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Music in Everyday Life

Do something long enough and you can start to forget why you're doing it. This is the tenth year I've made at least part of a living writing about music, and over that time I've managed to forget why again and again. Something always reminds me-a song or an album, a concert or a DJ set, a movie or a..


Do something long enough and you can start to forget why you're doing it. This is the tenth year I've made at least part of a living writing about music, and over that time I've managed to forget why again and again. Something always reminds me-a song or an album, a concert or a DJ set, a movie or a book-and I head back into it renewed. Sometimes that song or album or etc. makes me feel like I'm understanding music, for real, for the first time; sometimes it just reminds me not to take everything so goddamned seriously, a lesson, it seems, that cannot be learned enough.In 1993, Wesleyan University Press published a book called My Music: Explorations of Music in Daily Life as part of its Music/Culture Series; authorship was credited to Susan D. Crafts, Daniel Cavicchi, Charles Keil, and the Music in Daily Life Project. It consists of 41 edited interviews (whittled down from 150 conducted in total) with people from Buffalo, NY. The questions are deceptively simple, the better to open up a world of experience: How would you identify yourself? What is music about for you? Does music affect your mood? Do you listen to music more for words or for the music? The voice or the sound? Do you listen to it by yourself? The answers aren't in service to any special theory; there's not much shading of what's wrong or right about liking certain music certain ways, and little editorializing. Crafts and Cavicchi, who were then grad students, and Keil, their professor, set out to document, simply, a variety of tastes, preferences, and activities, and how they work for a number of individuals.Sometimes My Music is boring, because sometimes people are boring. But sometimes people are surprising, exciting, goofy, poignant, and My Music is all of those things too. Sometimes all at once, as when interviewee Rhonda, in her early 20s, exults about Pink Floyd's Roger Waters: "He puts together music you can't even believe is real. It actually hurts me to listen to his music . . . [Pink Floyd's] Atom Heart Mother makes the snow sing." You can hate Pink Floyd (or, as in my case, like them fine while not caring all that much for Atom Heart Mother), and you can find Rhonda's statements comically overstated; surely by now, 15 years later (and presumably in her late 30s), Rhonda herself would too. But while those upfront emotions may be gawky, they're also honest; as a rule, we take music personally, and we should. (And of course, Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright R.I.P.)My Music isn't a book to read cover-to-cover; its structure encourages browsing, like any collection of interviews. And it's not one I sit and look through all that often. But it's been a powerful talisman for me, occupying the back of my head far more prominently than it does my bookshelf-a reminder that music is the most powerful of the arts because it's also the most permeable. One thing I tend to look for in music writing is a sense of history-it doesn't have to be the official, Rolling Stone-approved version, where '60s rock is the fount of all that is good and important in music, just an idea of how things line up and what they mean, whether I agree with the writers' opinions or conclusions or the maps they draw with them. I treasure My Music because its implicit suggestion resonates with me: that those maps are endlessly variable, and that they can illuminate things other, more official critical or historical accounts miss. It helps keep me honest, and helps me remember why I like writing about music: it's both life's silliest pleasure and its most profound.
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