Saturday, November 21, 2009

An a Series Within a Series...?

About a year and a half ago (maybe it was more like two doesn't really matter), I was presented with a unique opportunity. A friend of mine found herself the editor of an upstart magazine and wanted me to write a music column (I still appreciate the show of faith Liz). All I had to do was come up with a concept, and the job would be mine. Needless to say, this was a huge deal for me. This here, this whole "writing thing" is kind of "the dream". Oh, it's not like it's been lifelong or anything; I went through the childhood stages of Baseball player, Football player, Rock Star, but around the age of 13 or 14, I discovered that I not only had opinions I felt strongly about, but also liked putting those ideas down on paper. We should all constantly pursue thought and expansion of our ideas, but putting down those thoughts, even here in a virtual sense, made the ideas more concrete, more permanent. I guess it's like a legacy, some sort of proof that I was here, evidence I existed that will last longer than me and the people I know and love. Maybe it's a little self-centered, I certainly recognize that, that I should have something out there that makes me in some way immortal, but it's nonetheless incredibly appealing, and it doesn't hurt that I actually enjoy the physical act of writing. Although I wouldn't say any of that is beside the point, it is a bit left of center for what I'm trying to say right now, so I'll move on...

Liz wanted an idea, a concept, and that part was pretty easy. It took us about an hour talking in my living room to figure it out. Frankly, I still think it was brilliant. Criticism is my strong suit. I'm good at critique because I scrutinize the music I'm listening to. I would call it a passionate attention to detail. Mostly everyone else who knows me well would probably call it an obsession, but whatever label you want to slap on it, I hear things other people don't. I'm not saying that makes me special in any way, just different. Some people don't need to listen to things as intently and focused as I do, and more power to you if that's you're style. I'm not entirely convinced that I might actually find a greater and simpler joy in what I listen to if I could be that person. But, in the words of that spinach loving sailor, I y'am what I y'am and that's all that I y'am, so I have no choice; this is my plight, it is my lot in life to hear things the way I do, and even if I could enjoy things more, I honestly would have it no other way. So, when Liz offered me this chance, I knew I wanted to do something with criticism.

Answer: simple album reviews, right? Well, there were a few glaring problems. 1.) Reviews are not a column, they are simply a series of blurbs that make up a section, 2.) Album reviews border on news, so in order to stay relevant, you have to have them written and printed at least by the release date. But the magazine was only going to print an issue once every two months, so either you exclude a lot of music that should be reviewed, or you review a lot of stuff that is no longer current. Most print outlets review albums before they com out, worst case scenario, web outlets like and Pitchfork have the reviews up the day of the release. Why review something that's already old hat? 3.) (and possibly most important) A magazine that no one has heard of and has no physical copies in circulation doesn't really exist, so record labels were absolutely unresponsive, so advanced copies of records was simply out of the question. Where does this leave me? Fucked, that's where it left me. Traditional album reviews were not an option. So, if I wanted to incorporate criticism into a column, I was going to have to come up with something different. And, with the help of Liz, that's exactly what I did. If my only option was to write stale album reviews, why not write really stale reviews? Thus, the idea of "If you haven't already been listening to this, you should be" was born.

This idea seemed, well, is, golden. It works on so many different levels. I get to write about the music I really want to write about, but the sweet bus doesn't stop there. Let's face it, we miss shit. My best friend Tyler is music passionate/obsessive much the same way I am, and until about 6 months ago, he had never heard Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks". That album is arguably one of the top 10 greatest pop/rock records ever recorded (Again, thanks to Liz, she got me the beautiful 180g reissue of that one for my 30th), so if a music aficionado can miss one of the most rewarding records of all time for 28 years, it's easy to miss some fantastic records that are slightly less noticeable on the radar.

But what if you have heard it? Well, if you liked it, it's always great to hear other people's take on something you appreciate, and if you hated it, either you read it and decide to give it another listen (best case scenario), or the piece would give you more fuel for the fire. We always want our hate to be more focused, more searing, more evidential. Passionate hate is scorching, but you can usually drive holes through pure passion. This kind of column would give the opponent the chance to get their ducks in a row before the attack. Who doesn't want a stronger argument? I would wager no one.

