The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Thursday, February 15, 2001

Hearing Something New

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: I've come to believe that the artist's intent is irrelevant when you're confronted by the art. This is fairly easy to understand when you go into a museum and spend time with art that was made decades or even centuries ago. You may know little about the artist whose work you're taking in; what matters is what you, the viewer, experience, and what the art says to you. Perhaps Jackson Pollock thought he was painting a really bad day; if you see the end of the universe in the painting, then for you it's about the end of the universe, not Pollock's bad day. With songs and pop-music artists, things have gotten confused. We are moved by the songs, but then we want to know all about the artists — what inspired them to write the song, who it's about, what was going on in their life when they wrote it, and what they were trying to communicate. We become interested in their personality. We identify with the personality. We think Thurston Moore looks cool or Beth Orton is sexy. The celebrity profile attempts to answer questions along the lines of What is Eminem really like? Who is Madonna sleeping with? Who is Dido? Is Tom Waits for real, or is "Tom Waits" a persona, a character? Armies of journalists all over the world now profile pop and rock musicians, attempting to provide a window into the lives and personalities of both celebrities and cult figures — some of whom are real artists, many of whom are just celebrities. None of that has anything to do with the songs, and what they mean to me and to you. A few years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Greil Marcus, who is, I believe, the most insightful among the music critics I've had the opportunity to read. His book, "Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes," had just been published. I asked Greil about the recording of the "Basement Tapes," and if he'd tried to interview Dylan and members of the band about what it was like making that music; what the house known as Big Pink, where they'd recorded many of the songs, was like. That kind of thing. Greil said none of that interested him. What he had attempted with his book was to talk about a version of America he heard in those recordings Bob Dylan and the Band made in upstate New York in the late '60s. It's likely that neither Bob Dylan nor the members of the Band heard what Greil hears in the songs they recorded. I tend to forget this when I listen to new music, and sometimes start looking for clues in interviews and profiles of the artist. What is this really about, I'll wonder, listening to a song whose meaning eludes me. But I don't need to know that a particular line is about a particular girl who meant something to the singer. If I feel something when I hear that line, and if it relates to me and my life in some way, that's all that matters. I was listening to Stephen Malkmus' solo album, Stephen Malkmus, over and over a few hours before I started writing this piece. At first I was wondering what Malkmus was trying to say in some of the songs. I mean, what is "Black Book" about anyway? It doesn't matter. All that matters is what I hear, and as I played the album again and again, I kept hearing something new.

Datastream: The best article about Napster I've seen thus far ran in the New York Times on Wed., Feb. 14 in the Living Arts section. Jon Pareles laid out, quite eloquently, why a defeat for Napster is a defeat for the music business. Pareles thinks that when Napster users move on to an application such as Gnutella (which runs on a decentralized network of computers), they'll like what they find, and there's no company for the Recording Industry Association of America to sue. He notes that by using a version of Gnutella called "BearShare – GNUTELLA" you can access not only music but video clips and photographs. "When I typed 'Britney' into Napster," writes Pareles, "I gained access to all sorts of recordings: Britney Spears's hits, parodies of her songs, homemade collages and audio snippets like the temper tantrum she broadcast through an open microphone at the Rock in Rio festival. But BearShare, unlike Napster, doesn't just list MP3 files. BearShare also gives access to official video clips and photographs, news outtakes and pornographically doctored pinups, one certified as 'best fake on the Internet.' As it drives users from Napster, which has only traded music, to broader, more ungovernable file-swapping software, the recording business may wish it had quit fighting while it was behind." Over at called, a site with info about file sharing programs, I found this posting about a program called Napigator: "SO NAPIGATOR WILL MAKE NAPSTER WORK FOREVER? Well, maybe not forever, but Napigator WILL make Napster work for a long time after Napster is shut down. As long as there are networks such as 'Opennap' and 'MyNap' being hosted on computers, and by small companies around the world, Napigator will make sure that you can connect to them with Napster. We all know that the court process is VERY slow, so by the time they shut down ONE network, another one will no doubt rise in its place!" Very interesting.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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