Thursday, January 08, 2009

Several things have set me off thinking over the past couple of days, so there'll be several overlapping and contradictory posts coming up.
First of all, Seb’s throwaway comment below that if you’re not “set up that way” you won’t get MBV opens up an interesting argument on the way music is received/appreciated/apprehended. The materialist argument ( I’d tend to think of it more as a dismissal) as far as I understand it, suggests that we’re each of us set up along certain neural pathways in the brain to appreciate certain sounds, it’s kind of hardwired into us. I will like Oasis because of the way my brain is, you’ll like Terry Riley because of your circuitry, only a fool argues in matters of hardware etc. Brute fact! Forget your pussy/redundant cultural/psychological readings and accept your machinanimality, whimpering Humanist!

But my experience of listening to MBV isn’t consistent, it’s had a different character at different times, the music has done different things, been different at different stages, neither it nor I have had a definite fixed form* or inter-relationship. If you’re like me and often listen to a particular record super-obsessively ( a habit picked up back in the bad old/good old days when you listened to the few records you had repeatedly, when you’re imaginative investment in the records was so deep that to some degree it almost didn’t matter what the record itself was. Christ, I remember being so strapped for music as a teenager that if I bought a record I HAD to like it, just too much time and effort ( trips to Eastern Bloc in Manchester etc) had gone into acquiring it) then forget about them completely for anything up to twenty years at a time, encountering them again can be thoroughly disconcerting. I can’t really imagine myself enjoying Wiseblood’s “ Dirtdish” that much anymore, though when I was sixteen it was simply the greatest thing imaginable, the pinnacle of human expression (still entirely possible I might be given mediating leeway through the enjoyment of another, I guess).

On the other hand, I still love the Young Gods first album, but would have been literally unable to sit through anything by Orange Juice, let alone Miles Davies or King Tubby at the same time I was getting into it. That kind of stuff didn’t compute, but not really in any kind of neurological/ sonic dataflow way, it simply wasn’t the music that someone who wanted to be what I wanted to be listened to. At that point my relationship to music was almost entirely scopophilic, I identified with the attitude/persona of the singers, invariably some variety of macho-yet-tortured, irresistibly fucked-up nihilist, precisely the opposite of my reality as gangly, effeminate, prematurely-ejaculatory teen.

Music’s crucial role in self-definition for some just excises huge chunks of arguably great potential sonic experience out of the air (though without the appropriate receptors/filters you don’t miss out on what you just can’t hear). Certain stuff is just not you; it doesn’t provide the dreamspace, the theatre in which you can act out your ideal-ego. Music is deeply related to self esteem in lots of ways that are both boring and mystifying for anyone who is constituted otherwise. The broadening out of your tastes as you get older is probably related to the fact that self definition is constituted through a wider variety of means/ roles than music, to the point where it may wither away as a concern all together. I’m a tad atavistic in this respect, I confess, despite some ( here come the scare quotes) “improvements” over the years. Hence all the ferocious arguing over the merits of certain bands I may still at times engage in. You diss The Nectarine No 9, dude, in some ways you’re dissing me, and quite deeply. I’ll become hostile. I’ll take it personally.

There is that always entertaining moment when you play someone a song they don’t know, but which is roughly in the arena of their professed tastes and ask them if they like it. Lots of people will want to know who it’s by before committing. I am one of these people and probably, dear blogreader, you are too.

Irritating sadist: What do you think of this?

Impostume: (jejunely) Oh, errmmm, ahh... who is it by?

Irritating sadist: Just yes or no.

Impostume (desperately trying to guess whether he’s recently been railing against this very artist/ genre) Hmm , yeah it’s .. kind of... I dunno.. .who was it again…?

Irritating sadist: I didn’t say. So do you think this is good? Is this “good” music as far as you're concerned? Would you say that you “liked” this? Hmmm?

Impostume: Well…’s (cocks head, tries for non-committal expression, lips pursued, deep in contemplation, hoping sadist will drop a hint)

Irritating, persistent sadist: So… si or no?

Impostume ( certain that if he says yes it’s Colour Me Bad, no and it’s The Mike Osborne Trio) Honestly, you’re ridiculous, as if it matters, get a life! (exeunt)

Thirty minutes later Impostume returns in a poorly concealed lather of impatience and self-doubt, brandishing kitchen knife.” Who was that fucking track by!!!!!!!!!!!”
*and given that Ping tells me Loveless is "beautiful" it may be about to shift around again.


Anonymous said...

"macho-yet-tortured, irresistibly fucked-up nihilist, precisely the opposite of my reality as gangly, effeminate, prematurely-ejaculatory teen"

Checks all round on the character my ego aspired to in my mid-teens, of which Henry Rollins, Steve Albini and Mike Patton were the mainstays in my consciousness. Although I was the other way round, a 20-stone 15-year-old armed to the teeth with caustic retaliatory remarks (and really, it was the best route available through school for me.) which seems in retrospect to make certain that I had no choice in the matter, really, as to where my musical tastes would be at that time. Reclusive, ascetic-nihilist, self-destructive, distrusting of social niceties, all that

Thinking it out now I can't help but remember K-Punk's post on the hipster being too complete a human being and thus altogether less vital in that there is nothing at stake. Read Ewing's post that Simon linked to in discussion of this post, and while sometimes one can't get help but get caught up in the bubbliness of Poptimism/the selfless musical dilettante it doesn't hold much force in the cold light of day for the person who sculpts self out of music.

Perhaps this dualism accounts for the fact that so many people vehemently opposing Poptimism can't help but reply constantly to it, it being such a tantalising prospect that never really delivers in the (as you have pointed out) ineffible mind of music fan forging direct identity relations with music. For me a worry of Poptimism is the fine line between denying the self for the better eclecticism and ultimate enjoyment of one's listening experiences and being offered a job as a T4 presenter. Though enjoying Paris Hilton's album sounds good in principle, and I caught myself humming the single, I just cannot fathom that anyone could profess such an opinion without actually saying 'I'm pretending to like this but the flaccid nature of this enjoyment is damning with faint praise, it suggests I don't really like anything I say I do.'

Then again, I betray the fact that I am one of these obsessive people and cannot fathom taking interest in music without identity even being a concern.

"The broadening out of your tastes as you get older is probably related to the fact that self definition is constituted through a wider variety of means/ roles than music, to the point where it may wither away as a concern all together"

This is probably true to an extent for me, but it's interesting to note that Reynolds, Morley and the like intensify enjoyment of music for you by their opening up of gateways to jouissance, a point which I admire and envy quite a bit. In reading theoretical pop music criticism I ended up more interested in the theory, sacrificed time/money that once was taken by music to buy Marxist literary readers and such. Perhaps the balance for me needs to be re-dressed before I become a stuffy bloodless academic.

Anonymous said...

nice one Anon....i'll reply to your comment in a blogpost soon,first i have to do the abba hang in there and i'll respond asap