26 August 2007

The Most Important Thing...

Back in March, I wrote:

The imitation of another musician's personal style is often considered to be an act of reverence. If the imitation is too close, it may cross over into the realm of plagiarism. But more often than either of these, it is an act of vanity. When John Q. Composer writes a new work that is significantly indebted to a previous one yet is of lesser quality, the most important thing about the new work is that he is the one who created it.

I fear that the same dynamic exists when it comes to blogging about current events. This has been particularly in evidence recently with the seemingly perpetual string of major musical figures passing away.

Certainly writing a blog entry constitutes a certain way of paying respect; the near-total dominance of one story throughout the musico-blogosphere merely reflects how important a musician was to so many people. One the other hand, though, in the case of writers who had little or no personal contact (let alone relationship of any kind) with these musicians outside of admiring their work, it becomes increasingly about oneself (i.e. the blogger) rather than about the musician in question, especially when nearly everyone seems to put everything else on hold in order to give their take on the story. At this point, one is no longer doing everyone else a service by breaking the story because everyone else already knows; what distinguishes one article from the next, then, is who wrote it.

Read a newspaper obit and you get all the pertinent information; then read 15 blogs and you learn very little else about the person, but a hell of a lot about the bloggers. Perhaps a brief mention of the passing and a couple of links would be the most respectful way to go about it; "Here's what so-and-so meant to me" is starting to get old.

Of course, we have all caught ourselves raving to an acquaintance about a piece or a recording as if we had created it, even though we hadn't. It seems to be human nature to, figuratively speaking, take ownership of things that we cherish. It's one thing when the dearly departed is an obscure or unknown figure that could use the exposure. On the other hand, in the case of a real luminary, it's made even more superfluous by the fact that we all feel that same sense of ownership and emotional investment with this person and their work.


DJA said...

"Here's what so-and-so meant to me" is starting to get old.

Uh, this is fundamentally what blogs do -- not just when it comes to honoring the passing of artists, but in everything we do. If I review a gig on my blog, it's going to be "this is what this gig meant to me." I don't pretend to objectivity or universality when it comes to aesthetics, nor do I believe such a thing is even possible.

It seems to me that you are complaining that blogs fulfill a different function than mainstream publicatons. This is correct, of course, but if you don't like the more personal, individual, conversational, interactive format of blogs, then why do you even have one?

Stefan Kac said...


When I posted this, I intended to address not the totality of everything we might write about, but rather the specific case of the passing of a well-known musical figure and how we might choose to approach such an event, particularly given the fact that you and I and most everyone else who maintains a music-oriented blog does so at least partly to promote our own musical products and services. It would be different if the blogger had less of an axe to grind (i.e. was writing as a full-time professional journalist, or a non-musician). It would also be different if the subject matter were less sensitive (and maybe we treat death as more "sensitive" of an issue than we should; I'm open to that line of thought).

Why do I have a blog? Good question. As I think you picked up on, I'm more interested in philosophy (that's with a lower-case "p") than current events. As far as the personal nature of blogs goes, there's a big difference between a blog that expresses someone's well-supported opinion and a blog that is "about" someone. Say I were to embark on a national tour: I could blog about each performance and what I did in my spare time in each city; or I could simply allow these experiences to inform my own philosophy (lower-case "p" again) however they may. Maybe we disagree as to which of these might be of more use to the readership; I personally have had enough of blogs that are "about" the author, and tend to favor those where the author presents some thought-provoking opinion and is able to support it at least quasi-convincingly. No, we won't arrive at aesthetic universality, but we will be forced to re-evaluate our own opinions as they are either reinforced or contradicted by what we have just read. That's why I got involved; if it weren't for that, this would be a waste of time for me and everyone else.

I read blogs more to be enlightened than to be informed, and where I do wish to be informed, it's not about the minutiae of the blogger's daily life. There are blogs (musical and otherwise) that literally consist of "This is what I ate for breakfast...this is what happened at work...this is what I did after work." I don't think that contributes anything. If that's what a "blog" is limited to, then no, I most certainly would not have gotten involved, and you're welcome to label me and mine some other way if you want. That ought to take care of the "personal" issue; as for the "individual", "conversational" and "interactive" aspects of the blog format, I am very much on board with those things, and I don't think that there was anything in my original post that implied otherwise. (It's ironic that this whole reply has become "about" me, but then again, you asked...)

I doubt that there are too many bloggers out there who see themselves as co-opting the death of so-and-so merely to draw attention to themselves and their careers, but isn't that kind of what we're doing? Maybe I'm wrong in seeing it that way, but "this is fundamentally what blogs do" doesn't convince me this dynamic does not in fact exist here, or (more importantly) that there isn't anything wrong with it.

DJA said...

It seems to me that by your logic, you could also accuse the New York Times of "co-opting" a person's death in order to sell papers and advertising. In fact, it seems to me that you could make a much stronger case for that, since most bloggers aren't selling ads and aren't getting paid to blog. In fact, I'm really not sure how you came to the conclusion that getting paid to write an obit is less morally problematic than blogging about it without any direct compensation.

As regards my Max Roach post (might as well acknowledge the elephant in the room, no?), I am operating on the assumption that at least some of my readers care about what Max's music means to me specifically, especially considering that it means a great deal. The post in question received a lot of positive comments, so it would seem to me that my assumption was justified.

I really don't see how there is anything unseemly or inappropriate going on here.