Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I love Carrie Brownstein's "Monitor Mix" blog for, not because of what she writes but because I'm fascinated by the respondents. They invariably agree with her, no matter what position she takes. When she wrote that she didn't like her iPod's shuffle feature because it so rarely captured her mood, nobody asked why she's asking her iPod to randomly match her mood. Instead, they rallied around her and hated their shufflers too. Stupid shufflers never seem to know what their owners really want to hear.

They also suggest there are limits to perception of NPR as the place for eggheads. In today's post, Brownstein challenges a writer's assumption that the music you listen to is a reflection of your intelligence, associating Lynyrd Skynyrd with low intelligence and Bjork with high intelligence. Brownstein doesn't agree, and neither do her readers. One wrote:

This is a topic that I spent a great deal of time thinking about until, like Robin Williams' character in Good Will Hunting, I had one thought and it calmed the entire storm. Here it is: if you like it, it's good. It becomes good when you like it. Whether you dig DeBarge or one of the Popol Vuh's, your feelings about a song validate that song/ artist/ painting/ book's quality.

Like = good? Really? Isn't it more accurate to say like = like, and that we flatter ourselves to think that the things we like are all good? Or are we really going to say that Dane Cook, supermarket tabloids and The Biggest Loser are good?

Another responent wrote:

You can't help who you love...when you truly love them--music/bands are not exempt.

That sentence construction invites doubt because it posits us as helpless victims jerked around by our passions, but there's something in there that the writer Brownstein refers to - Geoffrey Miller in Spent - missed. He suggests our tastes are uniform and intelligence-driven. The reader counters that we're helpless where our loves are concerned. It's far more likely that different things appeal to us at different levels, and that we respond to different kinds of music - some smart, some boneheaded - because they speak to different things in us. When we talk about "guilty pleasures," we're tacitly acknowledging things we like that don't coincide with our notions of "good." They appeal to something in us other than our intelligence. Rather than throw up our hands and act as though our musical passions are unpredictable, a more productive response would be to contemplate what we're responding to when we like the bands and songs we like.

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