If you are reading this site, perhaps you have either been exposed to or have actually been a participant in a session of geeking out about music. You know, arguing the merits of one obscure band over another, testing one’s knowledge of a tiny label’s 7-inch catalog, and generally indulging in the kind of minutiae that is sure to elicit at least a rolling of the eyes from your girlfriend. But for those of us who “dance about architecture” professionally (and I use that term loosely), this stuff matters, even if it seems too insignificant to be giving so much thought.
Similarly, DaCapo Press’ Best Music Writing series may seem a little indulgent: an anthology showcasing some of the best music journalism of each year as selected by music journalists. But with the number of music publications in existence rapidly shrinking while at the same time the internet growing increasingly crowded with music-related opining, this annual celebration of the form is the kind of indulgence that’s becoming all the more necessary.
With the Best Music Writing 2009, the series is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and to honor the milestone, they’ve brought in pre-eminent pop culture scholar and post-modern music critic extraordinaire Greil Marcus to guest edit the volume. The book culls writing from 2008, but as Marcus states in the introduction, “I don’t know what happened in 2008... and I don’t care.” Few of these pieces are tied down to the year of their publication, their content addressing concerns outside trend or fad. That’s why John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “Unknown Bards,” a look at the almost spectral-like unknowns of country blues as recounted through a conversation with John Fahey, resonates as a great piece of writing, no matter the year. And though much more timely (remember, the book was published at the end of last year), J. Bennett’s “Shit Magnet” portrait of Jay Reatard treats the now cut-too-short career as the life-long passion it was and not some flash in the pan. So too with Joshua Clover’s “Terrorflu,” which ties the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” to MIA’s “Bamboo Banger,” points in between, and back again on a semiotic ring road.
There’s sayings about everyone having an opinion, and with the advent of the internet, it seems everyone feels the need to share theirs. But having a point of view and being able to express it are two different things. A bit of knowledge and contextualization within a greater cultural sphere make such opinions even more valuable. Fortunately, volumes like this one are an easy reminder. But then, I might just be geeking out.