have the salutary effect of forcing critics and their audiences to develop ad hoc if not more evolved standards for making such decisions.
At the end, however, listing is arbitrary at some fundamental level. But, of course, arbitrariness can be quite fulfilling on its own. So, I am ending the year with a list that is doubly arbitrary. Here is a list, from worst to best, of the albums I bought in 2012. The album did not have to be issued in 2012. Nope, this is purely about whatever I acquired and how I feel about it.
Recently my wife and I decided that we weren’t playing enough music for our children—we’re worried about both the frequency and the variety of the music they hear. So, in addition to our frequent radio games in the car, we’ve added sessions with the pre-fab music channels on TV, alternating channels and genres by day.
I also got some new speakers for my computer or iPod—when the wife isn’t around and I am in control, I try out new albums or old ones on the kids (much to what I can imagine will be my brother’s horror I think they really enjoyed Mumford and Sons and thus allowed me to think about the band in a different way—a subject for a future post).
A while back twitter directed me to an article claiming that Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard was lying about his song list for running. Because I am a narcissist, this made me immediately thing about my running list—it is several hundred songs long and not all of them are actually that good to run to.
I run a bit—I don’t call myself a runner because I have never run ‘officially’ or in any public capacity, but I do run enough to know the names of different shoes, the arguments for and against going barefoot, the ideal amount of hydration before, during and after runs, etc .etc. I do it because I enjoy it, because you can’t play basketball for three hours a day when you’re a real adult, and because my grandfather and father died young.
Why are we obsessed with the apocalypse? I actually ask this of my students on a semesterly basis. I think that the answer, if there is one, is partly psychological and structural. First, we know that we begin and end individually—part of our death drive or obsession also nearly demands contemplation (and fantasy) about everything expiring just as we will.