Monthly Archives: April 2012

Live Music; or, the Song in the Age of Digital Reproduction, an Essay in Eight Tracks

 

Track 1: This is me, around 1991. I still had long hair in my dreams for years after I cut it.

Track 2: Eight years, age 15 to 23, I could only imagine music, being a Famous Rock Star. It’s hard to say how many hours a day or days a week I practiced, because it was never work.  Even then, I loved that English used to the word “play” for an instrument, because that’s what I felt I was doing. But it was as much as I could: a few hours a day, not including at least six hours a week of band practice, not including at least two shows a month, not including going to other bands’ gigs twice a week.  I held down a job (record store) and earned easy A’s in school, but I lived music.

Track 3: And then, suddenly, I didn’t.  I spent the next decade learning to be a reader, writer, teacher, husband, and father.  For years, I didn’t even have a guitar. No one knew who I used to be, who, in some sense, I really was.  Music was the secret identity I left behind.  It was too hard to be everything.  Like the mopey tween calendar montage in Twilight: Breaking Dawn, or the mopey tween sun rising and falling montage in Beastly (I need to lay off the mopey tween monsters), time passed.

And as time was passing, something interesting happened, almost behind my back: music went digital.

Track 4: I am no vinyl purist. I’ve always preferred electric to acoustic. Unlike the fans who booed electric Dylan in 1965, if my favorite heavy rock band showed up with acoustic guitars, I’d boo them. (I’m looking at you, Nirvana.) Thank God the unplugged fad of the 90s is over. I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more, either.

Yet I can see why the folkies didn’t feel that electric music was authentic. The electric guitar puts more steps between the player’s fingers and the listener’s ear.  Not just the vibrations of the string, but the pickup, the signal, the wire, the amplification, and the distortion—sweet, dirty, deliberate distortion—of the signal. The electric sound of the guitar’s amplification is then further captured electronically by microphones, processed even further into the analogue of reel to reel tape, then mastered onto vinyl.  So many steps in the process of producing and reproducing the sound, each step, for the purist, one further away from the original.  Not the reel but the real.

But going electric and going digital are not the same. Something about listening to all music in MP3 format seems different, the final step that remasters once more, finally and irrevocably converting the analogue sound into binary computer code, Dylan’s plaintive wail (is there any other kind?) and guitarist Mike Bloomfield’s rich squeals into a cold series of ones and zeros, compressed, then uncompressed.  Look, overall, I love the iPod, love having 6332 songs made portable, love the slightly junky, slightly tinny, slightly robotic tone, love the intrusive insertion of the earbuds jacked directly into your brain, rather than warmly, maternally enveloping  your ears like the admittedly superior hi-fi earmuffs of yesteryear. (Yes, I know you can still get them. No, I never see anyone wearing them.) But I don’t mistake what I’m hearing.  Not music exactly, but an excellent simulation: “I’m not the song, but I play one on an iPod.”

Track 5: Walter Benjamin, from “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936): “That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.…  By making many reproductions it [the technique of reproduction] substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.”   The part that messes with people today is that Benjamin, a Marxist when the word still meant something, saw this AS A GOOD THING. The destruction of the aura could only benefit the masses.  With the artwork’s aura destroyed, the work’s hegemonic power, not artistic power, its elevated class and economic status, would disappear, since the same picture would be available to all.  Technology, and ultimately “the capitalistic mode of production,” could “create conditions which would make it possible to abolish capitalism itself.”   Yet that is not what has happened to art in the time since Benjamin wrote his essay.  Instead, the more frequently a work of art is reproduced, the more expensive and more coveted the original becomes.  Look at yesterday’s New York Times article on the subject of rich, famous art—including Munch’s Scream, mentioned in last week’s entry, now likely to “fetch” (Times’ word choice)  $150-200 MILLION.  That’s some puppy.  But music is an altogether different animal. It wasn’t records or tapes that finally destroyed music’s aura, but digital reproduction.  Music, in every sense of the term, now is free.  

 Bad joke. Sorry.

