Writing About Music Is Like Two-Stepping About Flying Buttresses

Since I started writing about music for Arkansas Times, people have told me I should more actively pursue it as a vocation. Apparently it’s something I do well.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I take my writing ability for granted. It’s not a skill I recall spending a lot of time developing (as I’m sure this blog’s more meandering and malformed entries will attest), at least not after high school. I remember turning in my first essay to Mrs. Lewis in 10th grade and her comments about how horribly lame my writing was; I took it to heart and became determined to write effectively from then on, which lasted until senior year. After that it was the only real marketable skill I had, which led me to become an English major.

Music has always been the thing I’ve spent the most time developing, yet I’ve never wanted it to become my career. To do that, music would have to become work, and I don’t think I could stomach that. Plus the music I love most has proven time and again to be the least commercially successful.

My tastes in music tend to revolve almost exclusively around pure music and not lyrics. I think I distrust words as interlopers into music. I don’t need words in music; I’d be just fine without them, for the most part[1]. All they really do for me is give me something to sing, a way to participate. Music has the power to make crummy words sound great (just as truly great words have the power to improve crummy music). Rhythm and harmony are so powerful that songs of complete gibberish can become classics (“Wooly Bully,” “Tutti Frutti,” “Louie Louie,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit”). SO many songwriters compose tunes with decent lyrics but boring chords and arrangements; my perspective is: if you’re not going to step up to the plate musically, then go be a poet and see how well your words do by themselves. Don’t sail by with music to pick up the slack. Anyway, all of this ties into the fact that I approach music from my own little peculiar musician-oriented vantage point, so I’m probably not qualified to write about music for regular folk.

So I had lunch with Ted Ludwig on Friday and he told me that I’m probably more qualified to write about music because my background as a musician helps me to understand music on a deeper level. Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s a great idea, since I don’t mind writing becoming work. It hardly seems like work, actually. Of course, the downside is that if I were to devote more time to writing about music, I’d probably get assigned to write about some trendy band that everyone’s excited about but me. And these bands are legion. I can’t begin to count the number of times the entire world goes ga-ga over some band that just strikes me as horribly bland. Even most indie rock strikes me as irritatingly boring.

So I doubt I’d be of much use to the world of rock journalism. I have a hard time writing about things that don’t excite me. Maybe my niche is writing about the stuff no one else wants to. So far at the Times I’ve covered old school hip-hop, jazz, and eccentric indie rock. Maybe there’s enough on the fringes for me to stay occupied.

1.) And I would also be just fine without musicals, which allow for the possibility of combining crummy music, insipid lyrics, poor acting and lame dancing into one reasonably nifty package that impresses only those people who don’t particularly care about those four constituent art forms. Don’t get me wrong, though, when it’s done right it’s transcendent (West Side Story, Oliver!). But I’m rarely impressed by musicals in general.

One thought on “Writing About Music Is Like Two-Stepping About Flying Buttresses”

  1. lewis kicked all our asses at one point or another when it came to writing well. i think she is the only reason i didn’t fail half my classes my first year of college.

    oh and jess says “live the dream” colter!!!

    ps when you coming north?

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