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

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


A musician friend, talking about music critics who have never played an instrument: “Maybe there could be a good food critic who didn’t know anything about cooking . . . ”

* * *

Regarding last night’s post on Mike Seeger -- I didn’t mean to imply that my 10-day trip to Canada did not include my spouse -- she was there, but she missed Mike Seeger’s set -- it’s a busy folk festival.

After buying groceries last night, I found a BBC clip on Seeger’s mother, the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, which includes snippets from her music. The BBC got one thing wrong (at least -- I didn’t listen that closely; I’m linking because I liked the music snippets): Ruth Seeger was Mike and Peggy’s mother, not step-mother; she was Pete’s step-mother.

Between groceries and finding a web clip on Ruth Crawford Seeger, I also found a used copy of Mike Seeger’s recent disc True Vine, and it’s gorgeous. A solo record with (I’m pretty sure) no overdubs, and I’d have to count the number of instruments he plays -- various guitars, Jew’s harp, several varieties of banjo, a couple different autoharps, various fiddles, harmonicas, dulcimer, quills, shakers, in various combinations. The duplicated fiddles and banjos etc. all sound different from one another. His fretless banjo playing absolutely sends me, as does his fiddle-harmonica duet. In the booklet Seeger confirms something I mentioned last night -- that he approaches these songs and instrumentals as if they were classical music.

* * *

The ultimate destination of our Canadian vacation was Alert Bay, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. An unforgettable destination, with the most gorgeous totem poles I’ve seen, some more than 100 years old, where they were originally put up, with new ones being put up by happening contemporary carvers in a happening cultural scene. Beautiful island, tremendous art, friendly people. Someone I met told me the population is about 770, about 60% living on a Native Reserve (which the U.S. would call a “reservation”) adjacent to the municipality. Still some fishing going on too.

* * *

Deep and many thanks to Matthew of Chicago for sending me a CD-R of a 1990 Chicago gig by my then-band Wild Onion Rhythm Babies. What a thrill to find this waiting for me when I got back home from a 10-day road trip! Deeply touched.

* * *

Sasha defers too much to Joshua/Jane on the non-disposability of the concept of the disposability of pop music. Sasha had it right when he originally said, “Thinking, while watching ESPN (sort of) of the uselessness of “disposability” as a critical concept: your Sudafed is my crystal meth. How do you know when my song’s run dry? How does any type of music signal disposability?” And Joshua/Jane was wrong when he analogized pop music to the disposability of pop bottles, “This is true of pop music too. The way it's made presumes a certain duration of ‘use’ by the consumer, and that remains a force shaping the music.” No. I can think of no way that any music I’ve ever heard has ever signaled disposability. Music sellers love it when any piece of music is popular forever. Capitol milks the Beatles and Atlantic milks Zep. The most successful jingles are the ones that you never, ever, ever, ever forget. If Sasha or Joshua/Jane have examples as to how musicians and/or music sellers have ever specifically designed music with the specific intent that it not remain popular, I’m all ears.

* * *

Jordan is finding Joshua/Jane “fairly persuasive” today too, on a different topic. Again, I’m unpersuaded.

Joshua/Jane is taking on the lefties who think we need more persuasive methods of framing political topics, falsely imputing said leftists with equating this tactical decision with an ideological belief that spinning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. It’s a nonsensical equation, and no lefty I know of believes it. The lefties presently pursuing more effective rhetoric for the purposes of democratic victory are doing so in harmony with what they (me included) consider to be material reality and humane policy.

Joshua/Jane asserts that Lakoff’s tactic of framing is the equivalent of believing that “the basic goal of communication is to cause people to believe things that serve particular interests.” He/she continues, “There is no freedom, no autonomy, and no broad community in that direction.”

2 big problems with this. First, agitating for freedom, autonomy and broad community is, in material fact, believing something that serves particular interests -- and that's fine. Second, Joshua/Jane hasn’t begun to make the case that Lakoffian framing is inimical to “reality-based” communication (not J/J’s phrase). The lefties’ main point in all of this is: The R’s policies are out of touch with reality, but, the R’s themselves are in touch with reality enough to realize this, and they use rhetoric to disinform and elide the differences; therefore, we need a counter-rhetoric to bring people back to reality. How that effort “digs one's own grave” is beyond me, and that J/J is drawn to such melodramatic, violent, negative rhetoric to make his case, frankly, disturbs me.
I was so there. I had a nice nap for part of it.
On the critic tip - somewhere in the midst of this misbegot' career of mine, I have also been a food critic. I did not know anything about cooking, and I wasn't a very serious food critic - I couldn't have done anything more complex than the resto reviews I was doing - but I was wise in the ways of restaurants and could evaluate the experiences in laypeople's terms, and I had fun with the form, spinning the reviews out into little essays on tangentially related subjects. People seemed to enjoy them, a lot more than the guy before me who knew a lot about cooking but could. not. write.

And that's what it's all about. Critics are writers. Ultimately, writing well is the whole game - you can only write so well if you write ignorantly, so you school yourself.

I do know how to play instruments, and a bit of music theory, but going on about the tonic to the subdominant isn't going to communicate to a general public.

Franklin Bruno's new Elvis Costello book is a nice case of a musician writing clearly on musical structure for a readership (though occasionally it gets a little too technical) - but that's because Franklin is a real writer as well as a musician.

The food critic before me hated me for being a more popular food writer than him, even though he knew more about food. He also hated me because he wanted to review the country albums for the music section and I stole that job from him too - not meaning to, it just got given to me, because, again, he was a weak writer. The fact that both of us were named Carl didn't help matters. I can't blame the fellow.
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