SIDE B

Track 6: Jean Baudrillard, from Simulation and Simulacra:

“Such would be the successive phases of the image:

it is the reflection of a profound reality;”

[me: i.e.,  acoustic guitar string]

it masks and denatures a profound reality;

[electric guitar string –>pickup –> amplifier]

it masks the absence of a profound reality;

[electric guitar string  –> pickup –> amplifier –> analogue recording]

it has no relation to any reality whatsoever; it is its own pure simulacrum.”

[electric guitar string –> pickup –> amplifier –> analogue recording –> converted to digital recording]

Track 7: But I started to listen to music again, and play.  A few years of noodling, riffing, realizing that the hours of play had hardened into neural muscle memory and that there was no remediation needed.  My first real foray back into playing came when I bought a new amplifier last year, a Fender G DEC 3. Not to get all ad-speak with Walter Benjamin in the room, but it’s a clever idea: build MP3 backing tracks right into the amp and loop them to simulate playing with musicians. 

As an actual amplifier by itself it doesn’t sound that great.  In fact, it sounds exactly like a digital simulation of an electric guitar amplifier. But with the simulated tracks, the simulated sound is perfect. And as recorded by my digital camera, and uploaded onto my laptop, and linked to the world wide intermesh, and fed through your speakers, who can tell?

Electric guitar string –>pickup –> digital amplifier –> digital recording –> my laptop –> internet –> your laptop

  But because it’s digital, we could reproduce it a thousand times, a million more times, and it would sound just like the original.  Benjamin missed his prediction for art, but foresaw the future of music.

Track 8: Then, not long after I got the amp, I started playing again, for real, with actual people.  And it’s not like playing with simulated tracks at all.  I could hardly eat before or after each rehearsal, and when we were done I left wracked with stomach pain. I thought it was the stress of singing after a long hiatus, the churn of old pipes and machinery, or even nerves.

But later, I realized I recognized and remembered that pain.

It was called excitement.

Same guy, same guitar, one haircut, 21 years later

Jesse Kavadlo

Time: Over again, which is becoming the new norm. Eighty minutes, not including making the amp video just for this occasion. Time to go back in time to 60 minutes.

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Textbook Marriage

Belvedere Castle, in NYC's Central Park. So romantic!

I read fiction about suffering, madness, and death.  Not brave quests to overcome seemingly-impossible obstacles.  Not lovable talking animals learning valuable lessons.  Not We-Disliked-Each-Other-at-First-but-Now-We’re-Falling-in-Love stories, unless untranslated from the original Austen.  No happy endings.  Fittingly, I am also a college English professor, down to my daily uniform of corduroy pants and up to my suede elbow patches.  So the books in my American Literature class this semester represent Unhappiness’s Greatest Hits, especially marital misery.  For all of its green lights, ash heaps, and eyes in the sky, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a novel whose plot boils down to adultery, filled with lines like this: “Most of the remaining women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands.”  So far, no student has asked how I personally feel about the subject of marriage itself.  They do not ask, Are you married? Or, What do you think?  So thankfully, I don’t have to tell.  As long as they don’t want to know, I can keep my personal life out of it.  That’s good.  If they did ask, I would be afraid to answer.

Neither great nor Gatsby, he's really a legume

Instead, we stick to the stories.  And I find myself in the position of persuading skeptical students—women at least as often as men—to see how, in Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” from 1899, Edna must have felt trapped in her marriage, even as she strives to exercise some semblance of control through her questionable decisions.  I need students to consider the possibility that, in the “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” the care given to the unnamed, seemingly unreliable wife by her husband could be the cause of her illness, not the cure.  And I want them to imagine that these stories’ turn-of-the century timeframe does not mean that their gender troubles have all been settled by our own enlightened turn of the millennium.  The conventions of first-comes-love, then-comes-marriage, then-comes-baby-in-the-baby-carriage are powerful traps—for women, certainly, but, in Ernest Hemingway’s and Nathanael West’s work, men as well.  Fortunately, students don’t wonder how I feel about marriage personally.  They think they know.

