Reflections on Music Writing

This week Dusted is running Charlie Wilmoth’s feature review of the new Travis Morrison record. While I was never a big follower of DP and haven’t heard a note of his solo material, the writing is excellent and takes Pitchfork to task in an intelligent way. The piece exposes some of the elephants in Pitchfork’s closet (which are really just evident of larger cultural phenomena) which have largely been left unexposed by the critical community. His advice about how a review "should either attempt to evaluate the artist on his or her own terms, or try to grapple with those terms" is essential. The numerical rating system of Pitchfork is juvenile, though many argue that it helps them sort through tons of music that they wouldn’t have time to otherwise. Point well enough made, but it also says a lot about how the impatience of our culture is killing our collective ability to deal with challenging art of any medium. There was a thread on the Dusted Staff listserv discussing this piece and one writer mentioned how much enjoyment he took in the fact that a site like often doesn’t know whether to classify many Dusted reviews as "positive" or "negative" to contribute to it's "metascore". Hilarious. I hope that the day does not come, however, when good music writing like Dusted is ignored by the public and outlets like Metacritic for this very reason.
The problem isn’t ostensibly with Pitchfork’s writing (a few of the writers are very good), but with their relationship to the indie music world and mostly with the readership’s relation to the site, wherein Pitchfork plays the authoritative role of “tastemaker”. Implicit in this tastemaker function (manifested in critical terminology such as “ill-advised” and “misstep”) is the primacy of fashion over art, where making the “right” choices is better than pushing music towards the implicit horizon of its own workability – which of course is always the most interesting place for art to reside.

P.S. My review of the new Gang Gang Dance runs Thursday – check it.

Ghostface and Wittgenstien: a romance

The following are some fragments of things I wrote back in Februrary at a time when I was reading Perloff's Wittgenstien's Ladder and, apparently, thinking about Ghostface Killah. I actually think there is lot lot more to be said about this...... but i also dont really know why I've said anything about it at all. In any event, the gems of advice given in the video below are pretty pertinent to my life as of now.


Wittgenstein saw endless fissure in a simple proposition like ‘I have pain’, and spent his whole life grappling with how a statements like this function. Though from an ultra-wealthy Austrian family, he lived for a few years in a shack on the coast of Norway so that he could not be interrupted in is work. This after becoming a war hero in a war in which he believed victory to be impossible from the its very inception. But what does one do when fissure is only underlain with more fissure?

“But the wall
of the flesh
opens endlessly,
its vanishing point so deep
and receding

we have yet to find it,
to have it
stop us. So he cut
graduating slowing
from the symbolic

to the beautiful. How far
is true?”

- Jorie Graham, “At Luca Signorelli’s Resurrection of the Body”

Wittgenstein’s answer to “how far is true” is something like ‘I have already gone too far’, preferring to, and I am paraphrasing, ‘just speak like a normal person, it works and you know it’ (Philosophical Investigations) or ‘just shut the fuck up’ (Tractatus).

Ghostface’s “whatever whatever” has a similar function: it is both the fruit of this process of pushing definition to its unworkable limit and an impediment to its further development. It is an acknowledgement of the ineffable but it also haults whatever can be gained from the further negotiation of representational gesture.

“Isn’t the
of things where they
where only the wind
can bend them

back, the real weather,
not our
desire hissing Tell me
your parts
that I may understand
your body,

your story.”


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I work with a bunch of baseball fanatics. Yankees fans mostly, along with a few outcast Mets fans and one REALLY outcast Red Sox fan. The Yankees fans always revert to a sort of historical justifcation for why the Yanks are so great. They tell me about whats its like to walk into Yankee Stadium, about how you can feel the history on your skin, about the "hollowed" ground. I recently want to my first game there and I find it amusing that everything I had been told about the team and the stadium were also talking points in a promotional video played over the jumbotron before the game began. The spectacle bends its shadow back in time and becomes history.

My English friend Helen came to the game as well and was sure that she was entering the heart of American culture. She found this prospect to be amusing to no end so she was cheering like a maniac (she also doesn't understand how the game works, but insists she has played a baseball-like game called "rounders"). I didn't quite know how to explain that baseball isn't really the type of sport where yelling and screaming are very common, or how to explain that the game is in the details and not the action, what it means to throw a change-up when the batter is ahead in the count, why someone would sit for three hours with a scorecard documeting every occurance of the game in numbers and dashes.

I found a New York Times Magazine in my bathroom last night and stumbed across an article about simulated baseball. Computer generated games (and whole seasons) with teams comprised of players dating all the way back to 1885. Every action in the games is dictated by a purely mathematical calculation based on statistical record. Baseball is, afterall, probably is the sport which can be most fully accounted for statistically. So maybe the religous aura and tradition surrounding baseball are just that: religious, the mystery the hides the the fact that there is none.
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    harmonium (edit)

From the Notebook

I help teach an ESL course. A fellow instructor is very proud of his pragmatic teaching philosophy: “we teach language here, not meta-language.” By this he means the focus is on conversation and not the particulars of grammar.

Meet Rosa. For her the route from garlic to ‘garlic’ will always run through ajo. This is her thought process. All language is meta-language.


I was watching the North London football club Arsenal on TV recently. The announcers were British. At one point in the game Arsenal’s superstar striker Thiery Henri, a Frenchman, took what appeared to be a dive. The following is a section of the dialogue between the two announcers:

“That is a blatant case of simulation on the part of Henri. It’s unlike him.”
“I hate that word, simulation.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t mean anything.”

(no subject)

Due to the piece below I am now in Wikipedia under the entry for the record. Although they didnt really nail what I meant in my review.
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Today Dusted runs my piece on the new Wilco record. I had to trim it extensively after the realization that writing a personal history of my relationship to their records would seem both fanatical and inappropriate.