Showing posts with label The Eagles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Eagles. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Have A Funky New Year!

Have a Funky New Year everyone! And thanks very much for visiting my blog! See you next year.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

DIDs: Of Records, Albums, and Theology

The collocation “Desert Island Discs”—DIDs— normally refers to a music critic’s list of revered recordings, usually consisting of ten (10) albums, as in Top 10. The term is derived from the question, “If you were stranded on a desert island, what ten albums (normally ten, out of respect to the commandments), out of all the albums you own, would you want to have with you?” Given the hypothetical nature of the question, it might just as easily be phrased as, “If your house were on fire, what ten albums would you grab on the way out?” Implicit in the question is the assumption that the critic compiling the list has hoarded, in a grossly materialistic way, more albums than he could ever possibly listen to (or rather, listen to carefully). Actually, the compilation of a “DIDs” list is a tacit admission by the critic that he really listens only to a small portion of the many hundreds (or thousands) he owns.

I vividly remember a conversation I had about ten years ago or so with my friend Mike Jarrett, a music critic himself and a world expert on jazz, when the topic of DIDs came up. In the context of a conversation regarding what each of us might include on a DIDs list, he paused to ask me a question that he prefaced by insisting he was asking in all seriousness. Of course, I said, ask it. Why would I think you were not asking a serious question? The question was this, brilliant really, which I’ve pondered many times in the years since: What makes up God’s record collection: Every record ever made, or just the best records ever made?

You don’t have to have any sort of conventional religious belief--even none--to answer the question. How do you answer it--not in a “theoretical” way, meaning, how “would” you answer it assuming the off-chance that someone ever asked you--but how do you? Does the most ideal of album collections in God’s place consist of all the albums ever made, or only the best (however the Almighty should decide that)? Is heaven (a desert island, of the tropical paradise sort) a place of plenty, of excess, of everything, or is it premised on the Puritan Principle of Parsimony—that is, DIDs. (When you go to heaven, in other words, and you’ve got only ten choices, what shall they be?) Is it all-inclusive, or exclusive? If you had your druthers, do you invite everybody, or only a select few? Certain Christian traditions, of course, tell us that those selected are an elite few—the Chosen. But I recall answering Mike’s question, “all of them. God has all of them.” Mike’s response was, “But does He listen to them all?” Isn’t this the real paradox of desire: Is desire polymorphously perverse (indiscriminate), or fetishistically perverse (rarified)?

I have never seen a list of DIDs that was really anything more than a particular critic’s fetishized list, selected from a standardized list of “Rock Greats”—the critic’s favorite Beatles album, favorite Rolling Stones album, favorite Pink Floyd album, Led Zeppelin album, Bob Dylan album—you get the idea. And outside of some occasional, unexpected flourishes—Cream, perhaps, or U2, Grateful Dead, Nirvana—the list never contains surprises. (Or, if it does, it’s the “Guilty Pleasure” sort, that is, the fetishized sort, meaning the critic "can’t explain it," "just likes it" sort, meaning it eludes rational explication--he’s a mystery even to himself.) In other words, we all know the critical darlings that are going to be there—Rock music’s Great Tradition—the suspense is simply finding out which album by the canonical bands happens to be the critic’s favorite (at the moment).

The problem is that many music critics are really just fans who’ve learned how to write and found a forum to expound from, fans in the sense that their judgment is uncritical—everything by the band (Beatles, Pink Floyd, fill in the blank) is great. Every song, every album, every note by the band is just as good as every other one. Now this just can’t be true--or can it?

By way of analogy, think of the work by a major literary figure—Shakespeare, for example. As Harold Bloom points out—Bloom being one of America’s best critics—had Shakespeare died at the same age as his contemporary, playwright Christopher Marlowe, and Marlowe lived on instead, Marlowe would have been considered historically the greater playwright. Shakespeare’s early plays do not have the level of sophistication and craft of Marlowe’s early plays. At a younger age, the fact is, Marlowe was the stronger playwright of the two. Of course, history is radically contingent: Marlowe was murdered, and Shakespeare lived, eventually composing the great tragedies upon which his reputation largely, and justly, rests. Likewise, of all the many volumes of his writings, the crucial importance of British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) rests, according to Bloom, on a mere nine poems—but what a brilliant nine they are. In popular music criticism, most critics refuse to make such keen discriminations, partly because they are afraid history will prove them wrong, and so overestimate the importance of every album ("five stars"), or else invent an ad hoc system on which to base their judgment--yet another mechanism of desire--which is presented as “objective.”

Question: Is Meet the Beatles as good a record as the White Album? Or, alternatively: Does God have all the Beatles albums, are only the very best?

Some, rightly so, will cry foul and claim a category error: first I asked about records, and then I asked about albums. In an earlier post, I claimed the two were not the same, a record being a material artifact, an album a concept. But if an album is a concept, does God, then, prefer "Greatest Hits" packages, or the individual albums, in the sense of particular records? Example: Does God have The Eagles' Hotel California, or The Eagles' Greatest Hits? Or all of the individual albums, avoiding the Greatest Hits?