Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Being an Enthusiast

About a year ago I had a conversation with my friend Chris, who I always talk to about my opinions. I had a problem: I liked too much stuff. I had entered the aesthetic world really through progressive rock, a genre of music that exists almost exclusively to be high brow, to be complicated, to be an effort to listen to. This was my base. Any music, and any art in general, that did not fit these criteria, was bad. As simple as that. I later entered other musical worlds by translating these opinions to fit the common elements of those genres: I liked Bob Dylan because his lyrics were confusing and his songs were long, I liked Nas because his lyrics were nuanced and his rapping was intricate, I liked the Incredible String Band because its songs were purposefully grating and out of tune etc. This policy, however, had only gotten me so far. I reached to limits of my rationalization. I was liking more music than I could find I reason for. I can really like anything, I complained. I worried that I had lost my critical faculties all together. I could find something I liked in almost any song.

I've realized now that I was making a very elemental mistake. I had assumed that being a enthusiast means to hate things, to declare things as low, boring, and worthless, when it really means the opposite. Enthusiasts are enthusiastic about things. I love music. There's no question about it. It's hard to realize in this culture of Top 100 lists and critical pannings, but most music is good music. I don't have to hate music to be a music critic. You probably have to love it.

For example, some weeks ago I posted a link to a song called "Any Girl" by Lloyd Banks. This song is not a song of the year, you could easily hear it on the radio and not even think twice. That said, I LOVE this song. I love the bass, I love the synth line, I love the twang, I love Lloyd's singing, I love the loud-quiet-loud aesthetic, and I especially love Lloyd Banks' first verse. Now, liking songs from the "halls of banality" is not a new thing and I realize that. Every person with opinions has their guilty pleasures. But this is where I have a problem. Fuck guilty pleasures. Calling something a guilty pleasure is basically another way of refusing to accept it on its own terms. Its an insult to everyone involved in creating the music. Pleasure is pleasure. If you have to hang up your critical faculties in order to rationalize something you like, maybe you should consider changing the way you evaluate art.

That said, I have vaguely the same music tastes as any music nerd. Any strong opinions I have are minute and specific enough that most people would not notice the differences. But I heavily support giving everything the benefit of the doubt, and not just for novelty's sake. More importantly, I'm not going to assume something has no quality just because I don't like it. It may not have as much to love as things I respect more highly, but that doesn't mean its worthless. Being a lover of something is much more about exploration then it is about possession. If the key were to make a list of the best of 100 of everything and stop there because everything else is below us, we probably wouldn't listen to music anymore. It would be pretty boring.

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