Sunday, April 15, 2007


This week Daily Themes assignments were for Public Opinion. One of the assignments called for a review of or response to some kind of art work. I realized the extent to which writing about music has become an aspiration -- having as it does both cultural critique cool as well as being a means to come to terms with what seems the single-most influential art-form. Everyone has a soundtrack to their lives, everyone has tunes in the car and while working and while on public transport. This is the iPod era and all that.

It was an interesting week if only because students had to 'take a stand' in some sense, whether praising something -- a Bloc Party concert, a new song by Björk -- or knocking something -- Neil Young's Living with War, music criticism itself. Students also wrote essays on beliefs and two centered on belief in the performance of and the teaching of music. On the other hand there was a jaundiced view of the jaundiced view of "American Idol." The topics made me consider my own blog-fueled efforts to get down thoughts about musical artists and particular albums that have left their mark on my consciousness, not only to indicate my tastes but to make some larger claim for how music has affected my life.

What some of the reading this week caused me to think about is both the personal and popular element of music criticism -- what really is the criteria by which one can criticize it? Once one moves outside the realm of what matters to oneself and why, where is there any basis for what is truly "significant" or truly excellent or truly execrable? This seems to be tied to the problem of pop or rock music more than other arts because it is so deliberately a popular phenomena, so clearly channeled for broad public consumption. And those more esoteric avenues are by their nature reserved for the coterie that can admire them. So, you're either "in" or "out" when it comes to vast areas of the musical landscape.

I think that's as it should be. I think the only thing that makes my comments on music possible is that I'm deliberately historicizing. There's not much I could say about music today, what is new and noteworthy is for the new generation to decide. What I'm after is something like what I do as a literary scholar: describe a context in which the music I'm discussing "belongs" or makes a certain kind of sense. More and more I see that context as almost wholly personal -- which is not to say private, for the personal does partake of various public perceptions and the popular culture of any given time. What interests me is how my own selection occurred within those contexts, and what I can say about that now. "Now that," as BD sez, "the past is gone."

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