Thursday, December 17, 2009

Literary & musical retrospective 2009

The plain summary of this combined retrospective is that things haven't gone too well on either front. The reasons are probably varied, but I'd like to put most of the blame on mental unease. It's hard to appreciate something artistic when the mind isn't willing to pause and pretend there's a world outside. I hope I can figure out how to get past this next year, but polluting this retrospective with such matters seems inappropriate. Let's at least try to have some festivity! (Not too much, though.)

I can tell it hasn't been a great year for my ears by virtue of there being no great albums that gripped me. Well, there was Shiny Beast, but if we are to be totally precise, then that was an album from very late '08. (Still, considering I didn't discuss it last year, we can say that I only realized it was great this year.) Aside from that contentious choice, there were only three very good albums - The Human Menagerie (exotic & mysterious, the best first-listen by far), Odessey & Oracle (at last, and as good as I expected to be), and New York (also at last, and surprisingly cohesive; something that makes me want to use phrases like "adult album-rock"). But aside from this trinity, there was nothing essential; the rest was merely good at best (take The Missing Years, for example). Maybe I've grown spoilt in being accustomed to one great album per year, but in its absence even discovering a few good albums seems not so satisfying.

The most insidious habit that developed this year was an inability to get past the stage of being familiar with an album to one of fully grasping it ("understanding it", as I sometimes say). I once used to stall at listen zero or one - I'd either be unable to muster the enthusiasm needed for a first listen, or would be too disappointed after one listen to proceed any further. Now I seem unable to muster the enthusiasm for the final push in listening to an album, where one obtains confidence about what it's all about, and which side of the quality scale it falls on. At the same time, my rate of purchase hasn't really suffered despite the lack of listening, meaning I'm in a situation similar to a few years ago, where I've purchased something and seemingly immediately lost interest in it. I'm still excited at the prospect of finding an album for cheap, which I think means I'd eventually like to sit down and listen to the music. But that "eventually" hasn't really struck yet.

To answer a question I asked last year, was there any book that matched the might of Bokonon (Cat's Cradle)? Somewhat sadly, no. That book seems like it was read an eternity ago, and it is downright shameful to think that there has been so little after that. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was excellent, but that also seems like it was from another year, because things were so sparse after that. I did enjoy more Auster at some point in the year - Leviathan is probably my second favourite after the trilogy - but to be honest, I had grand plans for discovering another great author this year, and so reaffirming my appreciation for him wasn't as thrilling as I would've liked. There's a delicate balance between exploring someone you know you like in considerable depth versus taking a chance on someone completely new. One can make a case for either strategy, or a combination. But having none of each seems less excusable.

Predictions for next year? Preferences for next year? After this year, anything will do.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

But don't forget the songs / That made you cry /And the songs that saved your life;
Yes, you're older now / And you're a clever swine / But they were the only ones who ever stood by you

When one starts quoting Morrissey, it becomes something of a habit, you see. Seeing him in person made me reflect on the sentiment in the above lines. It'd be a stretch to say Morrissey saved me, but the music did help immensely in me trying to discover my emotional center. I still find myself incredulous that someone released music that helped contextualize a particular class of existentially dissatisfied people (or misfits, if you prefer). The many criticisms of Morrissey aside, some of them quite valid, the underlying humanity and empathy I sense in his music seems as strong as ever. I feel lucky to have such deep roots to his music, and hearing them performed made me marvel at the enigma that is popular song (in particular, I was thinking about Xgau's proclamation about it being the greatest of all the arts, and while I was in the moment, anyway, it seemed so true). I don't know if I will ever understand what makes this kind of music so pleasurable, but if I find myself straying in years to come, I have faith that I'll take Morrissey's advice and not forget what it has done for me. Among other things, it has given me hope, as rare a commodity as any.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

How is art created? How are love songs written? My experience suggests they are partly wishes of the way things ought to be.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Good lord, at moments my existence terrifies me. Some of the things I do surely go against the fundamental principles of being human. I cannot do better than quote the classic Berryman line: There ought to be a law against Henry.

(How's that for a retro number? 2004 is alive and kickin'!)
Shyness is nice / And shyness can stop you / From doing all the things in life / You'd like to.

While I feared that it would turn out this way, I always had some hope that my quarter-century would find me in slightly better shape than I am now. Somewhat like the narrator of The Wrong Boy, I feel like it's wrong to have to resort to Morrissey lines at this age: or, being more specific, early Smiths lines seem wrong, as I'd much rather be in the "Break Up The Family" stage. As such, the entire matter is like a bad dream that just won't go away. (I'm tempted to add in more Moz here, but it's probably better if I resist.)

It's almost pointless to trace the origins of that which makes me son and heir of a criminally vulgar personality trait; it'd be instructive, sure, but I suspect that the situation now is more due to it being comfortable than anything else. I can't really explain what happened today, but with my red-letter day coming up shortly, it's especially frustrating that there's been yet another event avoided due to...what, exactly? Perceived lack of company? Ridiculous, really.

I can only hope I am given more opportunities, undeserving as I am. Resolutions seem frivolous by nature, so I won't try to formalize anything in that setting, but still: I should try to curb this excessive shyness. It's unlikely that the awkwardness during an event will be any worse than the feeling of sitting by oneself and dissecting it. Lack of company, now that's tautologically the situation I end up in when I make such choices.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The way I interact with people seems to be all about context. I seem to subconsciously decide what mode a particular situation requires, and act accordingly. My best and worst interactions, roughly speaking, involve the two extremes in terms of number of people involved. The best I think is the one-on-one*, where I tend to speak freely in a manner that is most reflective of the "real" me. The worst seems to be the existence of a group, where I think it must be a lack of confidence that makes me hesitant to speak at all. This is understandable, but really needs to change to some degree. There's no point talking about art serving as a crutch and how bad that is but then not doing anything about it. People close to me perhaps correctly sense that my hypersensitivity means that there are certain criticisms that I'll likely take badly. But I think I would greatly benefit from someone trying to guide me away from dangerous states of social stagnation. Till there's a person who can fill that role, I suppose I'll have to rely on stern blog posts.

* I hope you weren't concerned that I was going to say the best was when I'm by myself! Egotism only goes so far, you know.