Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Trying Something New

The more I write about music, the harder it is for me to feel good about what I write. I suppose it's a good thing that I'm not a full-time music critic, then, although I have been told by those who fit that description that my self-critical impulse represents a stage that can and must be transcended. I've heard the same from those who write about books for a living, too, whether as scholars or journalists. Apparently, that's where I need to devote my energies, because the stage I am in right now has gone on way too long.

This is all preamble to my drawing attention to the first piece of music writing I've done in a good while. The last four months were a time of tumult around here. I spent most of the summer dealing with the unexpectedly severe consequences of two bicycle injuries, which made sitting at a computer typing particularly difficulty. I stopped writing for All Voices, for which I had expressed so much hope, because it became clear that it wasn't going to be the sort of long-term gig I was looking for. And I devoted my critical exertions to longer projects. But now I'm making efforts to get back in a groove, resuming my work for Zeek.

The review they just published, of the Israeli band Monotonix's first EP Body Language, marks a significant departure for me in style. Or at least the first paragraph does. Bear in mind that this is a music review:
There’s this guy you keep seeing around. He favors muscle shirts and cut-offs, even when it’s chilly out. When he walks, he has a way of putting his weight on the balls of his feet, like he’s looking for something to pounce on. Sometimes, when’s passing a shop window, he makes a sidelong glance at himself and flexes his triceps until he can see them ripple. And he talks up attractive women at every opportunity. One day, though, he sits down next to you on the bus and starts up a conversation without any obvious agenda. You’re surprised at how articulate he is and notice that his whole appearance changes the longer you talk. The bravado you used to silently indict from afar now seems like a layer of clothing he wears to cope with emotional weather. So when he asks for your phone number, you give it and make sure to get his in return. A week later you go by his place for the first time. He shows you to a seat on the couch and returns to what he’d been doing. “ My grandmother taught me to knit. It’s a great way to relax. Plus, I can make my friends gifts instead of buying them something in the store.” You sit back, a little dumbfounded. The television is tuned to an old movie. He senses your question. “Fellini, before he went surreal.”
I come back to recognizable music review territory in the opening of the next paragraph, "Monotonix’s Body Language is that guy," but I still shudder at hour far out on a limb I went with this introduction. It's not a bad shuddering, though, so much as a response to the thrill of not going through the motions.

I don't imagine that I will write many reviews that start this way. It's nice, though, to be reminded that I have the capacity to write something different than what I'm expected to write. I'm reminded of a few of the reviews I wrote for Bad Subjects, when I was really feeling it, and took risks that I was later too timid to take. Of course, it's different when you're writing for an editor and perhaps even getting paid for the privilege. Or when you're presenting examples of your work in the hopes of professional advancement. There's a reason I left my review of Andexelt's Circle out of the portfolio of clips I used to that end:
I'll be honest with you. I didn't even try to listen to this record objectively. You know how some people have a thing for girls with naturally curly red hair or boys who wax their body with wood glue? I feel the same way about Finland. As a teenager, I spent hour after hour memorizing a map of that small, cold land. I fondled Finnish glassware at Bloomingdale's. I even developed a secondary fixation on the Hungarian diaspora, because Hungarian and Finnish are distantly related tongues. Once, while travelling in Germany, I had the good fortune of spending several hours next to a beautiful Finnish maid. I was sure I would derive some sexual pay-off from the coincidence. But instead of melting in my arms, she decided I was a freak. And to think I believed that reciting the names of 50 Finnish municipalities would make her wetter than a tumbler full of Finlandia!
But this introduction actually comes closer to approximating the sort of music writing I aspired to and, what is more, have advocated pursuing than a more conventional approach would have. It's overtly autobiographical and perversely risqué. I'm not sure whether the opening paragraph of my review of Body Language meets that standard. It has an autobiographical component, though less overtly. And it at least constructs a scenario in which the gender of the second person singular is not specified, which might lead a creative soul to draw conclusions not specified outright. The important thing, though, is that I allowed myself to take risks I would normally avoid. My challenge, going forward, is to figure out how to sustain that momentum.
Tags: autobiography, clips, music, writing

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