Monday, May 23, 2005

down on fascination street

It might be simpler to just write wow a hundred times consecutively, might be a better way to articulate this nexus where I find myself at this moment.

It's common in manufacturing production facilities to go on shutdown once a year (at least, I'm told). During this time, the facility usually stops all production and takes stock of its equipment, looks at what needs to be cleaned or repaired, troubleshoots. Needing a respite from Peru preparation activities, I went on complete shutdown this weekend.

As luck should have it, this paralysis of planning fit perfectly with my Sunday evening plans- the 826Valencia workshop on music and writing. A topic less pertaining to Peru or trekking, I can't imagine. The panelists: Greil Marcus, Ben Fong-Torres, Kylee Swenson, Garrett Kamps, and Arwen Curry. If it had just been the first name of that list, it would have been worth every penny. I've never been moved by anything Marcus had written prior to this. His writing treats Bob Dylan like a contemporary, as well it should. When I think of Dylan, it's always with this amazement- that Blood on the Tracks could emerge from someone so young, and that its themes can still resonate after so much time has passed.

Marcus had more to say about writing about music than the other four panelists combined, even though he was less effusive, more economical with his words. Marcus got his first break when he excitedly shelled out a few dollars for the promise of a bootlegged Who album, titled Magic Bus: The Who on Tour. His disappointment upon discovering that the album was not a bootleg, and instead a compilation of b-sides and other mediocre material, fueled his first review, which he mailed into Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone published the review, and the rest is history.

What interests me about Greil Marcus' story is that it couldn't happen today. Marcus kept stressing the need to develop one's one voice. Yet, the other editors talked about writing a good pitch, being sensitive to a publication's style and voice. It seems like the classic case of creativity in a constrained environment. Marcus' best tip of the night came when he advised writers to trick editors into publishing the right work. None of the editors dared take exception with this remark. In fact, later, Fong-Torres only pursed his lips when Marcus characterized Rolling Stone album reviews as known to be "cliche, formulaic."

If there is a need of evidence that I had no business being at Sunday's seminar, I think it can be provided by simply noting that Oliver Wang was an attendee. Yes, Oliver Wang, who was recently noted on Sepia Mutiny for his review of MIA's new CD (incidentally, I've finally given up the fight and just become Galang's b*tch already. I tried, people, but the SixxMixx got the best of me). Wang asked a question about the legitimacy of blogs as a credential when submitting a pitch. Some blog bashing ensued, although it was fairly measured. Certainly, Coldplay sustained far more abuse.

Greil Marcus compared blogging to writing without an editor. That would certainly hold water if he were to visit my blog. But if he looked at the recent writings of Abhi, for example, I think he'd have to eat those words. My only point is that blogging can involve legitimate writing or stream of consciousness garbage (i.e. this stuff). Different blogs aspire to different things. While I've heard blog bashing before, I was actually surprised to hear some blog props given to some of the better music sites out there (which is what outed Wang, as an aside).

Four hours into my workday, buried in a sea of nothing vaguely connected to music, I slacked on my lunch hour and was catching up on Jeff Johnson, when I caught a link to the most captivating U2 piece I've read in a long time. Bono unravelling before my very eyes. Marcus had advised that when you write about music, you should think of it as an imaginary conversation with a reader. But what happens when the reader is the musician himself? And what if the conversation ceases to be imaginary? See the U2 piece- it's so wrong, and yet so right. Marcus called it the critics' worst nightmare, when the musician starts reacting to the reviewers' words. Bullsh*t. I bet that's most reviewers' fantasy.

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