Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When I Get to the Promised Land, I'm Gonna Shake the Eye's Hand

Two thoughts in ascending length order:

1. People often bemoan "political correctness." It's changing our language. It's forcing people to use "they" as a singular pronoun. One change has been underappreciated. "Fireman" has become the much awesomer "firefighter." (Shockingly, spellcheck is dubious of "awesomer." Pish, it's perfectly cromulent.)

2. Earlier today, I was discussing music with a friend. We have similar, but not identical tastes. For instance, we disagree as to which bands we think are truly great. The discussion centered around Modest Mouse's "The Moon and Antarctica" (which I think is a meditation on mortality and religion). He didn't hate it, but didn't hear the greatness in it that I (and many others) do.

He suggested that their approach was to take a fairly simple song and build it up in layers. This may be true. I hadn't thought about it. I mostly was cognizant of the album's beauty and nuanced lyrics. I'm a fairly articulate person, but in trying to explain why I thought they were great, I was left fumbling, grasping. They're brilliant. Stunning. These are conclusions, not reasons, but they're nearly all I've got. They're inventive. Okay. But I can't really say how they're more inventive than, say Nickelback. I know they are, but . . . I can say that they have unconventional song structures (true?). They often switch up the rhythm and volume in a song. They create a rich, full sound through excellent production. Their songs are dramatic and often involve a high peak or crescendo. But all these things are doubtless true of bands I think are crap. So maybe I can praise them in a seemingly sensible way, but really, I'm at a loss.

So how do we talk about art in a useful way? We can talk formalistically, of emotional impact, of lyrics and melody (in music), of creativity, and of skill. But none of these is wholly satisfying. All approaches fail to make effable the ineffable. Two musicians could render the same song: one may make me weep and tremble and the other leave me indifferent, despite their playing the same notes. Art is a way we connect with each other on a spiritual level. So, perhaps, the reason I can't truly get at why I love one band over another is that no one can describe God. No one can appreciate him/her/it in all her/its/his aspects. To repeat an adage that is the punchline of a movie recommended to me by another friend (and frequent commenter here), there's no accounting for taste.


Anonymous said...

Is that 'I's hand'? as in 'I am'?--s29

La Misma said...

What is that line the punchline to? Magnolia? (Just a wild guess.)

I guess that art is ineffable. As someone who used to do a lot of critical writing I like to try and articulate why one band's lyrics are better - more stirring, more unusual, more imagistic? - than another's. I know what you mean that sometimes it feels like an impossible task. Still, when writers get close, I find it very exhilarating.

Like, Greil Marcus wrote a whole book about the Dylan song Like a Rolling Stone. He analyzed every atmospheric quirk that added up to its propulsive beauty. To the point of tedium, he discussed the song's properties and the process that produced them. But not that much tedium! The point is, he applied himself to defining a song's magic and he got pretty frickin close.

La Misma said...

p.s. I love "firefighter' too. Put it in a song, I love it so much.

Anonymous said...

I love readding, and thanks for your artical.........................................

jaltcoh said...

"My own belief is that all music has an expressive power, some more and some less, but that all music has a certain meaning behind the notes and that the meaning behind the notes constitutes, after all, what the piece is saying, what the piece is about.

"This whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?' My answer to that would be, 'Yes.' And 'Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?' My answer to that would be, 'No.'

"Therein lies the difficulty. Simple-minded souls will never be satisfied with the answer to the second of these questions."

-- Aaron Copland, What to Listen for in Music