Music Geeks of the world, respond!
It's a tough job, this music blogging. So much music to hear and discuss, so little time. And a blogger must be eternally vigilant; there are some pretty funny ideas about music out there that need to debunked. Mind you, I don't go looking for trouble. But trouble has a way of finding me, often courtesy of ArtsJournal, an excellent aggregator of English-language arts news and articles from all over the world. That's where I found Mark Edmundson's article "Can Music Save Your Life?," culled from the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
For the most part, Edmundson has written a pretty good coming-of-age-with-music piece here, describing his epiphany upon hearing his first Bob Dylan after growing up on his father's Mahler and Beethoven, and expanding upon his early experience to consider the continuing role pop music plays for his college students' generation. Oh, I might wonder why Mahler's emotionally complex music didn't "make (him) puzzled" the way Dylan's did. And I would quibble with his insistence that one necessarily "need(s) to have an educated ear" to enjoy classical music (Beethoven) and jazz (Coltrane). Lots of what comes out of these musical styles, including some Beethoven and Coltrane, is quite suitable for instant grooving. There's also plenty of pop, and more all the time, that demands attentive long-form listening. But never mind; I also enjoy music from all along the simple-to-complex spectrum, and consider each kind of music to be an essential part of a nutritious musical diet.
So far, so good. Why then, as he neared the end, did Edmundson have to go and spoil it all? Get a load of this:
"There's no one whose company I shun more than that of the Music Geek—someone with catalog-like knowledge and taste like a guillotine, who sits at stiff attention when the tunes play. He is sterility itself.
Take every aspect of his relation to music, reverse it, and good things will come. Music at its best moves you emotionally. But it should also move you from one place to another; it should move you to get off your enjoyment-oriented posterior and do something.
The Music Geek listens only to the best music. He does it all day long, sitting in his Herman Miller Aeron chair, with his Bose headphones on; he wears pads on his eyes; his face is drawn in sublime concentration. He's like someone who eats only the best food—very picky in all his selections—but then never uses the strength and health he engenders by it.
The Music Geek condescends to everyone else's taste. I half-believe that, on some level, the Music Geek doesn't really like music, doesn't get it, and wants everyone else to join him in his sterile funk."
Is that not one of the most obvious examples of the "straw man" argument you've read since about forever? Note how the fictitious opponent's motives for his professed musical enjoyment are materialistic, snobbish and phony, while Edmundson's own motives are, of course, pure, honest and enlightened. Isn't that always the case with such shoddy arguments?
I should let this go, of course, but I can't. I take it personally. Because, dear listener and reader, I am The Music Geek. Maybe you are too. Maybe music is not just your pastime, it's your passion. Maybe you've spent a lifetime listening and learning, and built up a quite considerable body of knowledge, though you would modestly not credit yourself with expertise. You know good music when you hear it, and don't mind saying when you hear mediocrity in whatever genre you're listening to. It could be that you've saved up and bought yourself some pretty nice sound equipment and furniture, not to show off, but because you appreciate the difference they make. And at the end of the day, when everyone else is asleep and you have time for yourself, you might find a few moments of absolute bliss wallowing in your favorite sounds. Your favorite sounds. Let others enjoy theirs; you won't criticize them if they don't criticize you. Edmundson's Chronicle piece has a comments section. Music Geeks of the world, respond!