Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Writing About Music, Pt. 2

I suppose that music is no less appropriate a subject for a writer than boating, flowers, suicide, marketing, teen pregnancy, vacation rentals, or any other subject that becomes a pretext for a writer’s self-examination/promotion. Often the accompanying photography (that accompanies writing-about-musician[s]) can be quite a bit more attractive. And I suppose that experts in any of these subjects may feel that writing-about-the-[subject of their expertise] is usually just as annoying and useless as I feel that writing-about-music is. But, still.

One problem with writing about music is that everybody has their own tastes in music, which may have been formed by actual listening but is more often simply the unconscious consensus of one’s post-pubescent social group. Much as political opinions/persuasions are often based on one’s parents opinions, musical taste is usually based on the tastes of one’s high school or college social scene. So any writer who writes about music that you would tend to even bother reading is probably going to have to be the kind of person you went to college with, or who went to the same sort of college you did, or who hung out at the same sort of bar/cafĂ©/library/mall/salon/park/race track you and your friends did during the same general time period.

And because musical tastes are defined by a social group, most of whom are not musicians or musical experts of any sort, in writing-about-music there is no deference toward “experts”—musicians, etc., which is probably as it should be. I mean, it’s just music, right? Why let anybody (except, of course, your best friends in highschool/college) tell you what music to enjoy, anymore than you would let someone tell you what food to enjoy. Music is a sensual experience. But then, so is reading—at least for me. And there are literary experts, people whose taste you defer to simply because they can write better than you, or have read more than you, or have had some sort of literary honorific bestowed upon them. Now you aren’t going to necessarily agree with them, but if you stumble upon John Updike or Dave Eggers or Orhan Pamuk at a party, you’re going to ask them what they’re reading. And you’re probably going to go out and buy whatever it is they’re reading and try to read it yourself, if only so you can share to some extent in their world. But would you necessarily go out and buy the musical recommendation of someone like, I don’t know, Chris Potter or John Adams or Jenny Lewis or Mark Knopfler? Well, I probably would, in at least two of those cases, and yes you might too, which is why in some publications, including the newspaper of record, it is popular to have musicians write-about-music that they’re listening to, and . . . hmm, this isn’t going quite the way I’d intended.
--to be continued

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