Outro: Rock Aesthetics, or, What I’ve Learned So Far

Looking back over the questions I’ve raised about great elements in rock and pop pieces and the interpretive moves I was able to make, I see I have a main idea:

Music is most compelling when it convenes different orders.  (For a simple model of superimposed orders, think of an intersection of straight lines centered in the lower left quadrant of a Mondrian painting—thus, two grids, one in the picture’s lines and one superimposed by the frame.)

The audience has a challenge, and a choice, and work to do in ordering those orders.

Combining orders is compelling business because we’re all members of gloriously and menacingly different orders.  Fitting our lives together is a huge Problem and Opportunity.  We’re bound to wonder, What is the most lively collective we can have?  We wonder and we try fun little gambits of fresh ordering like I tried with Mondrian just now, in the dimension of expressed form, and with you, in the dimension of communicating.  I find happiness when a metaphor occurs to me that lights up and confirms an implied relationship between orders—this music is a sprouting nurse log, that music is a landslide.

That’s my big idea.  Maybe I have another.  I find that music always addresses my stumbling hopeful bodily existence, and good music pulls my fractious guts into some working shape.  To learn how to live I must learn how to move and how to receive movement.  I always have a sense of touching bottom in hook analysis when I find a strong kinesthetic model for what seems to be happening.

Wait, I have a third idea—unless this one was already in the idea of the lively collective.  It’s that the adventures of music prove we’re willing and able to be led into a wild Whatever, so long as it’s programmed in some way.  We’re willing to risk sanity to foster possibility and enjoy liberty.  Incredibly willing.

(Am I talking about rock here?  Or just music?  Or just interesting experience?  I’m talking about  mentally vivid and vividly sharable, kinesthetically intense and crazy fun experience to the max.  Add that up and what do you get?)


You see how difficult it becomes when one tries to get very close to the facts…

A significant point of procedure emerged:   I was usually able to write a whole essay without listening freshly to the subject matter, letting memory furnish the data.  I was on a honeymoon with some attractive notion or other.  When I did listen to the music again I was almost always surprised and often had to make changes not only in the descriptive detail of an essay but at main idea level.  This learning cycle, often humbling, was always worthwhile.  Anything you love or hate, I urge you to formulate an analytical thesis about it—flush out what you’re actually thinking or assuming, what you like to think—and then go back to check the evidence.

Need I say also that you should compare notes with your peers?  When I issued my new insights I found over and over that my most respected friends disagreed with me.  To put the best face on this awful crisis of competence and authority, I’ve concluded that my work is a fragment representing a much larger conversation, and that its topics are of a peculiarly interesting sort such that you and I will almost inevitably think differently about them.

But complementarily—right?


[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Cezanne 10/22/07, trans. Joel Agee (New York: North Point, 2002), p. 72.


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
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One Response to Outro: Rock Aesthetics, or, What I’ve Learned So Far

  1. What a marvellous sign off. Can I re-post at POP? And link of course.

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