2004 Year End Thoughts
My Year With Music
ike many people whose “professional” life is closely tied to music, I’ve compiled a small handful of items from the usual year-end litany of gripes that stem from overexposure to something you love. These complaints usually come in the standard formula “too much x, not enough y”, where x generally describes number of reviews/papers overdue and y denotes money, time, energy or good will. This sort of griping is usually accompanied by a nagging feeling that one’s attachment to music has become something of an obligation rather than a true pleasure, not to mention threatening notes from editors/professors and a near-continual lack of sleep. One need only scan the “resignation reviews” from each year’s crop of retiring critics to sense the real pervasiveness of these (generally self-induced) anxieties—you’ll be sure to read story after story of people ground down by insistent deadlines, the demands of “conformist criticism” and the senseless repetition of the publish-or-perish work environment.
And yet at the end of this year, the music-critic malaise weighs curiously lightly on my mind. The year has certainly had its share of down points for me: the death of two very dear and very young friends, another death in my family, long stretches of nil-productivity induced by preoccupation with said deaths and longer stretches of nil-productivity induced by preoccupation with the preoccupation. I’m not sure, however, that my lack of complaint at the end of the year is a product of “real problems” overshadowing “slightly less real problems”—though deadline hysteria certainly seems like a luxury in a year where it feels like I haven’t had much say in choosing my anxieties. Instead, I’m more thankful than ever for those times, no matter how small, when music and music writing has interjected any bit of energy or secured some feeling of community in a difficult and often draining year. Below you’ll find a necessarily incomplete list of particularly encouraging moments of varying significance, compiled (save for the very last, which is most important) in no particular order…
…. watching one stomach-flu-ridden Greg Kelley run off to vomit midway through his set with Jason Lescalleet, only to come back and unleash a torrent of mic-assisted trumpet noise twice as sick as he was… driving out to an empty fluorescent-lit parking garage on a summer night to listen to the Junior Boys’ album on repeat, because I’m pretty sure that’s where and when it’s supposed to be listened to… taking over the blog of our long-suffering editor for a week, where I learned the benefits of writing on very short notice, experienced a bit of the fun of throwing around half-formed ideas and failed to learn restraint when it came to telling stories about my cat… feeling a perhaps-disproportionate sense of pride about the warm reception (some people commented on a message board!) of the debut record from Scenic Railroads, my electronics duo with amazing friend, class act, and fellow Stylus scribe Mike Shiflet… getting caught doing a very stilted hip-swivel dance to Ricardo Villalobos while on the treadmill at the gym, continuing to do the dance in order to “prove” that I wasn’t really embarrassed… playing competent drums and some severely crippled guitar in numerous back-home jam sessions with my brother, who has had a tougher year than I could ever imagine and charges on anyway… listening to “Toxic” on infinite repeat in my car… listening to Kevin Drumm’s “Impish Tyrant” on infinite repeat in my car… welling up with little tears of joy as Thurston Moore impaled the underside of a PA speaker as security guards stood by dumbfounded, struggling to figure out whether they should restrain him or not… being too queasy and brain-boggled to walk up the stairs of my apartment after repeated viewings of the optic-nerve-frying Nicedisc DVD… feeling more than a little relieved that I really love the Joanna Newsom album, as if loving it somehow proved to me that a certain kind of introspective songwriting still mattered… nearly passing out after receiving a few unsolicited compliments and one very fatherly pat on the back from Keith Rowe outside the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center, nearly passing out during extended feedback squeal during his ferocious and astounding solo set… receiving a completely unexpected and beyond-sweaty hug from a shaken-looking hipster after the Blood Brothers’ set finished—I’ve never seen the guy before, but it seemed like he needed it… catching some of Todd’s infectious quasi-enthusiasm over numerous phone conversations in which he’d announce that certain songs were “the best thing ever” before adding half a dozen qualifications—we’re victims of the criticism industry’s occupational hazards, but at least that one’s fun… forgetting to swat the thousands of mosquitoes hovering over an outdoor Jazzkammer concert while watching John Hegre chuck his guitar into the dirt and ground the last few squeaks and fizzles out of it… learning to love the amazing juxtapositions that an mp3 player’s “random” button can generate (vivid memory of yelping unexpectedly on a bus as Low faded into… uhh… Zbigniew Karkwoski)… working on this interminable paper for a medieval music seminar and discovering, for a bizarre forty-five minutes stretch, that I really cared very deeply about “The Later-Seventh-Century Origins of the Roman Mass Proper” and then observing with some puzzlement that this feeling evaporated as quickly and mysteriously as it appeared… realizing that I can sing along note-for-note with Webern’s Variations for orchestra, Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, and an uncomfortable number of early musique concrete works… and last, but certainly not least, proposing to my leading lady against a backdrop of our favorite songs, and dancing ourselves crazy to Prince shortly afterward.
They’re all little things (and one big one), but taken in total they’re more than enough to stop music from being a chore, more than enough to keep one connected in the face of hardship and stress and certainly more than enough to stave off my own “resignation review” this year. Many thanks to all my friends, family and, of course, the readers. Here’s to another year of the good far outweighing the bad.
Reviewed by: Joe Panzner
Reviewed on: 2004-12-21