Monday, August 10, 2009

The radical music will save your life. (Or at least keep you a happy camper. Most of the time. Probably.)

The weekend reading was Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist, not an exhilarating and disturbing read like Inherent Vice, but a read all the same, with enough of the characteristic Baker turns (obsessive little stories and jarring non-sequitors top my list of favorite Baker tropes) to make for lively breaks between composing sessions and some escape from a neighbor's hard-hammered house renovations.  The subject and narrator of The Anthologist is a mid-career, middle-of-the-road poet; although he's reached that particular pinnacle of American poets, being asked to edit an anthology, he's in a bad patch with writing, relationships, and day jobs, and so he fills the absences of writing, relationships, and a day job with procrastination, distraction and obsessive little lessons to reader, from the all-too familiar, all-too-slow straightening-up the office to helping a neighbor lay a plank floor to holding forth before us on poetic rhyme and metre as well as a bit of ancient poetryland gossip.  He is, it seems, in the middle of a career writing poetry he really doesn't believe in; he does seem to believe in an idea of poetry — and he can rattle on and about with some passion for a number of 19th and 20th century mainstreamers —but the talents he seems to have as a poet are not those most applicable to the poetry that he actually likes.  Rhyme, for example, is not one of his strengths.  For all of his enthusiasms for rests and enjambments, his rhythm and metre seems a little stiff, too.   But he is worried enough about rhyme and rhythm to share his worries and theories — and modest theories they are — with us. The novel, though, is a comedy, and the summer of discontent was just that; all ends well (too well, if you ask me, like the last act of As You Like It, in which the Goddess Hymen descends, suddenly and without preparation, to put everything in order) : the poet gets over his bad patch, he finishes his anthology preface, his dashes off twenty-three poems during a plane fight, and he gets some steady work, housepainting, for which he seems entirely and cheerfully suited.   But to get there, we had to spend a book-length summer listening to his signs and stories of  frustration and anxiety. All the while reading this, I couldn't help but have one thought: had Paul Chowder, Baker's narrator/poet/anthologist been an experimental poet rather than a poet of the mainstream sort  — and he is mainstream enough, for example, to worry about Poet Laureates of the US or to mention, in passing, that one of his poems got read on air by Garrison Keillor — we would have been saved reading an awful lot about the anxiety that he had for rhyme, metre or status in poetryland.  You see, that's the great advantage of experimental music as well.  Experimental musicians are interested in and work with the same questions of metre and tonality and complexity and systems and style and anything else remotely connected with music that the mainstream gals and guys use, but the detachment or distance necessary to an experimental approach, combined with the in-advance knowledge that a conventional institutional career with prizes and positions is probably not in the works (and when it happens is like an unexpected gift from gods in whom we do not believe so have no need to thank) is also a gift of Gelassenheit, letting-go-ness, an invitation to compose without anxiety.


music business said...

yeah, you're right..:D i sometimes listen to this kind of music..

Anonymous said...

Dear Music Business:

The best thing about the radical music is that you don't have to even consider spending 29.95 on your "music business in a box" career packages!