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The place where I will regularly post thoughts and comments on any aspect of music.
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(As you see, the blog is in DInglish - Dutch International English - but comments in Dutch, German, French, Spanish and Frisian are welcome.)

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And you might check my other blog, Evert Listens to Dylan, if you would be interested what listening to the complete recordings of Bob Dylan does with (or to, or for) me.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hearing Joan Baez Sing 'Don't Think Twice, It's Allright'

In another blog, I am following what happens to me while digesting the complete recordings of Bob Dylan. Of course, apart from the other blog being a completely self-centered (or, in scientific terms, auto-ethnographical) project in itself, it is also a project that interacts with the rest of my musical life. So Dylan trickles into this blog from time to time.

Every time I heard Dylan's song 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright', for example, I could not help feeling that this is a truly aggressive song. I am not sure where that came from; maybe from the audacity to sing about a former lover: "You've been wasting my precious time". Maybe it was fortified by the biography I read about Dylan, showing him  to be sometimes a not very nice person to his intimate relations. Somewhere in my head was the story of Dylan's relationship with Joan Baez, which had an unhappy ending, very much to do, it is said, with Dylan's simply dropping the woman. I connected 'Don't Think Twice...' to this story, wrongfully because the song was there before the story, but there you go: the funny way heads work.

I am listening now to Dylan's second album, on which the song appears. There is also the song 'Masters of War', wishing explicitly for the death of those Masters of War. It is considered to be an outrageously aggressive song, but actually I had less trouble in hearing that song and placing myself in the writer's shoes than in hearing 'Don't Think Twice...'. The former is about anger and frustration; the latter, I found, was mean and cruel. Some critics try to sell 'Don't Think Twice' as ironical. If that's irony, I know why I am not a fan of it.

Last week I was at he always fantastic Take Root festival in Groningen. Headliner was Joan Baez. I arrived late because I had to sing with my shanty choir at a harvest festivity in a small village - an extremely rewarding occasion I might write about another time, if only because I became acquainted with Motorclub Waardeloos ('Worthless') - and when I entered the main hall, there was Baez singing.

How old is she now? Somewhere in her 70s, I guess. But (?) the concert was great, very convincing, she and only two musicians capturing the audience from start to finish. She sang 'Gracia a la vida'. She sang 'Diamond and Rust', about her relationship with Dylan. She sang John Lennon's 'Imagine', reminding me of Dylan's 'Masters of War' because that always makes me think of Lennon's 'Working Class Hero', just as Dylan's 'Girl from the North Country' refers me to Simon and Garfunkel's 'Scarborough Fair'.

Listening to music in my case seems to be all about making endless connections to what I've heard before, building up a network of connotations that makes listening a richer and richer experience as I grow older; in the present moment of listening, my history is constantly present, as is the future in which this present moment will be a past moment to which the next present moment will refer - et cetera et cetera et cetera, ad infinitum (but never ad nauseam).

Anyway, at some point Baez sung 'Don't Think Twice'. And while listening, I found that the song's meanness and cruelty had mysteriously vanished. Suddenly the words fell into place. Was it because I thought Baez was entitled to sing a cruel song, given her history with Dylan? When home, I relistened Dylan's version, and found it  had become hard now to assess the song as a cruel song; it led me to reading the lyrics carefully for the first time, which did not help to get back to the cruel feeling the song had had earlier for me.

So here I am, listening to a song which had been frightening to listen to in the past but now has been domesticized by my own listening history. I wonder if my original experience may come back again. I guess not. But I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Politics of Music Talk, part II

I have to give some elucidations from a different angle on the previous blog entry - the malignant one about the way classical music's Radio 4 speaks to me and my daughter.

The previous blog entry was written from emotion; from my experience; from a 'phenomenological' standpoint, if you want, describing what listening to those voices while driving my car does to me. This blog entry will try to give some distantiated thoughts about it. Those thoughts were triggered by reading an article by Charles Goodwin in which two professional ways-of-dealing-with-the-world are described: the archeologist's and the policeman's.

