Success, It Never Comes

Come join us in a prayer / We'll be waiting, waiting where
Come join us in a prayer / We'll be waiting, waiting where // Creative Commons

My column, of which this is the last edition, has gone through a few titles, usually because someone in copy doesn’t like the one that I choose. My title of choice has been “Tune-Up,” because it has to do with music and it doesn’t seem to mean anything substantive. But when I tune my guitar, I always find myself tightening the strings too much and then loosening them too much, never quite finding the perfect middle ground. A tune-up is an exercise in approximation, in exploring the locus of points around the one that you know you can’t hit. And so it is with writing about music.

If you’re one of the approximately three people (myself included) who reads my column, you might have noticed that, even though this is ostensibly a “music” column, I only rarely write about music. I write around it. I talk about loving CDs, and being a jerk at concerts, and my irrational distaste for old rock stars, and zombies. I’m not trying to use clumsy words to represent sublime sounds, nor am I trying to explain to someone why they should absolutely and unequivocally love “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (although everyone should). When I have strayed into writing about notes and rhythms, the results have been mixed.

Because writing about music itself is hard as hell. Maybe this is an excuse, maybe an explanation. Subjective evaluation is hard in any case, especially when the thing you’re evaluating appeals to you not on an intellectual level — not necessarily as “fine” or even interpretable art — but on some primal and omnipresent frequency. Writing about music is like writing about air. Writing about music is like describing a color. Even writing about writing about music leads to abstract nouns and grandiose metaphors, as evidenced by the preceding sentence. Album reviews, as much fun as they might be, are endeavors in some way doomed to fail. Not only do you eventually have to simply say, “It’s good” or “It’s bad,” but the musical qualities you must consider are as elusive and shapeless as your conclusions themselves.

Weirdly enough, that’s why I like writing about music (or writing around it, with occasional tangential contact). I like writing about music because I like talking about music, and I like talking about music because of that inexplicable understanding that passes between people as they both scramble to put into words the reasons why Pavement is just so fucking … yeah. With that mutual and wordless agreement established, a grin passes between them like a joint, and they go listen to some Pavement, and it’s … yeah. And then I try to write a column about why Pavement is awesome, and unless you’ve listened to Pavement and you know why it’s awesome, you’re going to have no idea what I’m talking about.

This column is not a conversation. It couldn’t be, even if I wished it were. Not only is it one-sided, but I don’t even know who would be on the other side if there were one. All of Yale might read my column (stop laughing). None of Yale might read my column. Or — most likely — my audience might be me, Akbar and that girl in section who always agrees with my comments (thanks). But for whoever’s on the other end, even if we can’t talk about what makes Pavement so … yeah, hopefully I can make you say, “Huh. I never thought about it/listened to it that way before.” And little would make me happier than to be able to do that.

I’m equally happy to have someone say, “I already thought about that, but I like the way you said it.” This result, I think, would be closer to my hypothetical conversation about Pavement — superficially pointless, but satisfying anyway.

At the end of the day, though, I know I’m not going to convince you to love something you didn’t. I’m not going to change the way a given song resonates in your brain, whether or not its waves and yours have the same tempo. That’s the whole point of music: If loving it could be reduced to a column-length argument, it would be boring. But I will close with a list of things I think about music. Which, I guess, is kind of what I’ve been doing this whole time.

So: Originality is good, but weirdness for its own sake is not; if you could die on stage without that stopping the music, then it doesn’t count as a live performance; guitar is the best instrument, preferably with a little bit of fuzz; music is (usually) more important than lyrics; OK Computer is better than Kid A; lyrics shouldn’t make perfect sense; modern band names suck; rock and roll ain’t gonna die.

There, I said it.