Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, April 17, 2004


During the recent posts on Fats Waller, from 3 and 4 nights ago, I forgot to mention his tag line.

“One never knows, do one?”

I love that line.

The dogmatic skepticism: the impossibility of knowledge; the unmasterability of the mystery of existence and its ten thousand things, its constant flowing happening.

The exuberant grammar. So humorous!

I don’t know much about epistemology, but I know what I like.


I belong to this e-discussion group populated by a bunch of rock critics and rockademics, some of whom are among the music writers I admire most. Paul Allen’s Hendrix Fantasia and Monument to ‘90s Excess, a/k/a Seattle’s own Experience Music Project, sponsors the group as an offshoot of EMP’s annual Pop Music Conference. The host invited me to join as a consolation prize for having submitted a rejected paper proposal for one of the conferences. Odd thing is, I never attended the conference, not out of intentional neglect, only out of too-busy-ness. Until yesterday.

When I got this year’s schedule, I was disappointed to find that one my favorite music writers was presenting a paper on Friday morning -- work time, for which my days off are too dear and valuable to take even to go hear a favorite writer. Luck struck and I had to work today, in exchange for which my supervisor granted me yesterday off. My beloved spouse further granted me a few hours of hookie from child care duties, and so I went.

This favorite writer presented on a panel devoted to -- felicity of felicities! -- the topic of writing about music. Also on the panel was the author of a book I admired in my 20s but recently had trouble stomaching though I still admired its reach and ambition: snapshots of 1980s American musical icons across genres, from jazz and rock and performance-art to Broadway and new classical and neo-traditional classical, musicians the writer admired as he urged us all to conceive of music holistically and without snobby dogmatic genre boundaries. A worthy vision, I just no longer found what he had to say about any of the musicians to be astute or incisive or surprising when I tried to re-read the book a few years ago.

The third speaker on the panel, a writer I’d never heard of named Devin McKinney, gave me much pleasure in listening. He spoke on The Mechanics and Mysteries of the Pop Music Moment, a topic near and dear. He liberally quoted my main man Walter Pater; the prophet of the ecstatic aesthetic moment; the harbinger of 20th-century modernism; a huge influence on Oscar Wilde, Yeats, Pound, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce; a subjective ethicist who urges that the only basis of understanding comes from attention to one’s reactions to any particular moment. “What does this mean *to me*?” During his talk Devin played clips from particularly favorite music of his, including a haunting Carole King song I’d never heard before called “A Road to Nowhere,” and he linked “nowhere” to utopia, its etymological twin. (U-topia = “no place.”) And he talked about the mystery of poweful music emerging from known and knowable mechanical techniques. Magic! The magic of communication, the mystery, the unknowability of communication, of communion; never REALLY knowing the full panoply of associative backdrops that LIE behind any person’s use of any word or string of pearly words. And Road being a word I wrote about here on April 12, and Utopia making its rhetorical appearance around these parts, and Mystery being near and dear, and the music clips being so lovingly presented and absorbingly lovely -- well, . . .

The Greatly Assembled Great and Famous Music Writers present -- they seemed to dig the presentation as much as I did.

Mystery and music and magic and communion -- one never knows, do one?
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