Sunday Times Catch-Up

I've been on vacation, driving the West coast from North to South with a broken iPod perpetually on shuffle. It was like listening to a radio station with a good playlist and a bad DJ. Given a working Menu button, I might not have deliberately played M.I.A. and Simon & Garfunkel back to back. At least the rental car had an iPod jack and a sunroof! Lazy Sunday morning, perusing the New York Times online and drinking coffee that's a little too cool, here's what I find:

Metallica has a new album, and I'm sufficiently intrigued. (Ride The Lightning was part of the roadtrip playlist). I like Rick Rubin's advice that “If your marching orders for the first 20 years have been ‘change, change, change,’ then letting go of those preconceived ideas is in its own way a new idea.” See why they call him a guru?

Daniel Levitin has a new book, summing up The World in Six Songs. While I admire his fusing of anthropology, neurology and musicology with unabashed fandom, I bristle at the sweepingness. What's the point in making such a slick and tidy pronouncement? Book sales? It strikes me as self-serving academic grandiosity.

In all fairness, I have not read this book or his previous best seller. Given my academic and musical interests, I should be running out to buy it in hard cover, right? I guess I'd rather put on a record and listen to it and think about it and have a conversation with my husband about the sound quality, the recording process, the serendipity that brought band members, producers and engineers together, the inspiration that led to lyrics and riffs, the historical or mathematical basis of rhythms and harmonies, copyright law, playback technology, mix tapes, sex, road trips, geography, memory, policy. And then flip the record and listen to the B-side.

Finally, the resurgence of vinyl. Ah, sweet, manufactured nostalgia. The kids want to hear pops and crackle and feel the weight of an object as the place the record on the turntable. My colleagues who cut vinyl confirm that the demand is there. Good. Consuming music can be more deliberate, directed, personal. Listening to a record is an activity, requiring attention at least every 22 minutes or so. Listening to iTunes on shuffle is wallpaper. As for imperfections, there are plenty in an mp3 but they're less visible and thus dulling not electrifying - haze, not lightning.