Oh goodness, he’s talking about music

Lest I forget, this blog is about more than just movies. And right now, I’m more obsessed with the new Gil Scott-Heron album than with any movie, so let’s roll with that.

At the back of the liner notes for the album, this is what it says:

There is a proper procedure for taking advantage of any investment.

Music, for example. Buying a CD is an investment.

To get the maximum you must

LISTEN TO IT FOR THE FIRST TIME UNDER OPTIMUM CONDITIONS.

Not in your car or on a portable player through a headset.

Take it home.

Get rid of all distractions, (even her or him).

Turn off your cell phone.

Turn off everything that rings or beeps or rattles or whistles.

Make yourself comfortable.

Play your CD.

LISTEN all the way through.

Think about what you got.

Think about who would appreciate this investment.

Decide if there is someone to share this with.

Turn it on again.

Enjoy yourself.

There is a case to be made that such a warning is a touch pompous or self-important, but that’s not a case that I’ll be making. Because it’s right, when you get down to it. That’s the way music is meant to be enjoyed, and that’s the way I used to consume music. Back in junior high and high school, I can clearly remember sitting on my bed, poring over lyrics sheets, listening to albums on loop, trying to internalize every detail. When I got a new shipment of Columbia House CDs in (which was exciting at the time — 13 brand new albums to absorb), I would listen to each in its entirety, no skimming. No searching for the best track. No copping out. Even though, looking back, MxPx and Face to Face didn’t necessarily warrant such devotion, I still would prostrate myself to their altar.

I like to think that my taste has gotten more sophisticated since then. I moved from skate-punk to Radiohead — oh, the hours I spent trying to figure out Kid A and the delight I took in finding the hidden booklet. I made myself gain an appreciation for jazz, even if it didn’t extend much further than Miles and Coltrane. I sussed out the poetry in Modest Mouse, the beauty in Tom Waits, the order in Aphex Twin… I’m not trying to make this sound like an achievement, but the point is that it’s something I did consciously. I wanted to understand everything I was listening to, and from there, to figure out how it fit in with what came before it. And if I didn’t know, I would try to seek that out, too. It was almost ritualistic, and above all, it was painstaking.

I don’t do that anymore. I have more music at my fingertips than ever, and more opportunity than ever to simply immerse myself in it, but I don’t. I skim. I skip. I return to old favourites so I won’t feel bad about treating them as background music. But as far as new music, I’ve been settling for breadth of experience, rather than depth. That’s nothing to do with the quality of the music that’s coming out now — it’s absolutely daunting how much there is out there that I could get lost in. But I don’t tend to get lost in it.

So, when I read that request in the liners for Scott-Heron’s new album, I took it to heart. He’s right. The first listen should be sacred. If you’re approaching music as a work of art, you need to give the work the attention it deserves. And this is an album that deserves it.

It’s not flawless. I should mention that. But it’s at least provocative. And that’s something.

If you’re curious, here’s my review from FFWD:

The title of Gil Scott-Heron’s first album in 16 years is an outright lie — the singer, poet and musician has been part of the cultural fabric since releasing “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” in 1971. But despite his influence on black culture in general and political soul and hip hop specifically, he’s slipped from the public consciousness.

Expect that to change with I’m New Here. Though the album is brief and punctuated with spoken-word fragments, Scott-Heron makes the most of his half-hour in the spotlight. Left turns abound, from the Bill Callahan-penned title track (little more than an acoustic guitar and Scott-Heron’s world-ravaged voice) to the remarkable “New York is Killing Me,” which places a pulsing bass and gospel choir atop a shockingly minimal beat. “Me and the Devil” is equally striking, raising Robert Johnson by way of Tricky. Scott-Heron isn’t new here, but he’s anything but a relic.

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