Once the idea was in place, I knew what I needed to write about. Neutral Milk's "Aeroplane..." is the best record ever recorded. It's not my favorite album ever, but it is the best. Just to clarify the statement, "Schindler's List" is easily a better, more important film than "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy", but I've watched "Anchorman..." a hell of a lot more. "Anchorman..." is certainly more enjoyable to watch, a shit-ton easier to watch as well, but is it a better film than "Schindler's List"? My answer would be "Fuck no." "Schindler's List" is beautifully shot, compelling, life-altering. "Anchorman..." is pretty fucking hilarious. But as I've said before, art is not about entertainment, art is about pushing boundaries, re-writing history, forcing a re-evaluation of what is and isn't. "Schindler's List" does that, "Anchorman..." just makes me laugh my ass off. Certainly, comedy is in itself art, but if we're weighing the importance of one film being made over the other, in the grand scheme of things, the world is probably a better place because "Schindler's List" was made, but I'm not sure I can say that about "Anchorman...". I'm glad it was made, but there's nothing there that made me a better person, just a content one.

But that's really simply a side note. "Aeroplane..." is an indie phenom, and has sold impressive numbers for a truly "independent label" release, but certainly is nowhere near what could be regarded as a commercial success. It should be, though. So I wanted to do my part, no matter how minuscule it might be. I wrote my article in a fervor. I actually called in sick to my real job to stay up well past an acceptable bed time because it was pouring out of me. I finished in a little less than 8 hours and although I didn't say everything I thought should be said, I was proud of what I wrote. I submitted it, after an edit or two, it was accepted, and a few weeks later, the magazine tanked, and my article as well as my idea for the column tanked with it, and my dreams of writing about the albums I love seemed dead as well. (By the way, just another quick side note; although "Aeroplane..." is not my favorite album of all time, it is one of them, so...)

But then I started this blog, and the idea of "If You're not Already Listening to This, You Should Be" came flooding back. I had way too many records I wanted everyone in the world to love, and all of the sudden, I found myself with a forum again, albeit, one that I can only imagine is realistically a much smaller one, but hey, who the fuck knows, right? So, I decided a week or so ago that I needed to write this column in blog form.

It's funny, because the albums I intend to write about are albums that, in my head, I call "time and place" albums, but that title can't be more incorrect. These albums actually rise above a specific time or a specific place. These albums are, to me, timeless. They ring just as true now as they did when I first heard them. I call them "time and place" because they found me at "the right time and the right place" in my life. They mean to me what they do because when I first heard them, they spoke so intrinsically to who I was then, that I eventually fell madly in love with them. But as I grew as a person, they grew with me. Songs meant one thing when I first heard them, but when I listened a week, a month, a year later, they meant different things. The amazing thing is, because of what they essentially were (are) to me, I could remember what they meant upon first, second, tenth, seventieth listen, and they gave me the opportunity ignore the rules of the space-time continuum, and see through several different sets of the same pair of eyes. 14 year old Brandon could simultaneously exist with 17 year old Brandon, as well as 20 year old Brandon, 25 year old Brandon, and 30 year old Brandon. They don't transport me to a different time or place, they transport me to every time and every place I've been since I first heard them. Granted, none of this means they'll be as special to you, but I'm not sure I could feel okay with myself if I didn't at least try to convince you.

So, as sorry as I am that I haven't said anything of truly profound significance in this post, I felt it necessary prepare or forewarn you of what's to come. Oh, I'm not saying this is going to be the sum and total of what I publish here. If a particular thought burrows its way into my brain, I will without a doubt write about it, but by and large, I will tell you flat out that the albums I speak of, this idea, will dominate what I write on this here blog. So get ready because over the next few weeks, months, years, whatever, I'll be letting you know what I think you should be listening to if you aren't already. And if things go well, maybe we can all fall in love together.

1 comment:

  1. I like to think of listening to music as an evolution. My tastes evolve and my ears process and signal my brain to these new preferences. I go through life changes - have experiences - I listen to a few great records and they prep me for the next awesome record to come along. So, say I heard an album and initially dismissed it - I could hear the same thing 9 months from now and think it's brilliant. Why do I have this change of opinion? This is your "time and place" idea. Whatever needed to come together came together and found me at the exact right moment to be blown away.