Monday, January 01, 2007

To blog or not to blog

So apparently I'm not the only one who was annoyed by Time magazine's gesture toward populism (re: the "Person of the Year: You" issue). Perhaps the most eloquent diss came from (no surprise here) Frank Rich. I ain't a-gonna find the link now, but Rich's take on the whole thing was in Christmas Eve's NYT, and is, like most of what he writes, well worth a read. A favorite line: "The magazine's disingenuous rationale for bestowing its yearly honor on its readers was like a big wet kiss from a distant relative who creeps you out."

One thing about the piece stuck in my craw, though. Rich's argument is basically that the rapid growth of internet technologies like YouTube and blogging help insulate us from more significant events like the war in Iraq. He puts it this way: "As our country sinks deeper into a quagmire -- and even a conclusive Election Day repudiation of the war proves powerless to stop it -- we the people, and that includes, yes, you, will seek out any escape hatch we can find. In the Iraq era, the dropout nostrums of choice are not the drugs and drug culture of Vietnam but the equally self-gratifying and narcissistic (if less psychedelic) pastimes of the Internet."

This is a variation of an argument I've heard before -- usually from those with hard-won and well-established forums for their own self-expression. In general, I feel compelled to dismiss it. Sure, blogging and YouTube are diversions, and somewhat onanistic (in both the literal and figurative sense). But it seems unfair to fault them for providing an outlet (which can admittedly range from serious to shallow) for the global vox populi, particularly when both technologies were involved in the above-referenced election. (Yes, that election hasn't yet changed Iraq policy, but it's the closest thing we've had; its failure in that regard may finally wake people up to the notion that the only way to stop this war is to fire Bush.) Strangely, Rich seems aware of the political impact of blogs too -- at least we know he reads the Huffington Post, which he cites in the course of his essay (for its own critique of Time).

Notwithstanding my kneejerk defensiveness of the Internet, where I'll be the first to admit I spend far too much of my time, Rich's piece also made me wonder: why do I blog, anyway? I started this thing over two years ago now (good gawd, has it been that long?), mostly as a companion experiment to my then-dayjob at the IML; a dayjob in which I was supposed to be investigating new media technologies and their relevance to education. It has taken awhile, but I suppose I have finally settled on a "formula" for the thing (not my formula exclusively, by any means, but rather something cobbled together from multiple sources): to wit, JTMOU is some weird combination of IJG diarizing / record-keeping, personal reportage (mostly concerning the experience of fatherhood, but also commentaries on broader aspects of west-coast living), somewhat incestuous linkages to other bloggers (musicians and friends), occasional third-person glances at culture and politics, and the obligatory "check out this cool interweb thingy" (link, video, etc.). All relayed through the bombastic persona of "Durkin-the-composer."

Still, why do it? Taylor Ho Bynum (yet another guy who deserves a slice of your internet attention span) recently had an interesting post on the under-recognized genre of music literature. It got me to thinking that my own uneasiness about blogging (such as it is) has a lot to do with the fact that while I remain addicted to reading and writing about music, I have simultaneously come to see most (maybe even all) of it (fiction, non-fiction, whatever) as more or less completely irrelevant to the subject matter at hand. Words can never suffice, where music (or musical experience) is concerned. (Hence my decision to stop writing reviews for All About Jazz -- with each piece, it became more and more apparent that my subject matter was the act of reviewing itself, rather than the music, per se.)

Also apropos of the uneasiness, there's this phenomenon: the more time one spends in the "blogosphere," the more it starts to feel "real." And yet, to adapt a phrase I use as a headline on my personal MySpace page: some of my best friends (and some of the best musicians I know, jazz and otherwise) don't blog (hello, Jim Carney!). Some refuse on principle, some don't have the time, and some just don't like to write. All legitimate objections: but are these cats gonna be overlooked by some future wave of uber-hip music scholars? More importantly, from a selfish perspective: why am I wasting time writing this piece when I could be working out more of the many remaining details for the upcoming IJG tour?

Well, to turn it around, the community-building benefits of blogging are obvious. And it is worth pointing out too that there is something about this particular internet pastime -- especially when it comes to arts-oriented blogs -- that speaks to the dispersed, sprawling welter of twenty-first century culture like no other medium. Sure, it's hard to keep up, but that's the point. "Dispersal" is the flip side to "empowerment," after all.

Blogs seem to point toward a world in which, because of the sheer number of educated and eloquent voices, it becomes impossible to sustain anything resembling an institutional, stable, monolithic art canon (that's a good thing, says I). Unlike political blogs, arts blogs need not necessarily be driven by a search for "truth" (or perhaps it's just a different kind of truth). F'r'instance, TBP's recent music survey opened with the caveat that the answers were to be "subjective" -- but that was a little redundant, 'cuz how could they be otherwise? That was precisely the fun of the thing, as I saw it -- use the medium to collectively sketch out the vast field of available music, and give us all a sense of our many commonalities and differences as listeners and producers. (The differences may actually be where the action is: it's a genuine pleasure (and learning experience) to work out aesthetic disagreements with a trusted musical ally and friend, or to notice that sort of discovery happening elsewhere.)

Could a conventional publishing vehicle (the LA Weekly, say) do all that?

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Incidentally, for those of you who are new to JTMOU, here, in no particular order, is a recap of what I think are 2006's more interesting posts (read: these are the posts that took the longest to write):

Leo McClusky's "Look at you with all the blinkin' lights!"
(episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Sucker Punch

Great Grande Mothers

Aggy We Hardly Knew Ye

Birthdays, Travel, Stock-taking

Mortality, Immortality, and Critics

Girl From the North Country

IJG August 2006 Tour

So, "wha happen"?

Turn, turn, turn

North by Northwest

Five years on

Bernie, we hardly knew ye (The comments on this one are more exciting than the post itself.)

Getting and Spending



It's about freakin' time

Old man winter

Survey Says

Three months in the life of a bandleader

In defense of fun

Pomp and circumstances

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