Mystery Music: Post Mortem

Every morning I make a point of watching the local weather report on the BBC just before seven o’clock. It’s provided by the national weather centre and whichever presenter has been put on the rota for the morning records one for each of the regions (which on my Freeview box means that its possible to click between three different channels and see said presenter pretending that the North-West, London or Wales are special). The other morning, Laura Tobin, the Christina Ricci of the bureau was describing how it would cold but sunny (and it was) and as usual I let the mass of numbers and statistics wash over me, just about grasping what’s what as I dozed. Some presenter’s voices are more useful than others and Tobin’s is a particularly soothing way to start the day.

It occurred to me that morning, that the weather report is the most technically complex piece of exposition on television. Even more than the business news, the audience is supposed to have a grasp of all kinds of jargon and be able to follow a scientific narrative or projection over a three or four minute period. It’s a daily lecture with a very specific subject area – the weather for the day or sometimes weekend – in an information burst that expects a lot in terms of retention from the audience. And I suspect that most people, like me, don’t remember it all – they can’t possibly. In the end, they focus on the essentials they need – whether it will rain and the temperature – so that they can decide if they should take an umbrella and/or wear a coat. Everything else is extraneous data which is mentally discarded even as it leaves the lips of the forecaster.

Which offers the best explanation as to why writing about music for the best part of the past two months has been so difficult. As I arduously tapped away on my keyboard some mornings and evenings, the reason I simply couldn’t as predicted put my real ideas into words was because I hadn’t absorbed as many of the fundamentals of the process as I’d thought. Despite scanning The Guardian’s music columns, the aforementioned websites and flirting with Q Magazine and Rolling Stone in the past, I simply didn’t have the background knowledge, the instinct ability to give an opinion that I really needed, because what I’d done was looked to see if a cd or artist was worth searching for and setting everything else adie. Especially the art of writing a review, of expressing in words something that can only be experienced authentically through sound.

It hasn't been easy. In the desperation to grind the material out I attempted to give myself a few rules; try and write about as many genres as possible, don’t write about too many film soundtracks or female singer/songwriters and affect a journalistic rather than ‘bloggy’ tone. Sure enough the first post was about the American Graffiti soundtrack and by the third post I was already writing about Carla Bruni with the Beethoven sandwiched in between very much autobiographical. The plan was that having gotten those out of the way I could move forward into other territories, but slowly it became all to clear that if I was going to fill all of the slots, even with the month’s gap in the middle, I would have to keep returning to the genres I really enjoyed and knew something about.

But I did enjoy the challenge even if I think there were more failures than successes. Most of the time I couldn’t decide what tone to write in and even though this was supposed to be a list of my favourite music you haven't heard of, often I’d find myself writing about something I didn’t necessarily love too much or everyone had heard of because I simply wanted to get the words out. The most fun was the post in which I picked my five least favourite tracks and then realised that most of my criticisms were rather petty and attempted to be even pettier. Lord knows what you all made of it, but my readers through site meter have certainly dipped and a few more Bloglines subscribes have deserted the rss feed – which also happened last year for Forgotten Films by the way.

If I’ve understood anything it’s that like any other art form, there simply isn’t one way to write about music and that your approach really does change depending upon what’s being presented to you. That pop music demands that you be funny and skittish and that classical by its nature hope you’ll have some deference. I’ve certainly discovered that my musical taste is surprisingly wide ranging and that in fact I quite like some country and dance music, that you simply can’t make those kinds of distinctions any more. I’ve also discovered how important music is to me, far more than I’d been aware of, and how my ears are always open. As I write I’m listening to Pete Seeger’s live cover of The Byrds (or Ecclesiastes) Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season) and it’s about the most perfect track you’re likely to hear.

1 comment:

Annette said...

Just for the record, I thought MMM (into April and May) was a lot of fun. I think the five least favorite tracks post was the highlight for me, too. "We Built This Starbucks On Heart and Soul," now there's a keeper if I ever heard one.