In Custer and Sitting Bull, Kyle Gann puts the phrase, quoted in this very space before, in Custer's mouth: "Judge me not by what is known now, but in the light of what I knew when these events transpired". This is, as Gann puts it in the program notes, "adapted from Custer's defense". Some adaptation! What Custer said: "Here in the same view as before, I claim to be judged not entirely by what is known now but in the light of that information which was afforded me when the events contemplated in the first set of these charges transpired".
Well, now I have read the piece I said I would, having also said I would say something about it, and I confess, I'm somewhat at a loss. This is disappointing, because, on the basis of an early paragraph, not much further beyond which I'd read before now:
The music arrived for me historically late, at the end of the 1980s, and personally early, when I was fourteen years old. I was a child. Rock is for children. You have to be that young to feel it with full intensity, to hear the drumbeat strike and think it is the world reaching out to punch you. With experience the nerves become sclerotic, and you learn that the promises of the lyrics are lies and posturing. By twenty-eight you're left with the knowledge that you're the fan of a deficient art form. Your emotions have evolved to deny you rock music's best benefits, and it's become much too late to develop any comparably deep feeling from any other music. As a grown-up, still listening to the same stuff, you're genuinely ruined.
I had been anticipating being able to sound high-minded and erudite, at least in comparison to some, by referring to that part of "Of the Standard of Taste" in which Hume observes that "[a] young man, whose passions are warm, will be more sensibly touched with amorous and tender images, than a man more advanced in years, who takes pleasure in wise, philosophical reflections concerning the conduct of life and moderation of the passions. At twenty, OVID may be the favourite author; HORACE at forty; and perhaps TACITUS at fifty. Vainly would we, in such cases, endeavour to enter into the sentiments of others, and divest ourselves of those propensities, which are natural to us"—which is not to say that the elder, no longer so moved by Ovid, has discovered a deficiency in him. But as it turns out the essay is almost completely uninteresting, except perhaps to those who have a deep interest in Mark Greif. (I invite you to confirm this for yourself.) I suppose there are such people. The marginal interest it does contain lies in confirming that it is not just for unreflective boomers that the term "rock music" has an indexical character; it denotes also for unreflective children of the 80s whatever amplified music the speaker listened to in his or her mid-to-late adolescence. Moreover: whatever the speaker, then, got out of it, that is what it is provides according to its nature ("rock music's best benefits" = "what I liked when I was a kid", suprisingly enough; you wouldn't have thought the youth would be so discerning). The "same stuff" that no longer provides the same satisfaction really is the same stuff: it's not that Greif doesn't get much out of, I don't know, Cheer-Accident or Head of Femur (two rock bands that are completely unlike both each other and Greif's capsule vision of rock music), but that, returning to the once-highly-cathected treasures of his youth, or their soundalikes, he no longer gets what he once got.
To which one is tempted to respond, "duh, but that hardly makes it a deficient art form", though as it turns out Greif isn't actually interested in supporting anything claimed in the quoted paragraph above, some sort of mixture of cod-Greenbergianism and vaguely Germanic fear of popular culture (especially in its musical manifestations, in which it incites one to move one's (ugh) body, not to mention it appeals to the baser emotions). But once it's clear what the claims are really about, they become uninteresting (because obviously false when they can be made sense of, mostly) anyway. I'm left very unclear what the point of this essay was.
It doesn't help that he's just not very good at writing about music, something evidenced by the catastrophically stupid opening suggestion, his answer to the question how music can produce the feeling of violence (he characterizes the answer as "stupidly literal", whereas in fact it's just silly), and passages like this, the first part of whose first sentence is a masterpiece of some sort:
A drummer in a rock band can actually hit objects with remarkable facility—can strike physically, can beat on skin—and this striking or beating, rather than falling into straight rhythm, can in its most effective instances hold onto a movement of the unexpected, as when a tom-hit or a snare roll or a cymbal crash drops in at any moment, and makes you feel it first as a kind of percussion upon or in your own body, and then as your own arm or foot punching down, to strike. A fully-amplified, distorted and fed-back guitar, rather than leading at all times, could follow such drumming as part of the musical fabric, emulate it and respond to it, lock into it—thud along with the bass drum at one moment, and scream tunelessly as the drumstick strikes a cymbal at another. Then you have a new kind of artistry, a terrifying rock n' roll art of symbolized physical violence fully manifested.
Someone introduce this man to Last Exit!
On the other hand, I recently read MFK Fisher's An Alphabet for Gourmets, and, while it contains an awful lot about food, it also contains an awful lot about MFK Fisher; one of the best essays in it, "P is for Peas", recounts some pea-involving adventure of hers. No doubt part of the difference here is that that's just a less vexed topic, but also she comes across as actually enjoying food, while Greif doesn't seem to enjoy music, even the music he's talking about.