Knowing, Loving

I’ve sometimes been met with resistance when I offer analytical comments about favourite songs to fans of popular music. Some people will only discuss lyrics, not music, while others simply don’t like it when you try to explain songs in any intellectual way. To simply love it, or to intuitively understand it, is enough.

I’m of two minds: the love, hell ya, is always legitimate, but I like the discipline part, too. I want to KNOW the music I love, listen to it over and over until I’ve sucked it in, turned it inside out, seen it refracted and reflected through a million facets. I want to connect or contrast it to other musics, to look for its influences and those it has influenced. It’s deeply satisfying to feel that I have absorbed it, and I really know it. Then I can move on for a while.

I wonder if anyone could argue convincingly that music is all about emotion, and not at all about intellect. Ethnomusicologist Jeffrey Todd posits that music is understood on a subconscious, oral level before it is translated into conscious understanding,* but this suggestion doesn’t rule out either cognitive process, and acknowledges the tendency to interpret consciously what we have  experienced intuitively. Musician/composer/producer Jon Brion has also discussed how emotions and intellect come into play in music-making. He says:

I also have big pet peeves about this whole notion of a division between heart and head, and that one is better than the other. It’s like they’re useless without each other, and what’s even funnier is we don’t know that there’s any division.[….] We haven’t a f—ing clue. And certainly, trying to judge others on a scale of how connected they are to one or the other? Good luck.

* Jeff Todd Titon, “Knowing Fieldwork.” In Shadows in the Field, ed. Gregory F. Barz and Timothy J. Cooley. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

**from an interview in Then it Must be True


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