It’s easy to develop and gravitate towards apocrypha surrounding art we revere. In some ways it’s important to create stories to understand what we cannot, especially that which we love. We dodge a crucial question in the process, though:
How do we love something we don’t completely understand?
We can look to our relationships with people for the answer: wholly and deeply–as long as we are able to accept the limitations of where we can overlap, and the realities of where we never will. Forgoing that process destroys what makes that love sacred; it creates a mythological absolute of knowing and oneness.
There is no knowing a record, just as there is no knowing another person. All you have is an experience, and gratitude that it is yours and (hopefully) beautiful.
Records (and any art) are absolutely made with craft, study, luck, labor, money, experience, and over time. But all of these are invented and debatable. The one thing that is undeniable and formative to all of them is love, and any content of a work beyond it is subject to interpretation.
That still leaves us with so much! We get to hold on to our memories of blasting an album in the car, knowing that it is exactly the length of a particular subway ride, remembering the person who first showed it to us, placing it in a particular time in our growth. Better yet, we don’t have to downplay these as secondary qualities. We get to honor them as the cornerstone of our experience with art, as the compass we use to navigate the world (even if magnetic north is about 500 miles away from true north).
We don’t have to listen to the journalists wax poetic about
stylistic influence, historical context, genre convention. Ignore your friend who says: ‘oh, that one’s pretty good, but you should really check out this one’. You don’t need to listen to it again if you “didn’t get it the first time”.
Fuck all of that!
I try to take this into the studio every day, whether I’m going to be by myself or with someone I’m engineering for. I try to block out the noise that says “is this good? have we accomplished the goal of the work? does it compete with the genre’s current offerings? do we need to work harder? should we give up?”
I try to ask myself and my clients (though not with these words), “Do we love this? Do we love the work we put in? Do we love each other more for doing it together?” and these questions not only feel better to ask, but they always give a better idea of how things are ‘going’.
If there’s love in the room, there’s gold in the speakers, and I become more certain of that every day.
Sometimes the strange alchemy of experience turns that gold to silver in a listener’s headphones, or even copper, but it never turns to coal. And even copper conducts electricity.
At the end of the day, art (like anything else) is always better when love is at the center of it. Love creates more things elsewhere beyond its original germ. It settles and it takes root. The center expands, and there’s a place for all of us inside it.