Friday, February 20, 2009

Music and Writing

Excerpt from "Revelations: Notes on Music, Criticism, and Society..."

The people who write about music sometimes champion the work of those whose ideas and images closely mirror their own, in terms of class, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, but some writers are more imaginative, more intelligent, seeking out the widest possible range of music and musicians. Some of the commentators on music whose insights have enlightened and/or entertained me are James Baldwin, Playthell Benjamin, Delphine Blue, Nate Chinen, Kandia Crazy Horse, Stanley Crouch, Angela Davis, Jim DeRogatis, W.E.B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Christopher John Farley, Nelson George, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Claudrena Harold, Pauline Kael, Greg Kot, Will Layman, Wynton Marsalis, Michelangelo Matos, Paul Nelson, Sarah Rodman, Kelefa Sanneh, Gene Seymour, Armond White, and Carl Wilson. I always recall Baldwin’s comments on Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, and Pauline Kael on Streisand and the Rolling Stones. One of the more interesting music writers now is Christian John Wikane. I encountered his work on the pages of the web magazine Pop Matters, which publishes great commentary on books, film, music, and other disciplines and issues. (My own commentary on Annie Lennox and the band The Smyrk appeared there.) In his writing, Christian John Wikane has featured the work and personalities of Ashford and Simpson, Gnarls Barkley, the Bee Gees, Tim Buckley, Don Byron, Paula Cole, Donnie, Feist, Aretha Franklin, Kevin (Ké) Grivois, Deborah Harry, Jamiroquai, Chaka Khan, K.D. Lang, Bettye LaVette, Amos Lee, Annie Lennox, Paul McCartney, Mika, Madonna, Stevie Nicks, Rahsaan Patterson, the Pointer Sisters, Corinne Bailey Rae, Nile Rodgers, Linda Ronstadt, and Diana Ross. Wikane called Gnarls Barkley’s The Odd Couple “an emotionally and musically provocative album,” a recording that is an “alternately disturbing, comforting, and challenging exploration of the human mind” (, March 25, 2008); and Wikane remarked of K.D. Lang’s first album of new songs in years, Watershed, that Lang demonstrates “a keen sense of how to record herself and lead her excellent unit of musicians” (, Feb. 5, 2008), and he enthusiastically declared of the anthology Bee Gees Greatest that the word “‘greatest’ seems far too modest an adjective to describe this music” (, October 8, 2007). Christian John Wikane’s love and respect for music and its makers are refreshing; and his commentaries—reviews of recordings and interviews with artists—are among the most complete responses to music available. His work is quite intelligent, but in light of his attention to emotion and sensuality in music, and the empathy and enjoyment he brings to encounters with musicians, I have thought that his work contains the beginnings of an erotics of art.

(c) DG, 2008