Friday, August 31, 2007

Having Good Taste is So Awesome

i came across this article in pitchfork the other day. the twenty words or less version: people should chuck their old music and expand their taste. sort of an unremarkable argument, no?
but there's something rather perfect about this piece, as if the author actually set out to prove his own deeply embarrassing snobbery. take, for instance, this second paragraph boast: "I had friends who were music heads but among them I was the chief music head. I would give my records away to them!" (mirabile dictu! who on earth but a true chief head would do such a thing?!) this establishes the perspective the whole article is written from: there may be other people who like music, but heck if this guy isn't cooler than all of them. adolescent as that may sound, there's a deeper flaw here, one that shows just how shallow mr. ewing really is.
you see, he says he loves talking about music -- loves the idea of music as a social lubricator. "I'd found myself adrift and lonely at 18, then had made friends with a bunch of people who were as passionate about music as I was. We talked and argued about it non-stop." liking "cool" music, then, is a way for lonely people to make friends. in that respect, it's fine. but the curious thing is that these lonely people, seemingly peer-pressured into their interest in music, have become exactly the people america goes to for suggestions. how could someone so painfully self-centered and image-conscious become a trendsetter?
answer: by knowing MORE than YOU. to critics, telling people about music is more fun than listening to it, which explains quite a lot. the goal is to know as many bands as possible (think of this as the liberal arts approach, which understands the height of intelligence to be a well-prepared jeopardy contestant). the entire concept of expertise has been fundamentally altered, and by a bunch of english majors in tight pants.
part of the motivation for the article seems to be genuine. dude wants people to know that their tastes needn't be set in stone. thing is, most people are already aware of this, because most people have a hidden cache of shameful, tasteless purchases. for example, before pubic hair, i was into r & b (tony, toni, toné; TLC; etc.) and commercial hip-hop (craig mac's "brand new flava in ya ear" is more or less always stuck in my head). if i were to hear that music now, it would strike me as corporate, uninspired, lacking ingenuity. clearly, my tastes have changed. most people, even those who don't particularly like music, have experienced something like this more than once. this, alone, cannot be ewing's point, because even for pitchfork it would be too inane.
ewing's revelation -- and remember he got paid for this epiphany -- is that there are all sorts of totally neat ways to find new music. you can search for random words on P2P software! you can make yourself an expert on a single year! (his two examples are 1975 and 1984, because there wasn't any music made before marketable rock.) you can even listen to some of the crazy shit that foreigners like!!!
this sounds more like the conduct of a man at a wine-tasting (sampling all sorts of things, but spitting them all out without once getting drunk) rather than some sort of music connoisseur. ultimately, ewing admits this: "I had the luxury of detaching myself from [my taste] and trying new ones as I might clothes or haircuts."
there you have it: music as accessory, from the very person whose job is ostensibly to judge music on its artistic merits. how can ewing be expected to recognize good music when he actually BRAGS about liking it superficially? i've always suspected that various year-end "best of" lists are actually counting down fashion statements rather than works of art. now i have my proof.
finally, my childhood hero was patrick ewing, a truly divine man. it has pained me to criticize someone with his last name. if you're reading this, patrick -- come back! the knicks need your sweaty, sweaty brow.