Between midnight and 1 a.m. on a Saturday night, and where am I? That's right, the office, trying to clean the fucker up. This has mostly been in the form of going through boxes of CDs figuring out which ones to keep, but unlike most of the time when I do this, I am not being kind. Whole lot here I've been hoarding for god knows how long for a purpose I have yet to determine. Some of it is pretty easy to let go of thanks to my eMusic account--bye bye, Blood and Fire catalogue. But it still makes me kind of sad--so many CDs I swore I'd get around to, most of them between two and four years old, stuff that predates the New York-to-Seattle move, lots that maybe, just maybe, might find a place in my private pantheon if I gave it that one chance . . .
The ethics of writing about music are pretty simple--you say what you think as honestly as you can and try not to bullshit yourself or your readers in the process. Schwag, though, is a different matter entirely. When I started getting CDs in the mail it felt like I'd won the lottery--for a second, anyway. As I ratcheted up more bylines and expanded the number of outlets I contributed to, I began getting lots more, and because this began in the late '90s, when the economy was good and there were new labels every week, the intake began reaching enormous volumes. After I moved out to Seattle in August 1999, I went back to Minneapolis for Christmas and found a mid-sized moving box worth of CDs waiting for me--the Mailboxes Etc. I was having my mail sent was still getting shit. I was eager back then, hideously so in retrospect, calling and emailing for everything I could conceive of wanting to listen to and/or write about. My appetite knew no bounds. I could handle everything, and I thought I was an expert on all of it.
I'm turning 31 in three weeks, and if I've learned anything in that time it's that I have no clue about anything beyond what I like or don't or am indifferent to and why. Though the Sign book has given me a bit of go-to cachet on Prince by the handful of other critics who've read it, I'm certainly not a Prince expert anymore than I am one about Tuvan throat singing. I listen to and like a tremendous amount of stuff even still, but it's impossible to pretend to keep up with it all, especially since, like any normal person, I want to spend as much time with my favorites as I can. Besides, most of what I get is trash! It has to be--that's just the law of averages. The editing job has tripled my intake, which was pretty heavy to begin with, and you start thinking like that after a while, if only for your own sanity's sake. Plus my work computer's CD player is a piece of shit--everything it touches is given this weird throttling sound, the sound being shaken up super-fast, that drives me and everyone who hears it nuts. My actual listening time is cut in half as a result.
Still, I wonder sometimes. As I've mentioned here before, I'm on the programming committee for the EMP Pop Conference this year, and looking over more than 200 proposals has compounded my frustration at my own limitations, especially coming right after year-end list madness. Lots of the proposals (and year-end lists) concern areas I have no idea about, some because I don't like or care about the music involved, some because they're out of my ken in some way (geographically, culturally, even politically). And some of the proposals are so intriguing that I almost want to dial up Rhapsody and start investigating the materials at hand. What, then, am I doing preparing to get rid of as many CDs as I possibly can, then? Besides preserving my sanity, creating some breathing space, and easing potential transitions for myself, I mean? Does being a dilettante, a highlight-reel aficionado, make me a bad human being? The answer is probably. But sometimes you've gotta be able to move around.