I know why the caged bird drowns herself

In New York, where I lived most of my life, maybe marital ambivalence is well understood—fewer and later marriages are the norm.  But where I now live in the Midwest, many of my students are engaged by their junior year.  Many more marry upon graduation.  When characters rightfully stand up to parents, my students say things like, “My parents and I are BEST FRIENDS!”  I roll my eyes and think snarky thoughts and generalize about the Midwest as though I don’t live here, too.

Yet there is something about me my students don’t know. Something that few, except for those closest to me, can fathom or would even suspect.  It’s a truth so clandestine, so potentially startling, that it casts a bright light over my dark, shiny veneer of authority and credibility as a writer, academic, and curmudgeon.

I have a happy marriage.  I am happy. 

Please.  Don’t judge me too harshly.  It’s difficult, not just in my line of work but in America in general, even in the Midwest once college ends and adult life begins, to admit to being happy.  Before I decided to write this essay, in fact, I needed to consult with my wife to make sure it was safe with her to come out. 

“It’s not something I can talk about with most people,” she agreed.  “When my friends start talking about their husbands, I just smile and keep quiet.”  For the record, she agrees that we’re happy.  And like me, she was happy before we met.  One person can’t make another person happy anyway.  Being happy is not a choice. While we’ve managed to meet other happy couples over the years, they also tend to keep their business to themselves.

Of course, no marriage is perfect.  My wife doesn’t like that I chew too loudly.  I don’t like that my wife doesn’t like that I chew too loudly.  As I keep having to explain, it’s temporomandibular joint disorder, and eating bagels is no picnic for me, either.

OK, our marriage is perfect.   But it’s not as though our lives are perfect.  We have struggled with money, with painful decisions, with bouts of dissatisfaction, with buying homes and raising three children, with health scares and the everyday array of American anxiety.  But through everything, it was and always is the two of us, together, against the world.  Never against each other.  

We knew we were going to marry each other on the night we met, when we left Webster Hall, a loud downtown club, at its 4 AM closing, to walk and talk together.  After stopping at an all-night diner for coffee, we went to Central Park to watch the sun rise as we sat in Belvedere Castle [top image].  Neither of us was looking to get married, so like an experienced screenwriter my wife threw in an obligatory Third Act conflict, declaring a few weeks after we met that she wanted to move to San Francisco, going as far as to fly there with an eye on an apartment in the Haight.  In my memory, our story unfolds like a movie.  What would be three quarters of the way through—or in real time, a month after we met and upon her return home—we were back together and soon engaged.  At the end, we married, in Brooklyn, eleven months from our first night in Central Park, wondering why it took so long.  

If our lives had really been that movie, I would not watch it.  Too Hollywood.  It would feature a long musical montage of us: walking up First Avenue with ice-cream cones, then ordering pasta dishes with different color sauces so we could mix them together at the table, to the cook’s dismay.  Flipping through bins of second-hand CDs, perusing stacks of used books, watching “Stomp” on Second Avenue, taking the L to Brooklyn, fumbling coins for our laundry, sitting on the floor and drinking a bottle of plum wine for so long that we missed our restaurant reservation and didn’t notice.  All while a Foo Fighters—no, worse, a Goo Goo Dolls—song played in the background of the scene.  Laughter, smiles.  An uplifting romantic comedy, when the only romantic comedy I like is “Annie Hall.”  But we really did do all that in our first months together, and the night we met was the first of thousands of beautiful, magical times we would spend together. 

Ugh.  You see the problem.  I wrote “beautiful, magical times.”  I know, I know: what people like us do behind closed doors, in private, is our own business.  We have no right to flaunt our happy lifestyle, to shove it in other people’s faces.    

Since then, every Valentine’s Day my wife cooks a heart-shaped meatloaf.  When our first son was born, I wrote Welcome Home to mother and child across the living room with dried rose petals.  For reasons I still can’t fathom, I was once singing the “Annie” song into a banana: “The sun will come out, banana, bet your bottom dollar that banana, they’ll be some.”  I looked up to realize I was not alone in my foolishness, only to hear my wife join in singing too: [together] “Banana! Banana! I love ya, banana.”  Giggles and hugs.  Our cars are matching colors.  And so on.  These and many more are the joyful, shameful secrets I must never reveal if I want to be respected, for they push the limits of tolerance, even in a free, Western, supposedly open-minded society such as ours. 

