So I originally posted these things on Facebook, a distraction that turned itself into a project, where each day I’d write about a CD in my collection, working alphabetically left to right through my racks. As it progressed, a handful of people said they would buy a book that collected all of these in one places. I can’t imagine any publisher in 2021 publishing a 100,000 word book that contains CD reviews from a semi-obscure writer, no matter how brilliant and handsome the semi-obscure writer might (or might not) happen to be. But I can imagine people willingly downloading a PDF onto their computer/tablet/electronic device of their choosing, where it will sit unread for many years.
So now is your chance to make that dream (the second one) come true. I’m going to go ahead and post the introduction I wrote yesterday as a kind of incentive (or warning, depending on your aesthetics):
When I began this project, it wasn’t a project at all. It was a distraction, a convenient outlet for all kinds of creative frustrations I was carrying around during a pandemic that required me to be a present and empathetic parent from 6:45am to 7:00pm every single day for 17 months. In July 2020, I had managed to carve out 2.5 hours each day because I needed to work on the final edits for a book that was scheduled to come out lhat fall. I had worked, or more accurately “co-worked,” on that book since the fall of 2018, and after a year of interviews and research, and countless deep conversations about the subject of the book, a well-known band that had formed in the town where I currently lived, I looked over at my CD racks one afternoon and desperately wished I was writing about one of those bands instead–a type of writing that I imagined would be fun, informal and free of external pressures.
So I decided that before starting work each day on the book, I would give myself a treat by writing about one of the CDs in my collection. I figured it would improve my mood and allow me to plow through the tediousness of the job ahead of me (I adore the editing process, but it’s about as exciting as doing a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle where every piece is gray). I decided I would post my write-up on Facebook as a way to connect with my quarantined music friends, and also as a way to offset the delayed gratification of the book project for some instant gratification on the internet. I also decided to work from left to right, in alphabetical order, and keep going until it wasn’t fun anymore. I would also usually post a YouTube link to a song from the album. When this has created confusion in the text below, I’ve put the name of the song in parentheses.
I completed the book editing project after a couple of weeks, but by then I was starting to enjoy this new project, along with the conversations (and arguments) that were taking place in the comments. Getting those 2.5 hours each day had required a lot of household work/life juggling and sacrifice on the part of Brigette (wife) and Noam (son), but it was agreed that an hour writing break each day seemed not only tenable, but sanity-saving for everyone in the house. So each day at 11:30am I would go upstairs to write about the next CD on the rack.
Quarantine brain made it impossible for me to write anything besides these little CD stories, so with my creative self blocked from writing fiction, poetry, drama, essays, etc., the project gradually became a kind of artistic lifeline, a way to remain connected with that part of my existence, or at the very least, a way to keep my writing chops relatively sharp. I gave myself an hour to write these spontaneously, directly onto Facebook, no pre-writing allowed, first thought/best thought.
All of which is saying that I had no idea where this was going when it started, and I think the earliest entries reflect that. About halfway into the project, a handful of people suggested I should turn it into a book. I was skeptical then, and I’m even more skeptical now, that any publisher on earth would print a 100,000 word book of CD reviews, but I’ve gone ahead and compiled these in a PDF as a gift to the people who encouraged me. It was a very lonely year, and I’m grateful to my friends for making it less lonely. These entries sparked some great conversations. In a perfect world, I would have taken time and space to include all the comments as well, but at 100,000 words, I kind of felt like I was already pushing my luck in terms of reader patience. I’ve included a few anyway, ones that caught my eye and I thought added to the entry.
Many friends took exceptions to some of my more acerbic takes for reasons that seemed valid (one time I was having a nervous breakdown and couldn’t stop crying and I played that album on repeat over and over because it was the only thing that made me feel safe) and less valid (I met that band once and they were really nice).
As it progressed, I also began to experience some epiphanies about what I liked and why I liked it. Your typical paid music-criticism these days, for better or worse, tends to fall back on authority when arguing for a piece of music–either the writer’s authority, or the authority created by a consensus of conventional wisdom. This sort of faux-objectivity has always bothered me, for many reasons, but mainly because our love (or our not-love) for a piece of music is wildly subjective and very much rooted in our own personal headspace and life situation when we encounter it. Just because an album appears on a respected publication’s Top 500 Albums of All Time list doesn’t mean I (or anyone else) is going to like it. And I think the idea that people need to like it, or should like it, in order to be considered music fans/experts/critics/whatever is ridiculous, especially when these publications’ definition of “All-Time” changes pretty much every eight years. This is a subject for another book, but in the wake of the financial collapse of the music industry, nearly all contemporary music criticism written for money exists first and foremost to sell the music that the industry wants sold. This leads to writing that all too often amounts to a press release with a score attached to it–the authority of quantitative data combined with the authority of (pseudo) objectivity.
I wanted to replace that with an approach that focused more on my subjective experience as a listener. I wanted to use poetry, not authority, to get across how I felt about the music. I feel these entries tell a story when presented in a certain order–the story of a person investigating why they like or don’t like a piece of music that they once paid money for, and trying to figure out why. Whether I have succeeded, or whether this project has any value at all, will probably be as subjective as the music itself. But I think that’s a good thing. Consensus breeds conformity, and conformity breeds conservatism (with a lower case C, aesthetic not political). One thing I learned is that I always like a great song, or a great sound, or a great beat. I learned that I love to be surprised, and I hate to be bored. And I like songs that I can remember after they’ve finished playing, that make me want to play them again.
I feel compelled to point out that my CD collection is not a complete, or even accurate, reflection of my personal musical taste. It reflects music that I paid for, mostly between the years 1998-2007, and that survived my various moves across the country. I wouldn’t be the first person to point out that the album format does a disservice to one-hit wonders and more single-focused mediums like pop and hip-hop. Most of my 60s/70s/80s soul is on vinyl, and most of my hip-hop is on streaming services which I no longer subscribe to or were on cassettes that have long gone broken or lost.
In ways that are also both better and worse, where we once made assumptions about a person’s aesthetics and taste based on their record collection, we now tend to use people’s music collections to draw conclusions about their ethics and morality. I’m not comfortable with the idea of music critics at The Guardian, a nominally left-wing newspaper that worked to sabotage the very idea of a Jeremy Corbyn prime minister-ship, being the moral arbiters of anything. And I would ask anyone concerned about the morality of a person’s record collection to sit down and actually attempt to arrange their albums in order from least-problematic to most-problematic. Does James Brown go ahead of Elliott Smith? Prince ahead of David Bowie? Carly Simon? Wu-Tang Clan? Lindsey Buckingham? Pat Boone? Buffy Saint-Marie?
That isn’t to say an artist’s personal or artistic odiousness doesn’t affect how we listen to their music, nor that it shouldn’t, but I think it’s up to each individual to decide that for themselves. A liberal arts education can teach a person many things, but I don’t think it teaches anything that makes someone an expert on the moral purity of others, especially where it concerns their areas of music/book/film consumption. I understand that my CD collection skews disproportionately white and disproportionately rock. I take no pride in that, and it is unfortunate that the nature of this project means persons of color are under-represented. All I can say is that anyone who uses that under-representation to make broad assumptions about my musical tastes, or even worse, my political and ideological viewpoints–to say nothing of my life experiences–doesn’t know me very well.
Lastly, I apologize for the lack of formatting. I could pull out some kind of avant-theory about mirroring the formlessness of the internet, how the informality is actually a more accurate depiction of how we encounter words in our feed-scroll and therefore better because what else is the goal of language but to be as accurate as possible. But really, I’m just too exhausted from the past 18 months (and counting) to do it.
-Scott, Athens, Ga., September 2021