Just Listen

I

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.


II

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.

III

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.

5 thoughts on “Just Listen”

  1. Stephan Macauley, that’s what matters ALL the time, not just sometimes.

    It’s a shame that musicians and fans are too often dismissed for their peripherals, for their context.

    Go in a dark room by yourself, listen to the music through some headphones, and if you get it, you get it. If you like it, you like it. Fuck everything else.

  2. Context counts for a lot, though. No one experiences music in a vacuum. Music, especially pop music (and all its bastard children) exists both in and of itself, and as a dialogue between itself and the rest of the culture. The trick to writing about music is to balance the two sides — immediate impact vs. larger relevance, to the culture, to the scene, to the band. If you only focus only on the immediate experience of listening, all music writing can be reduced to five words: “It is what it is.” That’s unsatisfying for many reasons, not least of all because it’s a false statement. It is what it is, but it’s also jam-packed with reference to the world around it. Music doesn’t just lie there, it happens, and it doesn’t just happen, it happens to people, to things, to culture. Music is a transitive verb, and writing about it is the act of identifying the direct object.

  3. a suggestion: one of these days try getting ahold of some classic Sun Ra concert bootlegs from the late ’60’s to the early ’80’s — preferably a show with a FULL ORCHESTRA — and proceed to hunker down at home, alone — with the tapes, your stereo, a comfortable couch & carpet, an array of refreshing beverages, and 3 to 6 grams of psychedelic mushrooms. then report back to us.

  4. …or the entire catalog of Parliament-Funkadelic and a few hits of acid.

    Just don’t keep any Perry Como albums around during this experience.

  5. ANy idea on what that classical song is in the movie jackass, i can’t find it anywhere, if you could help me out, it would be greatly appreciated

    cheers

    todd

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