In addition to being an Expressionistic representation of modern alientation and angst, The Scream may also depict how you feel right now from reading this post. I'm so sorry.

Great thinkers, artists, and writers are supposed to struggle in their loves.   The best someone should hope for is the marriage of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, passionate at first but then tense and drifting later on.  It could be worse: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre’s drunken turbulence; or worse, Edgar Allen Poe’s creepy union with his thirteen-year old first cousin, Virginia Clemm; or worse, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath’s catastrophe.  Actually, I’m not sure which is worse.  But it’s not a contest; it’s like the opposite of a contest.  Of course, there are renowned literary romances.  Just not literary marriages.  The story of Darcy and Elizabeth ends once they marry, Catherine and Heathcliff marry others, and Romeo and Juliet, you know.  For every novel like Ian McEwen’s Saturday, including a happy marriage, there are hundreds, thousands, of unhappy fictional marriages.  From the impression I get from journalism, there are hundreds, thousands, of unhappy nonfictional marriages, too.

Yet even Tolstoy, who famously warned readers of happiness’s narrative monotony—“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” in Anna Karenina, another great and terrible novel of adultery and death—was, by most accounts, happily married.  Or at least, like Joyce, he was happily married for most of his life, before the marriage finally soured.  Thankfully, my wife and I have been married for only fifteen years, so there is still plenty of time for us to have the dramatic and tumultuous relationship we envy in others, the kind of traditional marriage that we can admit to in the open, without fear of intolerance or ridicule.    

For now, until the rest of the world is ready, I live in fear that one day, my literature students will find out who and what I really am: someone who makes them read only about misfortune in marriage, when my own is inappropriately happy.  And that I secretly hope my children will think we’re still best friends when they’re in college, too.

Jesse Kavadlo

 Time: OK, this requires some explanation. I originally wrote a 60 minute version for last Valentine’s Day, but when I was done I thought I might try to do something else with it. I spent a lot more time on it, in exactly the way I promised myself I wouldn’t for the blog, made it longer, edited it more carefully, and sent it to the New York Times Modern Love column.  Which, um, didn’t want it.  If you read “Modern Love” regularly, you’ll notice that they like stuff that’s far more depressing than this piece, missing the point that SO DO I. Oh, well.

It’s coming out in hard copy next week in Maryville’s literary journal, Magnolia, which is fine with me. Unless someone wants to buy it. Then email me.

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Versatile Blogger Award! Plus Seven Things About Me

Last week, the blogger Cookaholic Wife sent me this Versatile Blogger Award!

 

According to the Pay it Forward-slash-chain letter explanation, The Versatile Blogger award “is a great way to introduce different bloggers to each other and to promote quality blogs that awardees and their readers may not have discovered otherwise.”

 
The rules of this award include
1. Thanking the person who gave you this award.
2. Include a link to their blog.
3. Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly.
4. Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.
5. Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.
6. In the same post, include this set of rules.
7. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

So the easy part: thanks, Cookaholic Wife.

 
And here are 7 Things About Me:
1. I hate multitasking when it comes to writing or work. I like to start one thing and finish it, or alternate between two tasks, preferably tasks that I would probably procrastinate, like grading papers and doing dishes. This way, when I switch, it feels like a break. Then I switch back after a while and it feels like another break.

2. Yet I love multitasking at leisure, like watching a movie and eating ice cream—only and always Ben and Jerry’s—at the same time, while I’m reading a book or magazine and holding, and occasionally playing, the guitar on my lap.

3. For most of my formative years—say, 13-21—I had no idea that I would be anything other than a rock star when I grew up; the guitar has been on my lap for decades. Yet I’m totally OK with not becoming famous now, because if I had become famous when I wanted to, at 20ish, I probably wouldn’t still be a famous rock star now anyway, and I wouldn’t have gone to grad school or met my lovely wife during that time because I would have been too busy being a famous rock star. So everything worked out.