Goodwin's article showed that professionals not just look at objective facts in the world. They have a specific way of looking at the world, which creates the facts they see. Archeologists, by knowing how to look, create archeological traces by their way of looking; a policeman, by analyzing a video of the beating of Rodney King, can create a way of looking at the video in which King becomes an aggressor and the policemen beating him up are simply performing professional police work (they are performers, rather than human beings).

What struck me while reading the article was not only the mere fact that people create their world by being 'in' it. What  struck me were the power relations involved. In the Rodney King case, attorneys succeeded in convincing the jury that the policemen's account - in which King was the aggressor - was the valuable account not because it was necessarily true or better, but because it was the account of a professional. The policemen beating King were in court supported by a professional way of looking at video images and turning those images into distantiated, scientific talk. King, initially, was supported by 'just' a common-sense viewing of the images. And as Goodwin so aptly states: "Victims do not constitute a profession",

It is something similar that bothers me in the 'official' music world I work in. Music, in that world, is an area of expertise; an area of expertise which requires experts doing the talking about playing music and listening to music. It is, as any area of expertise, an exclusive area of expertise, an area in which some people have more expertise than others and in which speaking time is allotted to people on the basis of their expertise, which is judged on their proficiency in the specific expert language belonging to that area of expertise.

In other words: talking publicly about music, or deciding about it, can only be done either by the specialists or after having consulted the specialists. That's why 'ordinary' people are so reluctant to talk about music in public - "I know nothing about it, really". And that is also why many 'non-specialist' music lovers do not understand - often are not even interested in - the formal music world: it's a world inhabited by another species speaking another language.

To be radical: this specialist music world is not a world of disinterested specialists, of people who simple know a bit more. It is also a world of people possessing the power of public speaking and defending that by many (sometimes by any) means.

But that tide actually is changing (to quote Dylan again - compare my last blog entry). Less and less, music is considered to be a professionalism; less and less, people are in awe of the opinions of the music professionals; and less and less, people feel that their musical lives should be sanctioned by the expert in our formalized music world in order to be worthwhile. And more and more  people feel free to do 'their own thing' (which is not only simply 'their own thing' - but that's another topic).

The thing is that many of the experts themselves don't seem to realize that. They feel, maybe, that they are losing their power of professional expertise. But it seems to me that they mistakenly think that this power will be reinvested in them as soon as they will have convinced enough people that their expertise is the only worthwhile basis for truly legitimate ways of 'musicking', really.

Which will not happen. Hence the volcano in the previous blog.

Charles Goodwin. 'Professional Vision.' American Anthropologist 96/3 (1994).

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Politics of Music Talk

This is a grim little piece. Apologies,

I was sitting in the car with my daughter. She asked me to put classical music on. I was happily surprised - any curiosity of my children in unforeseen directions makes me happy - and wondered where that came from. Was it due to the flute lessons she just started? Anyway, I was happy; we searched a bit on the radio and found Radio 4, our national classical station.

I used to listen to Radio 4 quite a lot, but at some point stopped it because I couldn't stand the talking. It was not so much the amount (although Radio 4 could do with more music and less talking), but the character of the talking: belligerent and high-brow, I have no other words for it. And that hasn't changed; specialists still tell the innocent listener in an at times mysterious-exalted language about the excellence of it all, and in between talk and the music the listener hears announcements for concerts which will all be played either by charismatic stars of world class or by extraordinary talents on the verge of conquering the world, who are all promised to give concerts where the listener will be overwhelmed by emotions or flabbergasted by the impeccable techniques of the semi-gods on stage.

Maybe I exaggerate. But not much. Bruno Nettl's "athletic view on music" in optima forma.

And at some point the image came to me of a group of happy people dancing on a more and more active volcano. The earth shudders lightly, they are surrounded by a smokey haze, the first ashes are falling down; but they don't seem to notice and just carry on dancing the same old dance.

Without wanting to be too apocalyptic (I just listened to Bob Dylan's 'A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall' and maybe his metaphors are contagious): the volcano will explode (or maybe not - maybe it will be 'not with a bang but with a whimper' this world ends, to (dis)quote T.S. Eliot), and I guess the survivors will be the dancers who dance different dances in different places.