Taking a break from Not Just the Ticket today to talk a little more about the one-off return of Stylus via The Stylus Decade, giving a slew of the long-time writers from the site a chance to review the past decade’s music under its auspices. Nick Southall talks about the genesis of the project here; my thoughts on Stylus when it shut down can be found in this old blog post.
Besides a rolling singles and albums countdown, set to conclude tomorrow, the site’s featured a number of thoughtful stand-alone essays, along with some sharp illustrations of representative figures from the charts and elsewhere. My favorite essays so far are Tal Rosenberg’s “Digital Killed the Video Star” and Thomas Inskeep and Josh Love’s thoughts on country music in the past ten years, “Where Were You?”, while there are a slew of enjoyable brief takes in the countdowns — basically, browse it all at your leisure.
Then there’s my piece, and quite honestly I hadn’t realized it would be featured so prominently when I wrote it, so I have to thank the editors — especially Alfred, whose questions regarding earlier drafts now take on a stronger significance! I only thought up a title for it at his last minute request — and nine times out of ten I am absolutely awful with headlines — but “Unlisted Numbers” summed it up much more strongly than I expected. The essay itself was a chance to look back on a decade-plus of music writing on my part as well as to clear my head of various ideas that had been kicking around for a bit. There’s some restatement from past pieces and comments elsewhere but the occasional summary never hurts, especially since one can then react against those thoughts down the line given further reflection. So we’ll see what I think in ten years, say.
It’s also a little amusing to have this piece come out when I’m engaging in what is ultimately an extended exercise in nostalgia thanks to Not Just the Ticket but I do see it as part and parcel of a larger reflection on things that further helps focus thoughts for the future — and there are other, less memory-driven projects due later this year. But all in good time…
Anyway, a brief snippet of “Unlisted Numbers” here; all thoughts on the full piece welcome — and I should say I love the fact that the illustration assigned to my essay was of the Knife:
As the years went on I found it harder to draw up any sort of list; there was something about the process I didn’t completely recognize in myself anymore. It culminated last year in my intentional non-ballot ballot for Pazz and Jop, instead sending in an essay (itself linking back to a previous essay for Idolator the year before, though that’s no longer available to my knowledge) tracing my disconnection, or disenchantment if you prefer. I’ll spare you the retelling of it all – the link is there, read as you choose.
The summary, though, is a sense of letting go, of releasing from a previous state – I have no real wish to bore anyone with a statement of general philosophy, but in broadest, simplest terms, it reflected a change from being a focused proclaimer on cultural elements to being a more relaxed observer of them. If the musical crisis I allude to in my Pazz and Jop piece from the start of the decade was one such moment, my current one comes down to sensing process over product: the series of continuing experiences rather than a rigorous accounting for them, though notes can and are taken along the way, and retrospective thought can be pulled together every so often, much like now.
I don’t present this as either a recommendation or a confession, but merely as a description of an awareness that I’ve reached a certain sense of calm. Now I can more readily enjoy music than I used to do – though that is potentially loaded as a conceit. It’s not that never stopped loving music, but in the same way that in the previous decade my stint in grad school almost buried my love for reading under a larger institutional drive and goal that I realized wasn’t for me, on a much more diffuse level once I felt less of a need to be on top of everything musically – the early-decade crunch that I’ve mentioned already – I found a new centered critical self that reflected and responded rather than categorized and locked down. The strengthening of this viewpoint over time lead me to these smoother waters in which I now find myself.