4. It’s funny how often people say “Everything worked out” when, technically, it didn’t.   

5. Similarly, most people say that things work out for a reason, according to plan, or according to fate, or destiny, or karma, yet they also believe that they themselves have free will.  If pressed, I’d say that I prefer not to believe in any kind of fate but that I’d rather not have to decide.

6. Of course, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. But that’s not really a fact about me. That’s a fact about Neal Peart.

7. I have, unfortunately, been multitasking while writing this quasi-blog entry. I hate multitasking when it comes to writing or work.

Newly discovered fact: it turns out that I’m congenitally incapable of writing 7 Things About Me in any remotely sensible manner.

 
15 Bloggers to Pass This Along To
thepollyannafragments

havepenwillscribble

Wings Of A Giant

gonzotopia

fiercelyyours

thegoodbadpeople

themagnificentsomething

koshergranola

pomegranatesandhoney

alkavadlo    

OK, this isn’t 15.  And I guess I’m related to two of the bloggers (which doesn’t change their quality). I’ll follow up with more soon.

Thanks! Back with a brand new real post next week.

Last: Hey!  Now that I’m officially Versatile, I’d putting out a call for the Comments section: Is there any topic you’d like to see analyzed in this blog in 60 minutes or less? Let me know.

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Listening to Barack Obama on Shuffle

 

In the 1989, as an impressionable Poli-sci major about to defect to English, I was blown away that Václav Havel, playwright, poet and protester, could become Václav Havel, President—as it turns out, last president—of Czechoslovakia.  Naturally, I thought: Never in America.  And ten years later, when professional wrestler and professional lunatic Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota—a year before I actually moved to the state under his governance—naturally, I thought: Only in America. 

Yet after reading Dreams of My Father, I can’t help but think of Barack Obama as a writer first and a politician second, a man of letters, one of us who made good, real good.  And while I like the book’s merging of memoir with manifesto, of a personal identity crisis with a national one, much of my admiration comes from the way Obama himself reads it.  Mode and code shifting, voices, rhythms, accents reflecting Nairobi to Chicago, multiple inflections: the man knows how to tell a story.  Obtuse teleprompter jokes on the one hand and overblown praise on the other both aside, Obama’s verbal dexterity is best reflected in writing, and his reading of his own writing, rather than off the cuff comments or speechwriter’s words.  Obama—Barack, as I keep wanting to call him after listening—exhibits the consummate writer’s power to ponder, picture, revise, and reflect[i].  

I don’t have many audiobooks, but I couldn’t help getting Barack Obama’s DoMF during the 2008 campaign.  Yet a funny thing happened: I seldom listen to it linearly or chronologically. Like many iPod People, I mostly listen on shuffle. 

Ah shuffle.    

Does any word better reflect contemporary sensibilities toward music? The word the kids love and, therefore, lovingly abuse, is “random,” but I’m a bigger proponent of using “shuffle,” or “on shuffle” as slang for unlikely, juxtaposed, or unexpected.  [Using old man voice] Back in my day, we used to argue about what kind of music was the best, although not as bad as the previous decade’s “Disco sucks” wars or the decade before that seeing Bob Dylan booed by his own fans for going electric.  But now, ask a college student what kind of music she prefers and prepare to be bored: a gamut of responses ranging widely from “I like a lot of kinds of music” to “I like all kinds of music” to [puts on breathy haughty voice] “My musical tastes are… eclectic.” In other words, the musical genre that they like is called Shuffle.

But I digress.  Taking up six discs and 108 tracks, Dreams of My Father inevitably pops up occasionally, mixed in with my tunes.  And I always ponder the significance of the juxtapositions between Obama and the songs that precede and follow.  So as an experiment I decided to hit Shuffle and, for the first time, keep track.

Exhibit A—Track: “The first thing to remember” (page 35)

Summary: Lolo, Barack’s stepfather, sees young B with a lump on his head from an unfair fight with an older boy and teaches him to box.  Lesson: male bonding mixed with self-defense in an hostile, alien environment of Jakarta.  

