One day in June 2006 – the eve of the last day of my final exams – I found myself getting horribly distracted from exam preparations by, of all things, thoughts about how wonderful London Calling (the album, not the song) was. I alternated between berating myself, trying (to no avail) to concentrate on my notes, and digging out the album insert to scrutinise the lyrics of ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’. This was, for me, quite a strange and unnerving experience. I don’t generally have problems remaining focused on important (or at least immediate) tasks. Later that night, lying quite sleepless in bed, it came to me: I need to write about my feelings on such things as London Calling.

Call it catharsis if you will. When I subsequently read Emily of New Moon for the first time, I finally understood her ‘flashes’ – instances when she felt very close to a world of indescribable beauty – to be identical to the experience I had with London Calling. I’ve had flashes all my life, except that where the stimuli for Emily’s flashes were always visual, my flashes are brought on by all sorts of things, including nature, art, books, films, and of course music. When they come on it’s as if some sort of veil or fog that perpetually surrounds you lifts momentarily: and you suddenly perceive everything more vividly. The world is more colourful; sharp; tangy; and, for whatever reason, hopeful. You feel more alive. You are overcome by feelings of great pleasure and wonder. And then you feel an incredibly pressing need to record those sensations.

Raving about things in writing thus seems even more satisfying than raving about it orally. And if I’m going to write things down… why not put them where others can read it? Especially if they can respond to it and perhaps get introduced to something delightful? Thus the idea of starting a blog. But I didn’t feel very comfortable with the notion of putting yet another blog on popular music, or whatever, out there into the universe, especially as there must already be countless other people out there pontificating on various music records (or films, or books). You can’t get around it: a personal blog is essentially an egoistic project.

Still, I hope that there is some value-added in my project. I’m not going to write criticism or reviews of music (or film, or books); I’m not even going to pretend to objectivity. It’s not my purpose, really. But I am hoping, among other things, to chart my popular musical discoveries and growth in tastes starting, almost literally, from a point of complete ignorance about popular music in March 2006. I started getting into it only as a result of watching the amazing film Grosse Pointe Blank, which had an Eighties soundtrack chock-full of songs that I personally thought were amazing, though I’d never heard any of them before. The mere existence of such songs actually shook up my cultural perspectives quite a bit. I am too young to have experienced (i.e. been really aware of) the Eighties first-hand. And I’d never really listened to the radio or to any popular music (although I quite liked classical music), or watched many films: I simply wasn’t interested. Which meant that I didn’t know much about popular culture in that decade, and went around with the vague impression that the Eighties were rather dire in that respect. Cheesy synth songs and/or overwrought ballads! Neon colours, spandex and legwarmers! John Hughes romantic teen comedies! (At least, I got the impression that all these were supposed to be dire. I’d never experienced them, remember. I am actually fond of a couple of John Hughes films now that I’ve watched them.)

Anyway, I was forced to re-evaluate that impression of the Eighties, and of popular music in general. Some of the songs used in Grosse Pointe Blank weren’t just catchy, or melodious: the lyrics actually had substance and wit. In other words, popular music wasn’t just a visceral pleasure; it could be an intellectual one as well. Here was a whole new interest that I could mine for pleasure and self-edification! (Actually, to a certain extent, pleasure and self-edification are inseparable. I gain pleasure from self-edification, for example.) Okay, perhaps my approach towards appreciating popular music is starting to sound pretentious. But I have heard enough popular songs in my life to be able to differentiate between songs that I would like to hear again (and analyse and generally revel in) and songs that – in spite of catchiness and/or strong melody – I wouldn’t mind never hearing again.

Righto. As is characteristic of my freakishly organised approach to life, I thought that if I’m going to learn about and have fun with popular music, I am jolly well going to do it in the most efficient way. Why wade through tonnes of mediocre music – especially on a limited budget – in the hope of spontaneously discovering gems? Surely it’s much easier (for a person starting out with almost zero knowledge of popular music, at least) to consult the opinions of music critics? I had a look at Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 500 greatest albums of all time (determined by a poll of critics and ordinary consumers) to start with. I found that I had heard of perhaps a dozen (!) of the artists on the list. Somehow or other I also discovered the website of Robert Christgau, a particularly seasoned music critic who has been writing rock criticism since the 1960s (just about the time that the profession was born), has graded 13,000-odd albums, and has made his reviews available online.

Thank goodness for Christgau and his website. I quickly found that we had largely similar tastes in the sense that a lot of the stuff which he grades A, or A+, I like very much. And in the instances that he gave poor reviews to albums that made it to the Rolling Stone list, I generally found myself more in agreement with him. What’s more, his reviews are concise (about a 100 words or less) but usually incisive and often just plain fun to read. I’ve grown increasingly to trust Christgau’s opinion, and owe a big debt to him in my discovery of great popular music.

Anyhow, this blog is going to be mostly about my relationship to popular music, with frequent excursions into books and film. Hence, the unimaginative title. Furthermore, I’m only going to write about stuff that I like, and especially stuff that I love. I don’t see the point of expending energy or further thought on things that I don’t much like or which don’t deserve it; professional critics may be obliged to do so but I certainly am not. This blog should serve not just as a personal record, but also be a source of enjoyment… and hopefully a potential resource, too, though for what exactly I’m not sure yet. Unfortunately this isn’t going to be one of those blogs that get updated daily, or even regularly. Actual living (and listening to music, and reading, and watching films) seems to take up a huge chunk of one’s life!

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