Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Catch that Confluence

Occasionally, you meet someone new that you really like, and come to realize that they are friends with a lot of your friends, and you never even realized it. The network of shared likes and dislikes and mutual acquaintences creates an instant friendship that feels fated, even though it should come as no surprise that in a six-degrees world, such clusters of connections would exist.

I’ve had the cultural equivalent of that experience listening to Dan Zanes. With my cultural critic hat on, I should refer to him as “Zanes” for the rest of the post, but it seems almost impossible to call him anything but “Dan,” as he exudes such a friendly approachableness. I first thought of Dan as a niche folk singer, as I first heard him a couple years ago when my wife bought me his recording of Carl Sandburg’s American Songbag. I’m a huge fan of Carl Sandburg’s poetry, and his dedication to preserving folk music was a strong influence that lead me to an appreciation of the whole genre of folk.

That was connection #1. Anyone who likes Carl Sandberg is ok in my book. And when I listened to the album, I discovered a really enlightened, eclectic music collection, almost like the soundtrack of “O Brother Where Art Thou” in its depth and breadth. Many artists, as great as they may be, sound too much like themselves, song after song, so that you can barely get through a whole album without hitting Shuffle. But Dan, tapping into an artery of traditional music without any pretense of old-timey-ness, has an inexhaustible variety.

I thought, “He’s really good, he’s the kinda guy you’d expect to here on Back Porch Music.” And darned if I didn’t start hearing his songs on the WUNC radio show. (Maybe he was there all along I just started to recognize him.) Connection #2. And then one day I was wandering through the cultural desolation that is the toy section in Wal-Mart, and I found Dan Zanes name emblazoned on a CD in the (tiny) kids music bin. Ahh, I thought, he’s just like “They Might Be Giants,” a musical act of genuine talent and originality that has found a niche playing to young people. So I got it for my son’s birthday.

And then I listened to Catch That Train myself, and I had more shocks of recognition. Hey, that’s Natalie Merchant! Hey, the Kronos Quartet! How is it that someone I barely knew is playing with artists that I’ve known and loved for years? And then I check out his bio online as I’m writing this post, and more shocking connections. Suzanne Vega! Aimee Mann! This is spooky. By modern iTunes standards, my exposure to music is tiny, and this guy is working with all my favorites. I had a similar experience when I listened to Sandra Boynton’s Dog Train, another kid’s hit that pulled together name-brand talent.

I can see now a trend, hopefully a good one: music for kids used to be a barren, almost empty landscape dominated by a few Raffis and the occasional Free to Be You and Me collections. But modern artists are discovering that what kids like to listen to is (gasp) just good music. Remove sex and violence and heartbreak and cynicism, and just play good music: that is the new formula.



Post a Comment

<< Home