30 August 2008


From The Nation's recent review of work by writer and activist Bill McKibben:

[McKibben's] turn toward activism has not been free of ambivalence. In "Speaking Up for the Environment," from 2001, he tells the story of getting arrested in Washington for holding a sign in the Capitol Rotunda demanding environmental action. A group called the Alliance for Democracy planned the protest. The night before, its members gathered in a church basement to prepare and shared their hesitations. McKibben feared losing credibility as a writer. "Real, serious Writer Writers look on," he notes. "They can hold strong opinions, write powerful op-eds, but they tell us what is happening, what should happen. They themselves aren't supposed to 'happen.'" But he concludes, "Without that kind of commitment, my writing life wouldn't make much sense."

It's time for all of us to "happen." More to come...

24 August 2008

To Read or Not To Know

I've said before that my primary justification for the low level of activity here is that it reflects how often I myself am able to set aside the time sit down and read other people's blogs (not skim through, but actually read and digest; anything else would be a waste of time). Certainly, if I had more to say, I would say it, but I find nothing unfortunate about the fact that most of the time, I don't. With writing as with music making, I value being consistent over being prolific (though I'd like to be both, I'm neither most of the time).

As with virtually every other aspect of what the web has wrought, the sheer number of music blogs seemed daunting for a long time. It is somewhat odd, then, that as I've settled into a routine of checking in with the rest of y'all quite a bit less frequently than I used to, I am now beginning to get frustrated with my inability to unearth any new blogs of substantial interest to me. Being someone who gets off on crashing parties and being an outsider, the guiding principle behind my blogospheric machinations to this point has been an idealistic optimism towards unknown quantities (i.e. blogs that don't seem to be attracting much attention) while casting a cynical eye towards the ones that are in virtually everyone's blogroll. Two years into this endeavor, it's now past time to admit that while there are indeed a good number of very popular destinations whose attraction is utterly lost on me, the vast majority of my favorite blogs have a significantly larger readership than my own blog does.

Of course, a very "popular" music blog is still not very popular in the grand scheme of things, but if nothing else, I'm heartened by the possibility that the marketplace of ideas is not only stocking something I want to buy, but selling a lot of it, too. I'm still looking forward to reading any insurgents that might crop up, but I guess it's time to stop feeling guilty for going back to the same old blogs whenever I manage to make time for reading. The more frustrating part is that it is difficult to keep up with most of them, and even if time were not an issue, I'm not convinced that I would be in the mood for the kind of conscientious reading I referred to above often enough to manage this anyway. Complain about long posts if you will; it's really no different than writing a boatload of really short posts over the same period of time (I would venture that far fewer words are posted here over a given month or year despite the length of the individual entries). Maybe by spending less time looking for enlightenment in all the wrong places, I'll be able to keep up with some of the more prolific among us.


When I graduated from college, I realized that I didn't know anything. And I'm not talking about "street smarts" or the "real world," I'm talking about the type of "book smarts" that school is supposed to endow you with in gross excess, but which I can't help feeling that I lack spectacularly. I could go on about the structure of college music programs, but I won't because I already have, and if you're interested in what I have to say about that, you can go there and find out. All that aside, suffice it to say that I was not inspired to learn because I wasn't interested in what was being taught. The three years since then have mostly been spent shuttling between worrying about what this might mean for my career as a music maker and feebly attempting to do something about it (the latter course of action being based on the assumption that, as I was always told in school, whatever the possible consequences, they are all bad). Needless to say that reading music blogs can make one feel really smart sometimes and really dumb other times, the latter in my case most especially when the writer is an academic or specialist twice my age. As a student, I chided those people for pursuing knowledge for its own sake. "If I want to make music," I might have said to myself, "I don't have time to become a musicology expert. I have to practice."

Upon getting a safe distance from the institution, I realized that I had spent a hell of a lot of time practicing without putting an ounce of effort into knowledge gathering (again, I'm hesitant to blame myself entirely for this given that music school "knowledge gathering" was more like "knowledge stuffed down your throat depending on what will get us and keep us NASM accredited"). I fairly immediately began to thirst for knowledge, usually for its own sake and simply because I felt I didn't have any, but sometimes because I didn't think I could go on making music without it. This latter inclination would seem to validate what I heard repeatedly for 5 years as the meekest of all justifications for what I was putting myself through, and it shocked the hell out of me to imagine myself embracing it.

I have not, however, been thoroughly converted. Under my breath or in my head, I would often dare the utterer of such a phrase to back it up with a lucid, academically rigorous explanation of specifically how knowledge of the bit of extra-musical fodder under discussion would make me a better musician. Because I never said it out loud, they didn't, and I can't, hence, I'm not convinced that most of the knowledge I'm interested in will mean anything for my career other than becoming a know-it-all (not a good networking move at all, unfortunately, as this tends to alienate people like all hell).

The inconvenient part of all of this is that I have found myself to have been correct on what would seem to be the most juvenile of all things I ever thought back then, but which is turning out to be the most absolutely and frustratingly true: I really don't have time gather all of that knowledge and keep my chops in any kind of performance-ready shape at the same time. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so many of those hours are inspired hours, and only so many of those hours (actually, I think we're down to a matter of minutes at this point) are hours when it's not impolite to play a tuba upstairs from a family with a small child. I'm finding it a hell of a lot harder to become a top-notch performer/composer than to become a know-it-all, but damn near impossible to become both. Given a choice, I'll take the musicianship, which, as my younger self would have said, produces something that doesn't die with me as my knowledge most certainly will.