Archives for category: Music

I humbly submit an antidote for pretension – yours, mine or someone else’s – in the following definitions of “art”:

art (n.) –  an attempt by an artist, typically through extraordinary means, to make people care about the same weird shit they do

Any of you out there who make a thing they call art has probably noticed themselves caring a lot. I don’t mean this as a compliment; the things you (we) care about tend to be, um, weird.  They don’t have the qualities that usually provoke caring.

To clarify, angry artists reading this, I am not talking about themes.  I know that your art tackles the big, even universal.  I am not calling you a weirdo for exploring femininity, or class, or mortality.  I am willing to (begrudgingly) give humans the benefit of the doubt and say most of us care about these things.

I am talking about the much smaller-scope.  The subject and not the message, if you follow me.

That person has hairs on their neck where hairs often grow on people’s neck.  I care about it, for some reason.

– Probably not me, ever

Maybe you are a photographer who cares about leaves in muddy puddles.  Maybe you are a sculptor who cares about what the other four fingers do when someone’s index is pointing.  Maybe you’re an electronic musician who cares about the different pitches and tonal nuances you achievable with a quarter-pound of ham.

I am being told by my imaginary editor, Shahnaz, that the verb I might mean is “obsess,” and not “care.”  And that may have merit.  (Shahnaz is also upset about my split infinitive earlier, and I do not care.)

Even weirder, then, that we would “obsess” about something that doesn’t even fit the traditional criteria for “care.”  Know what’s more weird?  Weirder?  Possessing of higher WL (weirdness levels)?  Trying to convince other people to care about it.  Or obsess about it, if we are exceptionally talented.

And yet we do.  We go to great lengths to.  But we do it.

Because even if they don’t in their day-to-day lives, you can bet if they really like your muddy leaf exhibit, they will – at least for a moment – care then.

art (n.) – a form of communication characterized by leaving almost nobody on the same page, almost any of the time

This point is best illustrated in the form of a table.

The audience gleans a specific meaning from the piece. The audience believes the piece is open to interpretation. The audience believes the piece is meaningless.
Matches the artist’s message. Does not match the artist’s message.
The piece has a specific intended message. Woo! Whoops Whoops Whoops
The piece is meant to be open to interpretation. Whoops Woo! Whoops

Ha-HA! Now I am talking about themes!

Now, of course I don’t think this chart captures the whole of art criticism.  Nor am I of the opinion that the abundance of Whoopses here are bad.  I think that art is a place where people being all over the map adds to the fun.  Maybe the place.  (I said these descriptions would be inelegant, not negative.)

You are smart people.  (Even if you are artists.)  You understand what I’m trying to say.

I’m sure I’ll come up with more whack ways of looking at things.  And I’ll share them with you.  And hopefully trick you into being interested.




There is a band I’ve been listening to a lot of lately called The Front Bottoms. You probably knew all about them “before they were cool.” You’re hip that way.

There are many things I like about the band that I would be happy to gush about if requested to do so via email or Twitter. (Members of TFB, this would be an excellent way both to boost your self-esteem and mine in one fell swoop.)

What I would especially like to talk about, though, is vocalist Brian Sella. Because he made me ponder something.

Brian is not what I would call a conventionally (conventionally!), uh, good singer.

(Front Bottoms people, allow me to remind you at this point of the lovely things I said about you earlier. I’m a snob. I’m a jerk. Will you ever forgive me? I’m going to one of your shows soon! Some of my pennies are now your pennies! Now, don’t navigate away. I’m about to say some more nice things. Nicer! Trust me.)

This does not, at all (at all) mean I think Brian is a bad singer. Or unpleasant to listen to. Or anything short of incredible. But he is not the sort of human you overhear belting away in the shower and later try to convince “must do this as a career!” He has a very different kind of beauty (and I mean beeaauutyy) to his voice. John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) – same deal. Bob Dylan probably as well, but Dylan I could honestly take or leave. (Yes! But no – shush! Tish!)

The thing about these singers is, well, I believe them. They are singing as a vessel for the beautiful words they need to tell you instead of using such-and-such lyrics as a vessel for their voice.

Certainly I would never say that “technical” artistic “proficiency” precludes the possibility of genuine artistic expression. Merely that it provides an often successful Plan Bravo. You needn’t fondle my heart quite as vigorously if you’ve got my ears eating out of your–

Well, anyway.

Today, I am wondering if there are analogous artists in other media. Particularly, is there a novelist Brian Sella? A poet John Darnielle? (Well, of course there is – John Darnielle. But you see what I’m getting at.) There must I think be some element of fallibility to all the accepted “right ways” in art. Some of these loopholes and alternatives obviously go on to become the new normal (or art would never change), but I think it is just as desirable (if not more) to simply be the grand unusual. If that’s not . . . too weird a phrase. I think it wouldn’t be too stupid a goal, when sitting down to write, to make something grand and unusual.

Meditate on this I will.

I will close with the lyrical reflections of some artists mentioned previously:

I could have been a famous singer, if I had someone else’s voice. But failure’s always sounded better. Let’s fuck it up, boys. Make some noise!

Or, perhaps more poignantly –

Florida’s a long way from Rhode Island.