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5/24/2006

Why I Try To Be Open-Minded



Peas, Pod: The Lovey Lovesick Lovers


I guess one of the virtues of being open-minded is realizing that the qualities that you value in a certain kind of music might actually be present in another kind of music. Maybe there were qualities that you liked in music that you were only half-satisfying until you heard something else, i.e. some appreciation of “freedom” in noise rock before you heard free jazz. (The fact that keeps on laughing: Anthony Braxton reportedly flipped his shit when he finally heard Wolf Eyes.) Now, there are reasons to qualify this statement – the obvious one being that it could easily route right back ‘round to sentiments like “I like music that is important, dude” – i.e. the superweird crit-fear of valorizing, say, hip-hop for the same reasons as someone valorized Dylan 30 years ago (socially conscious, poetic, whatever). But first—

I’m intrigued by music that gets its mileage out of emotional disconnection. My favorite indie rock band was always Pavement most likely because they so obviously gave a shit but always tried to be too shy or cool to do so; consider their unrepentant sloppiness, Malkmus’ reportedly impenetrable lyrics, their self-effacing monikers, etc. Their emotional unwillingness was probably the same reason I basically ended up hating the raw nerves of Lou Barlow (no matter how hard I tried), and more or less loved Kim Gordon (though liking Kim was probably infinitely complicated by the fact that SY were overtly urban and much more performative about their romance – that’s not even mentioning the fact that Kim Gordon is a woman and I was, when I first started listening to them, a 13-year-old Boy from the suburbs). So even though I really liked all of Malkmus’ frizzy poetics, my favorite Pavement line was always the one in “Gold Soundz” where he said “So drunk in the August sun, and you’re the kind of girl I like / Because you’re empty, and I’m empty, and you can never quarantine the past.” I liked the line because it sounded like a clean-cut lie when he sang it; I unthinkingly said the same kinds of things to a girl much later on (only realizing it recently), showing my abundance of emotion by trying simply to shrug it off. So, in a sense, my value of emotional disconnection was intensely personal.

When I heard Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” I had a similar experience. Donna Summer didn’t pretend to be cool, she sort of pretended to be hot. And she was hot. But she was more like Kim Gordon, in that sense: sounding so unbelievably passionate that you, well, didn’t exactly believe her. It was a farce (or not!) that would fuck with me, because I never thought that Kim could possibly feel the way she felt in a song like “Shadow of a Doubt,” nor did I think Donna Summer was actually feeling the love she purported to (or, as Frank Kogan said, "If she felt love, it wasn't for me"). I mean, they were feeling something really intense, but they were putting on something different; it made the emotional tenor of the music complicated. Like Steven Malkmus. And later, I found out, like Steely Dan’s Gaucho or when RZA cries on “I Can’t Go To Sleep” or Mannie Fresh or the Mountain Goats or Kiki & Herb (who, I should point out, covered the Mountain Goats on their last album – yeah, the one that hit me like a tennis racket across the face, that one). I’m not saying that “Gold Soundz” and “I Feel Love” are the same. That would be stupid. What I am saying is that my tendencies to listen for and fundamentally value emotional disconnect (or whatever you want to call it) is what ended up allowing me to like “I Feel Love” on the same level as “Gold Soundz.” And I only listened to “I Feel Love” because I was feeling open-minded and curious about disco, and it’s a pillar of the genre.

And I guess I find that quality of emotional disconnection fundamentally interesting and I do value it and I won’t ever apologize for that. It probably has something to do with the reach to identify with emotions in music and having it thwarted (or at least made sticky) by music that isn’t emotionally one-dimensional, or music whose performance somehow mucks up feelings that the lyrical content might belie.

I mean, I think that there’s nothing terribly wrong with “rockism” other than the fact that it’s totally uninteresting. It ignores humor, it ignores nuance in performance, it ignores the satisfaction of rhythm (I always thought that the “disco sucks” thing was a) limp and b) totally different than “techno sucks” because disco used real instruments); it ignores a lot of what makes music wonderful or rich. And I’m not afraid to use those words because "not giving a shit" is passé, but again, that’s a sentiment I’d like to differentiate from “giving a shit for hollow reasons.” Which is why I want to think of Scott Walker’s humor or Mannie Fresh’s self-deprecation or the fact that Fela had a harem. These facets make the stories deeper, more resonant. And I wouldn’t have been privy to any of it unless I had been open-minded about the things I listen to.

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