Extended Thoughts on Music as Event and Construction

My review essay about Greil Marcus' The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs is up at Public Books. Go there, read around; it's a great site with excellent contributors, and I'm pleased to have my work published there.

In the course of editing the original essay, which was 3600 words (ie. too long) when I first submitted it back in August, Stephen Twilley suggested the deletion of a major argument, one that drifted too far from the needs of the review. And he was right; the resulting review is stronger for the cut. I'm grateful to Stephen and also to Ed Winstead for their wise input.

But what good is having a blog if you can't wax poetic about outtakes?

The deleted argument centers on a question that's still important to me: Is music best understood as an event or a construction? Of course music is both a made thing, a constructed song of chords and words, and a performance that constitutes an event (including a boring event, like the time my friend Eric Nassau and I excitedly went to see Prisonshake, took heart that they seemed to be getting drunk before their set, and were shocked when they played too quietly…the only time I've ever experienced that: a rock band playing too quietly because they were thoroughly soused, but anyway….) So music is both, but do we get more out of music criticism that approaches music one way or another? One of the arguments I'm making in "Nothing Has Been Done Before" is that Marcus' book, and his entire viewpoint as a critic and cultural historian, emphasizes music-as-event while the majority viewpoint sees music as primarily a construction, which serves a consumerist culture incredibly well and strips away the humanity, the surprise, and the threat of music.