Please note: I was gonna make a music joke but I’m too tired. (Did you C what I did there? That was a minor pun, which why listeners may feel a bit sad hearing it….)

After the new baby was born I started getting more books from the library to read for fun, because I’d sit up rocking her and whatnot, and while I like that, it could get a bit boring. So I’d read during it. I want to blog a bit here about two books I read, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life by Steve Almond and Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus. (I had it in mind to write a more detailed blog post about these books, but I don’t have the time and energy.)

I enjoyed both books. The thing they have in common that I liked a lot was that they’re books by people who really love music, and I also really love music. Almond’s book is about music fandom and Marcus’s book is about learning to play music. I love both, and related to both. Almond’s funny and he writes really well (no surprise he’s been a journalist and a music critic). It was nice to read a book all about loving music, and the funny, pointless, but seemingly really important conversations that that can lead to, all of which amount to things like “you don’t love my favorite band like I do?!” or “I don’t love your favorite band, and you shouldn’t either,” or “oh my god we both love that band!” He also really nails something weird about music fandom. Great musicians, and probably great artists of other sorts too, make this art that matters so much and makes you think you have a kind of relationship with the artist, when really you have a relationship to their art. Knowing someone’s music doesn’t really mean you know a person, and the fact that you connect very much with their music doesn’t mean you have a connection with them, because it’s not two-sided in the way that actual relationship connections are. The other thing I got was that artists who make great art, it’s easy to expect them to be as awesome in other areas of their life as their art is. As if someone who makes a great record that makes you think and feel intensely is going to move you just as much by everything they say in a conversation, and as if the skill of their artistry is a sign that they’ll be equally skillful in all facets of their lives. I think this is part of why musician-fan interactions rarely really satisfy.

There’s also something in this book about men and music but I can’t put my finger on it. There’s a particular kind of rock fan masculinity that’s in this book and that I really relate to, and I wish I had more and smarter things to say about it. (I also need to get to bed, so no time to try to be smart.) All I’ll say for now is that I remember a conversation with two co-workers, a man and a woman. I said I really enjoyed the novel High Fidelity and the woman said “I tried to read that but quit, the guy was just such an asshole.” Me and the man looked at each other, then we both said that we really identified heavily with the narrator in terms of being guys and being really into music, and that we appreciated the novel for being really honest about that stuff. (There was a short awkward silence after that.)

Marcus’s book is about learning to play the guitar later in life, and what goes on in the brain during music learning. It’s interesting and I liked hearing about the science stuff that was in there. For instance, he describes how brains tend to respond with some kind of dopamine when they successfully identify patterns, and when they detect novelty. Music involves both (“hey it’s the verse part again, same melody!” and “Hey the lyrics are different in this verse!”)

I especially liked his discussion of two kinds of happiness, the kind that feels good (like eating ice cream) and the kind that feels meaningful (like helping a friend), and how music tends to combine the two, and that combination is part of its power. I also found that pair of concepts of happiness generally interesting. I feel like I do more of the second kind of happiness-oriented activity, but could use more of both.

I also started a book that I won’t name, that I didn’t finish because it was about personal relationships to music and I didn’t like the author’s taste, didn’t relate to the author’s experiences, and the author dissed a band I like a lot. So… not a book for me.

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