Friday, May 30, 2008

Favorite Albums

Tom Ewing wrote an interesting take on the idea of a favorite album for Pitchfork, discussing it as a social phenomenon as much as a musical one. I can't identify with the way his favorite album changed a number of times; I've never been able to narrow it to one, but Fun House, Trout Mask Replica and Rocket to Russia have jointly held that position since I got to know each album. Still, his basic premise makes a lot of sense. Like its kissing cousin, the Desert Island Disc, the favorite album borders on a parlor game, a social form of one-upping and marking territory that says more about the person and his/her relationship to their social circle than it does about the albums.

As I read his piece, it occurred to me how rarely I hear such talk these days. I attributed how rarely I have to defend my choices to my community of friends, who either know or accept my choices without being appalled, or don't care about the question in the first place. I was a little surprised by Ewing's conclusion, which presented him in a similar situation:

A favorite album to me, and I think to a lot of other people, is a compromise-- between it and everything else I listen to; between my listening history and my enthusiasms now; between how I feel about a record and the conversations I might have about it. These days, nobody really asks me what my favorite album is, and so I'm not even sure I have one: If a Scary Monster roars in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it, is it really scary?

I don't know Ewing's age so I don't know if the lack of interest in this question is tied to age or something else - my suspicion being the latter. I think about the non-canonical choices in Marooned (I know, desert island discs, but close enough) and the conversation going on at Zoilus (see "I Miss the Tyrant") about Robert Christgau's nostalgia for the monoculture and wonder if this phenomenon (if it exists) is tied to that.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Hi Alex and thanks for the comment. I'm 35, incidentally.

I think there is something in what you say but I also think the specific reasons *I* don't get asked the question much are social. I move in two primary social circles - my non-work friends are mostly music heads and have mostly known me a long time or know me via online before they meet me socially: in this case they know the answer already, or assume I woh't have one (since I usually care a lot more about individual songs than 'albums'). My work friends meanwhile know me as "the music guy" and I guess they assume they won't ever have heard of any answer I might give.

Also there is an age element: the question makes the most sense in a place like school or university, where favourite bands and albums can differentiate a big mass of people who you're just meeting or don't know well. This situation applies at work too, of course, but the difference is that not everyone is just meeting each other: the favourites question is one asked in the expectation of giving one's own response.