Hate to have to type those words, but it’s true — today is the final operational day of Stylus magazine, where as I posted once earlier a number of pieces of mine appeared over time. The writers knew about this decision for some time but happily word didn’t fully break until a few days ago, as was intended.
Being only a very casual contributor to the site, I haven’t felt it was my place to comment much about Stylus wrapping up aside from a mention or two on the main ILM thread about it. But I admit I was pleased to see how many positive comments were made there and elsewhere about Stylus, and I will always remember my dealings with Todd, the site’s founder and driving force, and other staff members very well. It was a pleasure to meet a number of them in person earlier this year at EMP and I hope to see them again there in the future and elsewhere as well.
One of them, the very great and personable Alfred Soto, has a fine final essay up that’s well worth the reading, and includes a brief mention of his and my mutual love/hate relationship with that bizarroworld called the Corner. That paragraph that said mention appears in, however, is worth considering on the whole (as you might guess from the context, he is currently an English lit instructor, in this case in his home state of Florida):
I write about music because it gives me pleasure. Writing, that is; the music part is incidental. I often remind myself that by this point in my professional career I should have been a pair of ragged claws in a Midwestern university’s English department, using “privilege” as a verb and chiding my students for not finishing The Golden Bowl; we would, however, share a laugh at how often Henry James uses “ejaculated” in dialogues. Since most postgraduate writing seems written by people who don’t much like writing, I’ve allowed a distraction to become a habit, in quiet protest. But I keep my distance. I’m certainly not the only critic with colleagues who seem to spend a considerable portion of their days downloading music, which totally mystifies me. It’s a quixotic gesture on their parts whose nobility I’m not prepared to admit. Consumption is not thinking. I think a lot about other things besides music: good Scotches, robust sexual tension between students and me, the predatory spume of The Corner’s contributors (a hobby I share with colleague Ned Raggett). Despite increasing confidence in rockcrit as a craft, I want to vouch for happy dilettantism. For quiet promiscuity. The distance it enforces between me and the object of scrutiny produces my clearest thinking. There’s a sense in which taking music and music listening too seriously causes silt to form in your brain. If you doubt this, spend an hour talking to young rockcrits. Woodrow Wilson, not immune to messianic priggishness, remarked that the worst part of being president is meeting people who insist on telling you what you already know.
Alfred and I had talked briefly on another ILM thread about something else that had come up — my blog had, flatteringly to be sure, been named as one of a few good sites for music discussion on the web. I had to protest, though, since that was never the goal of this blog and never will be — after all, I am trying to ‘ponder it all,’ or at least that which regularly engages my interest, which moves well beyond simply music. Alfred had agreed with my own conclusions and this paragraph explains his stance further; for myself I’d just want to note that the idea of ‘happy dilettantism’ is profoundly appealing to me, on a variety of levels.
In work terms, it certainly explains both my relationship with my ‘regular’ job (as I’ve explained to people yet again elsewhere today, I’ve no real interest in becoming a fully accredited librarian with the MLS degree) and with my writing. Identified with the All Music Guide as I inevitably am, it’s not my sole outlet, and neither is it a place where I am a regular editor or anything similar (for a start I’d have to live closer to Ann Arbor!). Similarly working with a variety of other writing outlets, local and distant, allows me to be that happy dilettante, digesting, considering and of course pondering.
This strikes me as being healthy all around. It can be argued that I run the risk of being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, but I prefer to see it as part of that embrace of multiplicity of life that has grown incredibly important over time — that I’m not reduced to a simple one word sentence. To turn back to the subject at hand, working for Stylus was a treat because it allowed me to showcase both my sharper side via Scraping the Barrel and to occasionally ruminate on pieces of more profound interest to me.
So I will conclude with links to my own two favorite pieces that were published — an in-depth discussion of Bark Psychosis’s Hex and an entry in a series of pieces on that most omnipresent of words in this decade’s music criticism, ‘rockism.’ Both strike me, in rereading them, as products of happy dilettantism made manifest, and to my surprise both hold up pretty well still — keeping in mind I’m mostly very annoyed with my work the minute I see it published. A good sign, and that’s as much a credit to the place it appeared in as anything else.
It was a pleasure to be a part of it. Have a great farewell bash, folks!
[EDIT: Nearly all the ‘year-end’ pieces that are acting as concluding essays are mighty fine but I do want to single out Mike Powell’s as well — the right attitude, the right tone, I think.]