Monday, February 23, 2004

I'm doing this early so I can get on with other features of life and work. There won't be more (at least directly) on this issue here, since I am trying even my own patience -- that doesn't mean it won't be in my mind or in my life.

On other blogs:

Framed as a response to Jane, Nate Patrin's long post explains the motivation of the original ILX thread/call-out/whatever-it-was 1000% better than anything on the thread itself -- up to and including the 'is this about race or genre or both or neither?' question. Really good. Agree, disagree, whatever -- but it's laid out.

An essay of Jeff Chang's on institutional racism in the Da Capo Best Music Writing series is directly relevant, but I can't locate the link. His very forceful piece may be behind some of the conversation around this issue as well.

You can perhaps get the gist from two related posts from Jeff's blog:

1) Here is his original take on P&J, which predates the ILX thread but which is, obviously, not unrelated. [It should be noted that he says the post is stupid immediately afterwards; then, the next day, says it wasn't after all.]
2) Here is a more recent post that is largely a response to something Mark Jenkins wrote about Jeff's Da Capo essay. It also refers to the way that I used his name to make a point, very badly, on ILX. Apology extended; the BBS form encourages such things, unfortunately.

Much more important than any personal issue here is this: No one involved should be understood as having made the claim that no white writers should ever write about hip-hop. By the same token(!), I would not like to be interpreted as ascribing that obviously foolish view to Jeff or anyone else. He has been misread this way elsewhere.

The issues raised on the thread were related, but not identical:

1) What does it mean when a writer who has only surface knowledge about hiphop expresses critical support for a particular record?
2) What does it mean when a bunch of writers who fit this description do so?
3) How much interpretation can a P&J ballot bear, relative to 1) and 2)?

Invited comments. (Thanks to Keith Harris and Michaelangelo Matos for engaging me as well.)

Jane Dark

"For me, the main point is that, although I occasionally believe people I know are racist (sometimes me too, though sometimes I am easy on myself), there's actually very little to be achieved through expressing that ("you can't change people's consciousness," my friend reminds me).

What one can do is prod people to take a look at some of the social (for me, consistently economic) structures in place that produce racially-charged data like Nate's list. As in, who sends me records? What radio stations do I have access to?Do my friends lead me towards this and away from that? How did they become my friends? Do these things happen passively? If so, do I need to actively
alter what influences me?

In short (this is all obvious to you; I'm just typing), if Binky says Bongo has race-inflected taste, Bongo generally sez something like "I just listed the albums I heard the most." And the two bunnies pretend that was a conversation, which it most certainly was not. The conversation begins: "How did you arrive at the life where you mostly hear J, and Z, but not Jay-Z?"

fjb comment: (1) Yes, and don't forget: Which paid writing gigs do I have a chance of getting, which can I do relatively efficiently given what I know already, and which are challenging/interesting but not impossible? This is only somewhat important for me, in my longstanding semi-pro state; I'm sure it's decisive for established (and, yep, older) writers. (2) I'm not convinced that changing minds bears no relation to changing individual behavior, and ultimately institutions. But yes, 'expressing' your heightened consciousness cuts no ice.

Finally, Dylan Hicks on lists:

I'd like to read something in-depth about the connection between music-fan list making and baseball stats. Maybe you know of something. Warren Susman, writing about Babe Ruth, argued that,
"the mechanization of life generally, when combined with the mounting effort to rationalize all aspects of man's activities, produced a particular middle-class delight in what could be measured and counted." Maybe that's the start of the discussion. I've never been a huge baseball fan. My
favorite list to make, and I try to update it bi-annually, is: Dylan Hicks's Nicest Pairs of Pants.

fjb comment: I don't know of anything in depth -- I think Christgau has written about his own stat-happiness in this vein, perhaps in an interview.

But I strongly resist the claim that what pants I put on such a list, or which pants I own or wear, warrants concusions about my 'fashion sense'? We must constantly ask ourselves: Where did I buy these pants? Where, and for how much? Were any of them gifts? From whom? What if my favorite pants are torn or stained? Must they fit? How well? My own nicest pants list should only be interpreted as a list of which pants I wore most often over a six-to-twelve month period.

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