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What I’m Listening To

Why blog? I’ve asked myself this question more than once. I’ve started and abandoned a couple of blogs already … if creating the space and then never even posting counts. They’re still floating around cyberspace like the corpses of astronauts. (Apparently cyberspace is littered with such corpses. Not a very encouraging factoid for the novice blogger.)

So maybe the better question is, Why NOT blog? Lack of time, lack of patience for working on the computer. But above all, because I’ve never been one for occasional writing. Blog entries give one the impression (at least the illusion) that they were composed on the spur of the moment, and then just as quickly disseminated. To beat the dead horse: gobs of information, a variety of available perspectives … but little space or time for reflection or synthesis.

So. A few months back I was strung out on some bad medication and pretty much all I could do was lay around and listen to music (boo hoo). I’d always thought that, given the amount of energy and resources I expend on music, I should make more time to write about it. God knows I go out and hear enough of it, living in New York as I do. I treat my iPod like the fetish object that it is. I take time over winter and summer breaks to do some reading, unstructured though it might be, about music. I must have something of it in my blood, too, since my father is a conservatory-trained pianist, and I grew up listening to him play, and to my parents’ robust record collection, which my own penchant for collecting mirrors. And then I did take that lovely Writing About Music course as an undergraduate, and have gone so far as to design my own … but more on this later.

Then again, why should I write about music? I’m not a musician, at least not a very good one. Nor am I a music historian or musicologist, so my ability to analyze music and put it into any sort of meaningful context is severely limited. With whom, then, beyond a small circle of friends, would I share my thoughts?

Enter the blog. The blog seems like an ideal space, to borrow Gunther Schuller’s pun, for musing. In many ways, the blog seems not so different from writing for a circle of friends, even as that circle is necessarily much wider. In a blog I don’t feel like I have the pressure to craft something finished, to speak as an academic from a fortress of authority, to contribute anything to a field. I don’t feel that I have to account for what has already been said about (say) Miles Davis, or Bela Bartok, or Tool. Hell, I don’t even have to have a goddamn thesis if I don’t want to (though I will certainly try, good little academic writer that I am). In fact, a more questioning, probing, personal, intuitive approach might be welcome in such a context, and even more likely to elicit comments and suggestions from the combination of idle browsers and occasional experts who cruise these blogs (this being the CUNY Academic Commons). It might even be that such an approach is warranted for writing about as slippery a fish as music.

All this is not to say I won’t work at crafting what I want to say. I’m a compulsive reviser; any and all worthwhile thoughts generally arise through revision; and so, true to form, I will compose all my entries on Word, and then sit on them for a while before uploading.* Among other things, this means that the title of my blog category—“What I’m Listening To”—is bullshit. A more accurate title would be “What I Was Listening To a Few Weeks Ago.” (The title does preserve the illusion of spontaneity that makes the bloggable blogworthy.)

So. My doctor told me not to make any important decisions while I was strung out on those meds, but I went ahead and decided to start a blog anyway. This means I can always blame the meds if I go ahead and abandon this one, too.

As to what sort of entries I will write: As someone whose understanding and appreciation of music is largely intuitive or emotional rather than analytical, they will quite shamelessly delve into personal narrative—that intimate relationship between music and memory—and the role of music in shaping personal and cultural identity. As such, this blog is partly an exercise in self-examination and cultural analysis (as all personal narrative is). Second, they will rely heavily on those tried-and-true crutches of music writing, image and metaphor. And finally, as someone with an evolving literacy in a variety of musical genres (rock, jazz, classical, flamenco, and Latin), and some familiarity with the persons and recordings who/that have shaped these genres—and as someone with at least the rudiments of music theory haphazardly taught to him in the distant past—I will not shy away from either historical or musicological speculation when it seems warranted. Above all, and whenever possible, I will try to be shamelessly exuberant (for, as Blake said, “exuberance is beauty”), and will occasionally make unwarranted, peurile exclamations of like or dislike for some musician, band, piece, or composer. (This is a blog, after all, no apologies are necessary.) All this to say: Don’t expect very much light from this blog … but do enjoy the heat, while it lasts.

There is a second reason for this blog, really an afterthought, but one which, I hope, will be an added incentive for me to keep it going. A couple of years ago, a colleague and I developed a sophomore-level English elective called Writing About Music. It was inspired by and partly based on a course of the same name I took as an undergraduate. That course was developed and taught by Dr. Jonathan Spitzer at Johns Hopkins; his assistant was an Australian whose full name escapes me (his first name was Greg; in some Borgesian alternate universe he would certainly discover this blog). It was probably my favorite class I took as an undergraduate, and I was happily able to get back in contact with Dr. Spitzer and model our course on an updated version of his, including his marvelously extensive bibliography. Anyway, one way I thought to get students writing about music was to have them keep a listening diary in the form of a blog (in their case, through a Blackboard site); and what better way to encourage students to keep such a diary than through example, for better or worse?