Before: Ramones, Locket Love

Sample lyric: Hang on a little bit longer
Hang on you’re a goner

After: Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone

Sample lyric: How does it feel ?
How does it feel ?
To be without a home ?
Like a complete unknown ?
Like a rolling stone ?

Commentary: Clearly, The Ramones set the tone of perseverance and the budding paternalism and commonalities, aside from funny names, between Barack and Lolo. But then Dylan throws a curve, as he always does, by reinforcing the literal and metaphorical unmooring Barack copes with throughout the whole book, even as he exposes the secret hubris one must feel to be the subject of any attention: a fight, a song, especially one’s own book.

 Exhibit B—Track: Preface  (pg. vii)

Summary: Obama describes his surprising victory in the Senate race and the mixed public responses, one of which was the reissue of this book.  Obama finds that his feelings are still similar, but the world’s context after 9/11, and from Clinton to Bush, is now very different.  Lesson: things change, for better and worse.

Before: Yngwie Malmsteen, You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget

Sample lyric: It was you, it was me,
And we would last forever.
Any fool could see, that we were
Meant to be

After: Ratt, Givin’ Yourself Away

Sample lyric:

It’s there in every move you make
You can’t hide your heartache away
Hey, it’s somethin’ you don’t have to say
It’s written in the tears on your face
I see through the part that you play

Commentary: The book is all about memory, what Barack can’t help but remember in spite of the pain. Or maybe he remembers precisely because of it.  But concern with memory and forgetting aside, Malmsteen’s lyrics basically suck, so let me focus on what people take from his music: the virtuoso guitar playing.  Obama’s writing, however,  is not the equivalent at all: his vocabulary and syntax are complex and engaging but not, I don’t think, showboating or technical. The Preface concludes with a touching encomium to Barack’s mother, who died of cancer just after the book was published, lending the book a sense of emotional urgency that Malmsteen’s solos don’t really strive for.  Yet, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, the Ratt lyrics bring the emotion directly to the surface, even as they allude to one other point Obama makes in the preface: that some of the book’s material is less politically expedient on the national stage but that he refutes none of it.

Exhibit C—Track: “One day as I sat down at my computer” (136)

Summary: Barack hears from a long lost half-sister who wants to visit. But she cancels when her brother—and, really, his, too, although he does not know him—has been killed in a motorcycle accident. Lesson: Things get better and worse.

Before: Miles Davis, My Funny Valentine

Sample lyric:

My funny valentine, sweet comic valentine

You make me smile with my heart

Your looks are laughable, un-photographable

Yet you’re my favorite work of art

After: Black Sabbath, TV Crimes

Sample lyric:

One day in the life of the lonely
Another day on the round about
What do they need
Somebody to love

Commentary: Of course, Davis’s 15-minute live version is instrumental, so there’s less irony in Barack’s tragic loss and estrangement and the lyrics’ goofy celebration of imperfection.  Instead, Davis’s version is plaintive, piercing, and painful, a perfect set up for the book’s distant but real bereavement.  Meanwhile, Black Sabbath’s song is precisely the opposite: a particularly hard rocker, dissonant even for them, with raging, screaming vocals by Ronnie James Dio, even as they lyrics point out the loneliness endemic to modern society that we try and fail to quell though media.  Dio’s, and Obama’s, pain requires human connection that, in both tracks, remains thwarted.

Exhibit D—“I awoke to the sound” (pg. 87)

Summary: Chronologically earlier than “One day as I sat down at my computer…,” this section recounts Barack’s grandparents fighting because, he discovers, his grandmother is upset that a black panhandler asked for money, and his grandfather is upset at her unconscious racism. This is the “Obama threw his grandmother under the bus” section that conservatives like to point to.  Lesson: Critics miss the point: that the people we love and who love us are capable of contradiction and complexity, that racism is often unconscious, impersonal, and systemic,  and that having a black grandchild is not an automatic inoculation against bias.  

