As part of my continuing effort to stalk the Oxford American, if for no other reason than to figure out who I have to bribe to get copies of the two or three CDs I’m missing, I went to Bill Friskics-Warren’s presentation at the Southern Festival of Books.
He talked some about his new book, which is about pop music and the urge to transcendence. For me, his thesis–that there’s this theme in pop music that keeps coming up, which is this articulation of a desire to experience something that pulls one out of one’s ordinary experience and, at least for a moment, plugs them into the eternal–is a big “well, duh. Now that he’s pointed it out, how can you not see that to be the obvious truth?” But I guess that for others, it’s been a hard pill to swallow.
Still, I think Bill and I share a similar understanding of how music works and why it’s important, so I tend to trust that he’s on to good stuff. Plus, he’s got a ministerly background and I’m certainly more familiar than most with what it means for someone to be plugged in to the eternal (both good and bad), and how compelling that urge is, to get beyond one’s ordinary life.
And then he read some from and talked about his article in this month’s Oxford American, which is about, as I think I mentioned, his musings on getting beyond the words when one talks about popular music. He was arguing for some kind of more intuitive, gut level reaction to music, and the way that he’d set up his argument, talking about logocentrism and phallocentrism and rockism and such, it was clear that he was arguing for something we might term a more “female” approach to music criticism, an approach that values skills and insights we normally devalue because they’re so closely aligned with traits females have.
But Barbara Ching raised her hand and asked if this approach couldn’t be misconstrued as yet another way to close off music criticism from women, seeing as how one approach one might take to being less logocentric is to focus on instrumentation and production choices and brands of guitars and more kinds of data that men generally collect more often than women do. And then she pointed out that when Bill was asked to mention his favorite critics, folks he thinks really do innovative work, the first people who sprang to mind–David Cantwell, Barry Mazor, and someone else whose name escapes me–are all men.
I don’t mean to make the exchange sound cantankerous. It was, to me, as an audience member, really an amazing moment, to have these two people who love music so deeply and write about it so eloquently and who probably have a great deal in common in terms of how they approach experiencing it, really spurring each other to think deeply about what was being said in that room.
It was again one of those moments where I felt so unbelievably lucky to be there for. It felt like a conversation that mattered. Hell, for me, it felt like a moment where we actually came close to really experiencing transcendence. Ha, I tease a little bit, but sometimes… and it’s one of the reasons I love scholars, even though I often think you’re very silly… sometimes you feel like you’re taking part in a conversation that’s been going on a long time and will continue on long after you’re gone.
It’s like, just for a moment, you step into a room, and there on the far side is Socrates shouting something and Elizabeth Cady Stanton hears what he says and shouts something in reply, but he’s too old and deaf to hear what she said, but Malcolm X wasn’t. He heard it; he just didn’t see who said it, but he’s got something to say about the exchange anyway. And you’re in the room. You open up your mouth to say something and someone might hear you and that might change how they think about everything else that’s being said in there. And long after you die, the ideas and questions you contributed to that ongoing conversation, are still going to shape the direction that conversation goes.
People of earth, how can you not be awed and excited about that possibility?
Anyway, I think it might be interesting to hear from a dancer about music. Those are folks trained to feel music throughout their whole body and to interpret those feelings into movement.
Shoot, I’m half tempted, the next time I see Bill, to just go up to him and shake my booty and if he asks what I’m doing, I’ll tell him it’s music criticism. I think he’d get a kick out of that.