I Never Write About Music I Love
July 26, 2012
At least not in an academic context, anyway.
During the time I was writing my dissertation about Ladyfest (think: bands that sound like Sleater-Kinney putting on a music festival of bands that sound like Sleater-Kinney), people often made a few assumptions about me. The biggest was that I must be a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuge Sleater-Kinney fan. And, while I certainly will admit that I listened to “Good Things” on repeat after a particular college-era breakup, I am not the hugest SK fan in the world by any mark or measure. I like them, I respect them, and, most importantly, I find them interesting. And all of that makes it easier to write about them (and bands like them) with a sometimes critical eye and with as much fairness as possible.
In contrast, when I love a band’s music–and I mean really, really love it–all I can do is … talk about how much I love it! For example, and I realize I am really 20-some years too late for this bandwagon, I fell in love with Fugazi* last week after watching a live performance from January 12, 1991 in the Riot Grrrl archive at Fales Library. My text to Ryan afterward: “Watched Fugazi show today. Now I WANTS ALL THE FUGAZI.” Yes, I lolcat-spoke. And to another friend: “FUGAZI FUGAZI FUGAZI.” (Similarly, if you asked me to talk about why I love Pulp or The Jam or Blondie, I’d have no answer for you, other than I’m a middle-class white woman and it’s part of my habitus, but I’m not a strict Bourdieusian so that’s somewhat unsatisfactory.) And THAT’S why I never write about what I love, but only what I like.
I don’t think I’m alone in this issue. I spoke with a senior scholar earlier this year who works on Mozart. And, while she loves all of Mozart’s work, she has a special place in her heart for Cosi fan Tutte. She told me that she has problems every time she teaches the opera because she can’t get the sheer beauty of its music across to undergraduates. She hits a wall, just as she has every time she tries to write analytically about it.
And that wall is something I face every time I try to write about music I love. But here’s the good thing: there is so much music in the world! I don’t have to write about my personal favorites! But, make no mistake, I do have to like and respect the music and artists I write about (except maybe one… and I’m pretty sure that anyone who’s been to my indie rock world music paper can guess which one that is). In general, I listen to the music I write about exclusively while writing about it. And I often interview those I’m writing about. I wouldn’t want to do that with music I hated, or even mildly disliked (because that would quickly flame up into hatred).
All of this is to say: I’d be a terrible music critic.
*Yes, I have heard Fugazi before. I did not live under a rock. Jeez. But I think their live performance was just a-maz-ing and affected me differently from hearing their recordings… which I have, many times. After all, Ryan has all the Fugazi. So yeah.