Before: Black Sabbath, Neon Knights

After: The Ramones, Ramona

Weird! Black Sabbath and The Ramones twice each.  But I spent too much time on this already, and my hour is out so I need to wrap this entry up right now.

Supposedly, iPod customers have long wondered about the secret logarithms that determine the obvious sentience behind Shuffle. They are certain that it’s not random at all. It’s hard to argue with, given the possible relationships that emerge, even though it’s not, of course, that a pattern emerges or that there’s intelligent design. Rather we, as humans and listeners, invariably create those patterns.  

History and politics have patterns, too, even if the truth is that the cosmic iPod of Life is also on constant shuffle, so that one decade’s wrestler in the State House can lead into another decade’s writer in the White House. We like shuffle because life is on shuffle, and I can’t help but see the track sequences as another great example of life’s, and maybe even America’s, many great eclecticisms.

Time: 80 minutes (!), not including listening to all those tracks, although I tried to write and listen at the same time when I could.

Jesse Kavadlo

 


[i] Unlike yr humble Hourman, who writes fast and sloppy and edits faster and sloppier.  Look for a six-month anniversary entry in a few weeks on what I’ve learned from blogging.  

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Warning: Contains Spoilers

 Spoiler: When someone reveals a previously unknown aspect of something which you likely would have rather learned on your own.

*discussions of art media such as video games, movies, etc. especially vulnerable.

It turns out that my wife (who blogs about food here) has not been reading Hourman. She is worried that I have given away the end of The Hunger Games, which has been collecting dust on her nightstand for two weeks.

Yet is it really possible to give away the end of The Hunger Games?  Once you read the back cover, or see a commercial for the movie, or have any idea what it’s about (hunger; also, games; possibly vice versa), and once you know that it’s part of a trilogy (see: inside cover) it seems impossible to give too much away, since it’s highly unlikely that Katniss can possibly be killed in the book.  What do you think this is [Spoiler alert!], Game of Thrones?

But thanks to the Internet, we live in a perpetual No Spoiler culture, where the worst thing a website, blog, critic, or writer can do is reveal an important plot detail or, God forbid, the ending.

The issue, for me, is twofold.

First, time does not exist online.  Not in the timesuck sense of murdering an hour on Facebook or, for me, looking longingly at lovely Les Pauls on Ebay, but rather in the contextless void of cyberspace, where all people, living or dead, and all music and video simultaneously coexist. Abba to Zappa, Beatles and Bach and Beck, are all just keywords, timeless—in the not necessarily classic sense. 

Music doesn’t have spoilers, though.  Yet with movies, there is no longer a statute of limitations for how long someone is supposed to wait before you’re Allowed to Talk about Fight Club, since it will always be brand new, eternally, online, to someone, somewhere.  In other words, online writing, in its perpetual present, is expected to maintain the rhetoric of old media newspaper movie reviews, which essentially summarize the premise, or roughly the first act of a movie, with a little subjective commentary about whether the reader should see the movie or not, preferably with 1-5 stars as an EZ guideline.

This is very different from critical writing, college writing, and academic writing, where the presumed audience is someone who has (likely) read the book or seen the film in question and is interested in analysis, not a recommendation—and who already knows the twists and details.  ‘Cause the thing is, I need to be able to discuss the work in its entirety to discuss it at all.  The difference between The Lion King and Hamlet is the difference between the wayward Prince reclaiming his betrothed and kingdom, vs. everybody dying horribly.  Possibly also: singing animals and fart jokes.

But this ethos contradicts the internet rule of No Spoilers, as seen here by one Amazon.com review, about—surprise!—a collection of critical essays on Fight Club:

 This review is from: You Do Not Talk About Fight Club: I Am Jack’s Completely Unauthorized Essay Collection (Smart Pop series) (Paperback)

I love Fight Club in both book and movie form and I love the fact that the story makes you think. So picking this book up seemed like a must for any Fight Club/Chuck Palahniuk fan.

