500 · 26 August 04
I started writing music reviews because I realized that my record collection had gotten ahead of my understanding of it. Twelve years, five hundred weeks of this column, thousands of reviews and tens of thousands of listening and writing hours later, I think there is a sense in which I have finally caught up. Six weeks ago, for the first time since beginning this process, I found myself with no new records about which I felt like I had anything much to say. A few have arrived since, and the process remains infinite even if slowed, but a fundamental dynamic has changed. Organizing my reactions to new music is no longer the central motif of my narrative of identity. The column has been drifting away from music reviews for some time, arguably since almost the beginning, and lately has begun to stray from music itself more and more often. I once believed that I was trying to be a role model for how to live an examined musical life, and that some amount of digression was a necessary part of the demonstration, but I'm no longer really convinced that that's what my experiences represent. I am taking conscious steps to live my examined life with music in a less consuming and less obsessive way, and my examined life in a way less centered on records, and while I'm certain that this is right for this stage of my real life, it also inevitably undermines the character of the narrator of these essays in a way that even I, as a reader, am not sure I want to follow. I adored my years of consuming obsession. I don't want to evangelize anybody out of theirs, and I don't want to write a weekly eulogy to the kind of fanatic I used to be. It is time to end. I have loved telling this believer's story, loved living inside of it, loved hearing when and how it resonated with people I've loved or never met, out there in the dark and the noise. I still love this story, and I still think it's worth loving, and I think we both now love this telling of it best by letting it conclude, by letting it be just what it has been.
And, too, I release myself from this labor to find out what it obscures. My marriage, neither cause nor coincidence, is a tempting opportunity for nominal self-sacrifice but an even more powerful impetus for self-assessment. I am vastly overdue to stop, reset my expectations and constraints, and allow myself to make new decisions about how to spend my energy and attention. It was easier, when I had more time, to feel less urgency. My marriage raises the stakes, not just for how I spend the time I reserve for myself, but for what I contribute to the partnership. I owe Belle my best self. I owed myself my best self, of course, but somehow my responsibilities to her and to us seem more imperative and immediate. There have been times when I thought that writing about music could be the thing I do best. But I think it doesn't have to be, and probably shouldn't. I still believe that making music is what humans as a species do best, but that's a criticism as much as a grace. We need to learn to live as well as we sing, or to sing as we write, or to trade some of the small things we've practiced for larger things we fear. I need to confront ideas that are bigger than a week, and more complicated than a first draft, and cost more than sleep. Or smaller and simpler and cheaper. There are so many things I want to have tried before I am done. It is time to try some of the other ones. It is time to sit with silence for a little while, and then fight or face it in a new way. What way, exactly, I don't know, but the column has been preventing me from finding out. I end it to discover.
So thank you beyond any hope of coherent explication to everyone who has participated in the strange obscure experiment in low-bandwidth broadcast solipsism into which methodical music reviews somehow evolved. Thank you to everyone who has read, written, encouraged, carped, linked, logged, responded, referred, recommended and cared. I haven't done this in nearly as much isolation as I sometimes pretend. Thank you for finding your ways to me by countless random paths, and staying to see what happened and thus becoming part of it, and leaving trails for others to follow. Thank you for sharing your Thursday mornings. Thanks for everything. You're welcome to anybody for whom my attempts to understand my own experience have captured or inspired something in yours. You're welcome for every impossibly grand and insidiously subtle thing anybody has ever thanked me for. And my ecstatic, spiraling apologies to anyone who wishes it had ended sooner, or later.