Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Blog

Who is this blog for? What kind of post is best? Where do we go from here? (I had a horrible dream where Patrick Wolf died and I decided I couldn’t go on with this anymore.) I don’t intend to answer any of those questions, except perhaps implicitly by saying: I could easily accomplish everything I do here with a Twitter account, as this blog is only my way of keeping track of my ceaseless opinionating and I feel no inclination to be elaborate in my comments (I think I’ve said that before). Ergo, I thought it might be nice from time to time to forgo my omnibus posts (which directly reflect the way I make sense of the world) and, for the sake of my readers, post something more self-contained and particular (i.e. twitter one tweet at a time). Well, the albums that made me who I am today are well known to my readers, I think, but there are also many lists of albums that have influenced me over the years, so here’s a list of some of those:

a) Spin Top 20s, 1996-1999; Top 90 of the 90s; Top 20, 2000; Spin Alternative Record Guide Top 100

I couldn’t choose just one, proof that Spin was the ultimate tastemaker of the 1990s. I’ve still got those 90s Top 20s, all beautifully laid out on two pages, bravely ranking Cornershop above Radiohead, putting Elliott Smith and OutKast side by side, championing Imperial Teen and Local H. I wasn’t interested in the mag’s 2000 list (and its gimmicky #1) but the much different one published on was totally awesome, almost perfect. I can't find it on the 'net, but I remember it well: pushing bands that would go on to become my favorites of the decade (Idlewild, The Delgados); ahead of its time in recognizing a new Swedish scene (Starlet); praising the continued and renewed greatness of Primal Scream and The Go-Betweens. And then there’s that mythic record guide, which I never owned but pored over at the store anytime I got a chance.

b) Alternative Press Top 99, 1985-1995

I never had the issue, but found the list on the very handy Rock List site, and it became my buying guide for most of my teen years. It comes closer to expressing an idea of the ultimate musical canon than I could ever come myself. This is still the music I care most about.

c) The Big Takeover: Jack’s Top 40s; “Desert Island” Top 200; Top 700 (!) 1976-1989

I started with issue 45, and by the time Jack went off about Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows two issues later (also enthusiastic that Spin had just given the album, still an import, an enthusiastic 9/10), I was slavishly devoted. I don’t think I ever stopped to consider that my experience of the music he championed had to be different from the experience of Jack himself, punk and post-punk historian par excellence who lived through all of it. But he has a way of communicating the experience of a life in music in his writing, leaving you with a shared love of the music.

d) Noise from the Underground: A Secret History of Alternative Rock by Pat Blashill, Michael Lavine: suggested listening

The major draw of the book is Lavine’s grunge-era photography (recently given a more lavish retrospective in the ironically/appropriately titled Grunge). The listener’s guide in the back overlaps greatly with the Alternative Press list, but this book, pre-Azerrad, was the first time I’d seen such a discography tucked inside a narrative, and it totally beguiled me.

e) Ned Raggett’s Top 136 of the 90s

This one formed no part of my upbringing, but I was recently indirected to it on the internets and was struck by Raggett’s awesome taste (i.e. its similarity to my own). The list was linked from a piece Raggett wrote for Stylus’ retrospective of the most recent decade in music, for which he declined to provide a list. His premise in the article is that there are two ways to interact with culture, to observe and to proclaim, and he no longer has any interest in doing the latter.

I thought about this in terms of the future of my blog, but the only two choices such a distinction leaves me are to cease and to continue. I hope to one day achieve Raggett’s serenity of mind, which will probably allow me to hear more clearly the music I love, but right now I feel an unhealthy compulsion to continue. At least until Patrick Wolf dies. Which I hope I have averted by the very suggestion.

In summary: lists can often seem pretty soulless. For any subset of the near-infinite number of albums that exist, there are countless permutations, so what makes the lists mentioned above so important? I guess they came along at the right time. They wouldn’t have meant much if I’d already known all the albums they mention. But if you can believe it, I feel an emotional attachment to the permutations offered by Spin and AP. Those lists read like stories to me.

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