I’m only two essays into it and my interest is already losing traction. The first essay was painfully overwritten considering the context of the book and the audience who will probably be reading it. If you don’t have your dictionary and a good understanding of philosophy both basic and advanced, you’ll probably struggle through it hoping the book gets better as I did (it does). Long, complex sentence structures, insane words and hybrid words I recognized but didn’t know the meaning of and philosophy references that I had never heard before all conspired to ruin this first essay for me rather quickly.

Another major complaint I have–again with the first essay since I’ve only read two so far–is that there is no spoiler alert at the start of the essay. Well let me just warn you now, the first contributing essay will ruin a good majority of Chuck Palahniuk’s novels if you haven’t already read them. The author goes off endlessly and in detail about his theories on Chuck’s other books, describing in detail certain aspects of the story and the book’s overall outcome. So annoying trying to skip over stuff that seemed spoiler in nature. I haven’t read Chuck’s other books yet and now I don’t need to; the surprise is ruined.

The “first essay” in question was written by me.  And I didn’t realize the possibility that what I was writing was “spoiler in nature.” I thought I was writing about books.

Leaving aside that this reviewer thinks it’s a problem to read an essay that uses words and philosophical references that he has “never heard of before” (JFGI, kid), I turn to the second issue: the No Spoiler fetish overemphasizes the importance of plot. 

OK, maybe in fairness to my Amazon detractor, with a Chuck Palahniuk or an M. Night Shyamalan or a Quentin Tarantino—people who traffic specifically in the twist ending—you don’t want to know that at the end of Fight Club oirjrnjnriwbecbwqhjbediuwrenrfnewroin. Or at the end of The Sixth Sense it turns out that Bruce Willis’s character wfnwenfrewijgtmhoiweb, or at the end of Unbreakable, Bruce Willis’s character learns that lkjsfrohjdeoifhqwiuewqnbe, or at the chronological end but narrative middle of Pulp Fiction, Bruce Willis’s character oiewhfiunewicnbewfndekjwncen. These movies, like Bruce Willis, have been out for decades. 

At what point is it safe to declare a Spoiler moratorium? 

The thing is, there are many, many reasons to read or watch a story aside from the stuff that happens.  If anything, Palahniuk’s, Shymalan’s, and Tarantino’s best work transcend plot entirely and enter into the much more interesting realms of style, voice, and narrative structure, aspects of storytelling that, like sweet, sweet honey, naturally resist spoilage.  If all anyone wants is plot summary, go read Cliff’s Notes.  Or if that’s too long, the Cliff’s Notes of Cliff’s Notes, Wikipedia.  If someone likes an author, even the most egregious spoilers shouldn’t actually ruin (the word used twice in the review) much of anything.      

I’m a fun guy, so, let’s play mold to film’s gentle bread and spoil some endings, shall we?

Harry Potter series: the good guys win

Lord of the Rings: good guys win

Star Wars: good guys win

Titanic: boat sinks

Now, maybe this is too glib. After all, I suppose it’s the particular details of the plot, not the overall trajectory or ending, that rankles the Spoiler-sports (Alternate names for people who want to stop spoilers: the Refrigerators? The Tupperwares? Or are these just terrible band names?).  For example, in Titanic, it’s not the boat, it’s that [Spoiler alert, despite that it’s the second highest grossing movie of all time] Jack dies; in Harry Potter [Spoiler alert, even though it’s the bestselling book series and third highest grossing movie of all time], the epilogue flashes forward to a future where Harry and Ginny are sending their bully magnet-named son Albus Severus to Hogwarts; in LoTR [Spoiler alert, even though—ah forget it], Frodo destroys the ring but is altered by the experience and can’t go back home; in The Empire Strikes Back [oh no he di’n’t], Luke is revealed to be Darth Vader’s son. 

Once Target shirts have spoilers, the secret's out

I’ll go one further: I don’t like surprises.  Let’s hear two cheers for spoilers.  Once you’re free from the filmic tyranny of What’s Going to Happen?!?, you can actually sit back and enjoy the show. 

As everyone knows, “spoil” can mean ruin.

But it also means “indulge.”

Time: 55 minutes  

 Jesse Kavadlo

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