fetish

I just read an article by a guy who considers himself a music aesthete, and, as such, since the collapse of the us vs. them of the indie-vs.-major-label-physical-distribution-system, can’t find a date. I guess. It’s hard to tell whether he’s serious or just being super-duper sarcastic, but the crux of his argument is that, without something to actively fight for (indie) or against (major label), it’s hard to tell whether a potential date ‘really’ cares about music or is simply good at searching for the once obscure online.

Open up a can of worms, indeed.

As everyone who knows me knows, my favorite band is Radiohead (no mention of that band in the article, by the way, and I wonder why. I mean, if I were to draw a sharp line between indie and major, I would at least try to trouble my thesis with a bit more than with the requisite mention of Nirvana and think about Ok Computer [and, oh, you know, rap/hip hop… I guess that water’s too murky, though]). After Radiohead, Joy Division is tops. And then, in no order other than mood and in terms of catalog rather than random albums (there are so many that I love), Jane’s Addiction, Broken Bells, PJ Harvey (her last two albums especially), the cure, Depeche Mode, Outkast, Gorillaz, Portishead, LCD Soundsystem (James Murphy did get a name/lyric check in that article), David Bowie, and Bob Marley (I mean, who doesn’t like Bob Marley…) Although not as ‘mainstream’ as some music, I did find out about most of these bands from friends, MTV, or music magazines/sites like Spin, Raygun, Pitchfork, or stereogum – NOT a music secret society hole in the wall.

Yet, I consider myself a nuanced listener. Which is the problem I have with dude’s article.

Jen, Natasha, and I had a conversation about what can/should be taught in public school. Specifically, we were talking about what could be a part of a standard Junior/Senior language arts curriculum. We talked about time – to reflect, to consult, to plan, to organize, to prep with colleagues. We talked about student input in organizing the curriculum if not selecting the reading material and the thematic approach. I suggested that if I were to teach The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao again, I’d love to focus on how Diaz co-opts the structure of the novel to his own ends. That is something that anyone who has ever encountered any type of novel can understand. It’s not so tricky to point out the absurd and fantastic use of footnotes in that book to people who don’t consider themselves ‘serious readers’. After that, it’s totally reasonable to embark on discussion of why an author would do such a thing, why an author of color would do such a thing, and, ultimately, how effectively such a strategy achieves the ends of both the author’s narrative and political objectives.

So, I don’t get the social sifting and sorting that Brooks longs for in his article. It’s not like he’s talking to people who’ve never heard a song or who don’t have a favorite song. I wonder, does he even understand what it is he likes about the music he listens to? ‘His’ music was obscure, difficult to find, existed only in certain spaces with a particular crowd of people. But it’s still composed of beats, notes, played by musicians both trained and untrained, with instruments both ‘real’ and ‘synthetic’, and brought into being in the face of a multitude of personal circumstances and cultural contexts. Does he get that? It’s hard to assume he does because he sets up such a daft binary, one that leads to social ineptitude because the ‘proof’ he needs that the people he meets can engage with him on the topic of music is founded on (a.) a foolish notion of community and (b.) has (he admits) nothing, whatsoever to do with the actual aesthetic qualities of music. Nothing. At all. Aesthete my ass.

There’s a little trill of cymbals in Paranoid Android that today – for the first time – I connected to the constant rat-a-tat-tat in some recent hip hop songs I’ve heard in passing (couldn’t name them if I wanted to). That sound opened up another space for me to consider how freakin’ awesome both hip hop and Radiohead are in terms of splicing together the disparate ‘memes’ of American music for their own objectives.1

My computer tells me that definition #2 of fetish is a course of action to which one has an excessive and irrational commitment. It’s the thing that will (ultimately) doom sophomoric record store nostalgists, ‘exclusively’ gallery artists, grammarians, and all other pedants.2

I remember those stores. I used to have to go to them to buy Boomerang by The Creatures and Gorgeous by 808 State. Far from being a place where ‘my people’ gathered, I found those stores (one in S. Florida, the other in DC), to be sickeningly hostile. “Just go in, get what you came for, and get out.” Yeah, I have my fair share of stories (three) about seeing Ian Svenovius (previously of The Make-Up) traipsing around Adams Morgan in the 90s, but, at that time, to broach the doors of his and other ‘indie’ haunts was to risk… How do you spell relief? a-m-a-z-o-n.

Or, to put it another way, by the time I’d found my musical brethren (and sistren [but mostly brethren]) at Howard, I’d learned that meeting someone else who loved, hated, or was oblivious to 10:15 On A Saturday Night was a conversation starter, not a deal breaker. When you’re out numbered and excluded, I’ve found you take your friends where you find them even when what they listen to is gawdawful Counting Crows, Luna, or Tool, (shout out, dear Jason, REDACTED, and Stephon!)

And, honestly, I don’t want to know what Jason finds compelling in Counting Crows. I do know, however, that one of their albums was the soundtrack to our Rehoboth Beach road trip, and it makes me smile every time I think of what I call the ‘any yippee eye can hear‘ song. He liked it and I liked being there with him, and that was more than enough. Or, ‘that’s all that really matters to me.3

  1. That’s a huge claim, but give me two two-cup pots of ginger tea at The Bad Waitress, and I can back it up. ↩︎
  2. @JeffYoung: Also, it’s PEH-dant, not PEE-dant. RT: @lizzieohreally: Reminder: it’s PULL-itzer. Not PEWL-itzer. Thank you. ↩︎
  3. Amanda would disagree, I’m sure, and say that I am as much of a music snob as dude, alas… ↩︎