Generally, we write about music here on GloNo, as many people tend to do. And while one might think that writing about music takes music as its direct subject, the preposition really works more in the context of location. That is, when I write about music, generally speaking it is in the vicinity of the object, rather than about the thing in itself. Writing about music in this sense deals with the context, the surroundings. The reception. The economics. The politics. The performance vis-à-vis something else. The personality.
Writing about music is completely extrinsic. It’s not about the music. Whether it can be—in any but the most superficial sense—remains to be seen. Or written.
Once I worked for a quasi-scholarly journal (“quasi” because it had been associated with an institute of higher learning but then spun free: don’t ask). Given its nature (high tone, don’t you know), we had a contributor who wrote each month about classical music. Classical, arguably, is the most musical of pure music. Presumably, there would be no about about it. For one thing, the context of its original reception exists only in museums or in some scholarly journals. (Yes, I know that I am discounting contemporary classical music here; but let that go). The economics, politics, personalities are no longer remembered (or relevant).
One of my tasks was to edit this contributor’s contributions. As the months passed, I came to the recognition that all that was being essayed was no more than an accumulation of adjectives. I learned nothing about the music unheard. There was nothing that the writer did beyond trying to orchestrate an array of modifiers. Even there, it was about the music only in a superficial sense. The music itself was somewhere else.
So when we try to grapple with the contemporary, when the context is not only around us but actually in us or of us, it becomes even more troubling when we try to communicate what is there, not what surrounds it.
It occurred to me while listening to One All by Neil Finn. I thought not about Crowded House. Split Enz. New Zealand. I didn’t think about how Sheryl Crow is better as a backup singer than an upfront singer. I didn’t wonder what the hell Finn was doing with former Prince side (wo)men. I simply listened. Not to the lyrics, per se. Not to the melodies alone. Not to the production values.
I simply listened. It wasn’t about. It was in. It wasn’t context. It was relevance on a personal, emotional level.
And I realized that sometimes, that’s it. That’s what matters. Listening to it, not about it.