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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Living the full 200 percent

[For Chris F.]

My bandmates put their instruments on the back-backseat of my outrageous Renault Espace (3 kids…) and settled in my car. M. carried a plastic box, which, on opening, smelled quite strong. “Restmeat”, he explained – you buy a bag of it at the butcher, not knowing what it is precisely, but apparently it is useful enough to bake it with anything you’d like.

So there we were, “on the road”.  Jack Kerouac, driving from Groningen to Heerenveen to play ten songs for an audience of approximately eighty people, aged eighty as well on average. But nevertheless, I felt suddenly like what I am: a member of a Band. Four boys (age 28-46, but still) on their way together to a small adventure.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A dipper in Sarajevo

I was in Sarajevo again this week, and I always take my running shoes with me. To my surprise – and to the Sarajevans’ surprise, too – it was snowing. I ran up the hill behind Hotel Saray and had a beautiful view of the town and the mountains covered with snow. Beautiful, but also a “guilty landscape”, as painter/poet/musician Armando would put it – a landscape that has silently witnessed, and even facilitated, the shelling of Sarajevo for years on end. I can never look to the mountains of Sarajevo without a prejudice.

When I ran back along the river Miljacka something suddenly caught my attention from the corner of my eye. A rather small bird, brown with a white breast, was flying low over the river, landed on one of the stones, put his head in the water, then plunged into it, put his head above the water again a small distance away, then disappeared again under water. When it stood still, it bobbed up and down by bending and stretching his little legs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Gift of Music

Yesterday I gave a friend a book on music for his birthday. The book included a cd with music. Now he is a guy who is kind of advanced – at least to my standards – when it comes to the Digital Age. He is still buying (and receiving…) cds, but he immediately copies them to the hard disc of his computer which also acts as a server facilitating playing music and movies. The centre of his musical life probably is not the cd collection but the computer.

But he still likes the cd as an item. The fact that music is on “a thing” makes it “a thing” – you buy music as you buy other things, in a shop, and of course by buying the thing you basically buy the opportunity to listen to music, but you also buy the inlay booklet, the photographs, and the case. Which does not have to be the well-known plastic jewel case but can also be a nice cardboard box (Cash - Unearthed), a finely cut wooden box (Black Rhythms of Peru), or a book (Ernst Jansz – Molenbeekstraat; this turns the idea of a cd including a booklet upside down).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Writing

I am at present reading an ethnography, Real Country. Music and Language in Working-Class Culture” by Aaron A. Fox. I love ethnographies. It is a great genre – you write a book in which you try to make the life of other people understandable. “A plausible story” – that is what an ethnographer tries to write. It also is what I try to write when I’m writing, and actually I think it is the only goal a social scientist honestly can pursue. Of course, we are looking for The Truth, but only in so far as that we know The Truth does not exist but is only called into life when we write a plausible story. And that The Truth changes when someone else writes a more plausible story.

Writing in social science therefore is not just a thing – it is almost everything. Read Clifford Geertz’ book on the ways ethnographers render plausibility to their texts – you learn a lot, not only from what he tells about other authors but also from his own style. Reading one page of Geertz a week is enough to keep an ideal in writing. And read Howard Becker’s Writing for Social Scientists – not only because of what he says, but again also because of the way he expresses himself. Crisp and clear.

Now back to Fox’ book.