Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Become a Transparent iPod

This is the new proposed opening salvo in the book, still gestating under the name Needle on the Record. The play on Ralph Waldo Emerson's "I become a transparent eyeball" hit me as the perfect name for a blog last night (and by stating it here, I officially call dibs on it), but it turned into an essay this evening.

I Become a Transparent iPod

Emerson retreated into divinity and college politics, Thoreau repaired off to a pond and I dive my head into music, seeking something more than escape. Escape really doesn’t do much in that you are trading here for there, and in the reflection that goes into a book like this, my here was neither particularly terrible nor heroic. My life has been spent largely in the middle, the places the poets avoid. Escape only takes you closer to some extreme in life, closer and closer to the edge, and on those edges the view gets skewed.

Poets live on those edges and their skewed views are what feeds me, I think that is why I like talking about music so much. I hear it coming at me from all degrees of the horizon: from quiet pastoral sadness, from agonizing rage, from the bliss one finds in the vicinity of abandon.

If one is viewing life as a spinning disc of vinyl, and I often am, you run through all these degrees, dragging your needle along the carefully worn paths always approaching that middle and making the scratch of that needle rattle out noises that approach the truth that lies at the spindle, the rotating core.

That core is, of course, a void, a hole, the abyss, surrounded by a label, and on that label is where a critic does his or her work; they try to make some sense of the rattle from the periphery and condense it into useful information, into something that is meaningful to someone besides just the author.

Now, I could take this further and try to explain the significance of flipping a record as an allegory of devil’s advocacy, the sleeve as societal perception, record companies as the tightfisted disseminators of human experience, letting life out in spurts, or even the fact that CD’s are read from the center out, icy lasers bouncing off icier mirrors, starting at a fundamental truth and turning it into a series of strung together facts that sound like the truth, and that is why there is less romance associated with them than is attributed to records, or even how an iPod is nothing but a warehouse off all that condensed into a plastic manifestation of the will, changing realities at one spin of the thumb; but I think I’ve done enough of that.

This book is less about records themselves, less about the musicians that make the records, less about the exploits of the person that heard these records than it is about the transcendence that comes from filling one’s life with the sounds, thinking about all that and then talking about it. Emerson himself portrayed such a person that does this sort of thing in his famous essay “The Transcendentalist” as thus:

They are lonely; the spirit of their writing and conversation is lonely; they repel influences; they shun general society; they incline to shut themselves in their chamber in the house, to live in the country rather than in the town, and to find their tasks and amusements in solitude.

This fits me to a cripplingly nerdy T, locked away behind headphones, off the tracks of common merry sentiment, finding instead the often cacophonous roads of the mind to be the places I do my best traveling. He throws me further under the bus by saying

With this passion for what is great and extraordinary, it cannot be wondered at, that they are repelled by vulgarity and frivolity in people.

I am first to admit I am quick to scale my ivory towers fleeing from the popular side of music. Examining why I don’t embrace the music of the swell, or why they do does nothing but bolster my loneliness and shuts me further away in that house in which Emerson has me placed. I’m given to broad pronouncements and lots of sweeping corralling of this art that I love, but it’s not because I am a taxonomic dictator, trying to order my loner existence with a lot of finger pointing and checking off of criteria; it’s because I’m trying to build something out of all this experience of listening.

Theories about musicians and styles of music only serve a purpose when they can actually take you somewhere. For instance, I contend that jazz is a vehicle that takes popular music on a journey it was ill-equipped to undertake; a nice tidy sentiment one can put up on the mantle or take out in the backyard and shoot full of holes. But take that a step further, I think listening is a vehicle that takes the listener and the listened to places neither was able to reach.

So here I now sit, ensconced in a cocoon of music, reflecting on music-filled cocoons past, examining the why’s and how’s of this process in an effort climb the metaphysical staircase spiraling up from that spinning record below, in hopes that when I reach the top, the viewed will afford me something useful not only to myself, but for anyone willing to listen.

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