I was working out earlier tonight, and had a couple egoless minutes thinking about meaning. (In retrospect, they were prompted by thinking about the claymation holiday episode of Community that I caught earlier. It ends with a line something like “The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning, and is meaningful because we say it is,” and I’m still thinking about whether there’s even a claim hidden in there.)
The phrase “the circle of life” came to mind (with its inescapable Lion King associations – hey, I was drifting, here!) from an image of CA and I and a kid or two having a farewell-to-KC party, Jody was there (I guess I saw her earlier tonight at the food pantry), and I thought “Well, an actual circle of life is kind of bleak – we’re doomed to repeat the past and all – but life isn’t really like that; it’s a spiral of life, with its implications of a direction to history and “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” (T S Eliot). From that image, I’ve come, for tonight, at least, to the thought that life’s meaning might be what we can do, and know, and be, that our grandparents couldn’t but wanted to, and what our grandchildren will, that we want to.
Then, in the shower, I was thinking about a conversation I had with CA a couple weeks ago, trying to explain what makes Wooden Shjips awesome. How do you explain, to someone who hasn’t felt it yet, how good ten minutes of a single psych rock riff with weirdo echo soloing and a few vocals can be? I was trying to describe how you can’t approach psych or drone music with the same expectations and critical apparatus as you would art music and get an experience that comes anywhere close to the music’s potential. She wasn’t buying it. (Yet.)
I was also thinking about The Roots’ new undun, and how I feel sure somebody, somewhere, is up in arms because its a concept album that tells a story; in some circles this is taken as self-evidently pretentious and indulgent, but I think the album is fighting trim and shows remarkable restraint and self-editing at nine songs, plus an intro and outro.
The fresh insight was in realizing how important it is to me as a listener and critic to approach music on its own terms as much as possible; I think maybe much more than most other people, such as CA in the example here. Yes, there’s also history, various canons, and a whole universe of other music to relate it to, but there should always be dialogue between what a work sets out to accomplish for itself, and its relationship with other works. (And yes, I grok that “what a work sets out to accomplish for itself” is a matter to be debated; that’s fine; simply that we’re having the debate at all carries the weight I need it to carry here.)
The point here isn’t to be heady for headiness’ sake; it’s that the best way to enjoy and get the most out of a work is to focus on experiencing it on its own terms, and letting all those relationships be secondary. I’ve said many times – without convincing many people – that I may actually be a hedonist at heart; I’m just serious about finding the most pleasure in every little thing.