The Da Capo Best Music Writing 2010
Ann Powers, Guest Editor; Daphne Carr, Series Editor
Hardcover; 352 pages
Da Capo Press
This is an editorial disguised as a review written by a music writer about a collection of articles written by other music writers, compiled and edited by...who else? Another music writer. This may be the craziest, most useless daisy-chain of an intellectual (and I say that carefully) exercise ever conceived. This is not analysis or even meta-analysis. It is para-meta-analysis. Self- aggrandizing and indulgent, why would anyone want to read such drivel (outside of the pathetic music geek concerning himself with matters no one, save he, cares about)? I mean, to a reading public, as a whole (and dwindling), of what interest is music writing that is not directed specifically toward a given reader's musical interest? Why read a collection of articles primarily about hip hop when classical music is the reader's big jones?
A blanket answer is that an element of reading is the desire to read the well written. Good writing transcends subject. An excellent place to start is with collections of writing assembled for that purpose. The "Best American Series" (Houghton Mifflin) provides a yearly countdown of the best writing in the areas of short story, poetry, essay, mystery writing, sports writing and so on. The broader the palette of subjects, the more the reader stands to learn. That is the beauty of reading; it possesses no built-in obsolescence. While physically what is read (hard covers, paperbacks, magazines, electronic media) will change, the act of reading will not change any more than the act and result of a heartbeat will. Reading is that constant...and important.
But what of music writing specifically? What is so important about music that reading about it may benefit the reader? First and foremost, music is part of our daily sound track: those audible noises shaking our tympanic membranes and translated in the cochlea before being submitted to the eighth cranial nerve en route to the primary auditory cortex located in the temporal lobe of the brain, where it is finally decoded. Music is sound produced expressly to be heard, considered, cherished and consumed. It is an act of art and as such an expression of the broader culture. Music teaches us about much more than music. It is a central cultural creative stream that both reflects and propels conventional and counter-conventional wisdom. Music is the sound-clip of information, giving and taking context from its surroundings; that is why it is a mirror to culture.
Da Capo press publishes the yearly Best Music Writing, 2010 being the tenth edition of the series. This edition is guest edited by Ann Powers, the chief pop critic for the Los Angeles Times and the series editor again is Daphne Carr. In her editorial introduction, Powers bemoans the state of music journalism during these trying ADHD-140-character times: the slow expiration of peer-reviewed brick and mortar writing outlets in favor unsupervised blogs, tweets, sound bites and ecstatic polysyllabic ejaculations and how this is as exciting as it is scary for the writing community. She showcases this sentiment with the inclusion of Christopher Weingarten's frank talk on written music consideration: "The Death of Rock Criticism," delivered at the 140-Character Conference, New York City, June 16, 2009. Powers finds writing from places as disparate as Rolling Stone magazine and the Barnes & Noble website, giving the pieces equal footing.
Like all writing, music writing should communicate, entertain and inform. Cynically, these three agenda tributaries should lead to one stream: recorded music and concert ticket sales. During the Golden Age of Rock Criticism (the 1960s and 1970s, of course) music writing did sell a pile of record albums. Writing to spark interest in a given recording or genre remains a writing staple, as in Jessica Hopper's spotlight on disgruntled contemporary Christian music in "The Passion of David Bazan" (The Chicago Reader). But the bread and butter remain the overview articles and those socially infused scribblings tangentially related to music. All of these methods are in attendance in The Da Capo Best Music Writing 2010.