not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
Not being a vinyl aficionado, I am at a disadvantage when it comes to reciting their talking points, but one of the arguments for this music format, as I understand it, is that later evolutions of recorded music, in losing many of the tangible details of music preserved through pressed wax, somewhere along the way lost its soul as well. Each pressing of a single was its own unique object, affected not just by the pressing process, but by its storage, ambient humidity, even the number of times it had been played and the quality of the device it was played on. Digital music, whether on a CD or hard drive, tried to extract what was deemed truly “essential”—the actual reproduction of the music—and in order to get to that, removed all those physical details that gave vinyl music its particular character. And, the argument continues, when all those details were removed, when the only part of the music that was left was a digital recording, endlessly reproducible and commodifiable in the correct format, something fundamental had been stripped from the experience as well. Call it, for lack of a better term, the soul.
What I find most interesting halfway Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue, a book for vinylheads if ever there was one, is how Chabon appears to be performing a similar animectomy on the experience of the novel. Novels, as novelists have been reminding us ever since John Barth or so, are full of outmoded conventions, that, while not yet proven pernicious, are best regarded with healthy skepticism, like GMOs and chemical sunscreens. Chapters are a holdover from the days when novels used to come out in newspapers, 10 pages at a time. Marriage plots and ghost stories are the product of a patriarchial value system that turns women into property and distracts the masses with pure humbug, and the traditional narrative novel as a whole has an unfortunate tendency to idealize tradition, idolize capitalism, and idyllize whatever period of turbulent and bloody history happened to be occurring when the author was a child. And Chabon’s apparent response to this, so far at least, is to strip a lot of that stuff out. Chabon has apparently decided that novels are a vehicle for delivering beautiful language, interesting characters, and engaging stories, in that order, and has otherwise removed everything that is not one of those things. And let me tell you, after a while you begin to miss those things. Their loss is palpable, and much of what’s left over, while performed with the skill of a virtuoso, seems weirdly antiseptic like—well, like an MPEG of Kind of Blue.
I don’t think this is particularly damning, but then, I only own Kind of Blue in MPEG form. There’s a lot to like about Telegraph Avenue so far, particularly the way Chabon seems to be cribbing from Quentin Tarantino in the arrangement and flourishes of his novel. The writing is as dizzying and brilliant as ever, and has obviously colonized my brain deeply enough for it to lead a coup d’etat on behalf of my own most indulgent instincts, of which these paragraphs stand as proof. But there’s a strange frission created by such a forward-thinking novel that seem to mostly be about looking backwards.
Anyway, that’s all for now–only halfway through the book, and I want to see how it all resolves. I’m going to want to write a longer piece on the Tarantino influence, though that’s another post altogether. Just wanted to get these impressions out into the world, which is desperately lacking in people willing to post their opinions on the internet, as I understand.