Links: 1 Jan. 2013

A fun thing about having a blog: it’s like being able to edit my own magazine (and I don’t have to even commission the pieces). I’m still figuring out the form, the capabilities, of a blog, and I’m now thinking of a blog as a magpie’s collection, a curiosity cabinet of things (ideas, texts, images, sounds, video, etc.) created by me and also of others’ works curated by me. I’ll have more to say about forms — and their ability to encourage new ways of thinking —  in another post.

1. An NPR interview with musician Miguel, who talked about creative inspiration and commercial motives:

AUDIE CORNISH: What do you hear in modern R&B? Are there specific things you embrace in your own music and others’ that you’re trying to move away from?

MIGUEL: I don’t want to overgeneralize. Historically, black music has influenced other cultures and other genres, and created other genres. Rock would have never happened without blues, you know what I mean? We would have never had hip-hop without R&B. And somehow I feel like R&B and soul music has forgotten that it was, at one time, the influencer. Now, it’s being more influenced by other sounds. Which is great; I think we should be cultured and want to incorporate other influences. That’s what art is really about: taking your knowledge and your sensibilities and incorporating them in a way that celebrates the commonality, but also highlights the individuality.

R&B has been kind of consumed by dance music in recent years.

I think that in those balances where the commonality and individuality happen, R&B has lost the importance of the individuality. It’s more about, “What does everyone else like? What is everyone else doing? Let me be acceptable to everyone else.” It’s so commercially driven that it’s lost the essence, the soul and the emotion behind it. [On the other hand], take an artist like Adele: She can create a song that can live in a dance world, or is danceable, but still is soulful. That’s R&B to me. I mean, there’s plenty of artists who are making R&B music, but because of their ethnicity, it’s considered something else.

You’re one of a few R&B artists to be singled out lately as pushing the music different directions. You and Frank Ocean and The Weeknd all have very different sounds, but you do share some things: Your production is denser, and your songs are more lyrically focused. Is there a little bit of a quiet revolution going on?

I mean, why not? There are artists that are pushing boundaries. More than anything, I think there’s an awareness for soul again — almost redefining or reprogramming people’s expectations or whatever preconceived notions there might have been, based on the past decade and a half.

Because pop music, and R&B pop music in particular, can be very regimented: chorus, bridge, breakdown, rapper comes in.

Yeah, it’s very formulaic.

But a song like “Where’s the Fun in Forever?” doesn’t feel that way at all.

I appreciate that. That song was originally written with and for Alicia Keys, [who was recording an album in Jamaica and invited me to come]. We created a makeshift studio on the roof — so, I mean, just a blanket of stars in the sky, and nothing but the sound of the ocean in the distance. The very first thought [I had] was, “We’re not gonna live forever, but where’s the fun in forever, anyways?” And it just became this song. For me, the notion was very personal, because I feel like this year I started to realize that I’m not invisible or invincible anymore. Times are changing, I’m changing, my family’s getting older — and I’m happy to be responsible for things now. For a moment, it felt really heavy. But for some reason, at that moment in Jamaica, just looking up at the stars, I felt this incredible sense of relief.

2. An article in Chicago magazine about instances of abuse in an Indiana church described some cults as preaching that “it’s a sin of pride for you to think for yourself … It’s your ego or a demon or Satan’s influence that causes you to doubt the edicts of the leadership.”

A former member of the church described “a process of hollowing out the followers and repopulating them with yourself. … [The founding pastor] took your voice, he took your beliefs, he took your likes and dislikes and opinions, and he gave you his own. But in the process of hollowing you out, he made you very weak.”

This idea of “hollowing out” the beliefs of a person struck me. I was thinking yesterday how I sometimes take suggestions and follow orders from some people in my life — family members, supervisors, etc. — that is, I externally, objectively, do what they ask me to do, but that doesn’t mean I change my internal beliefs to match theirs. The ideas we have about what reality is, what’s really true: Why would I allow anyone to convince me of their “truths” about anything?

Maybe the question is this: To whom do we grant authority on reality?

2 responses to “Links: 1 Jan. 2013

  1. At what point do you draw the distinction of your own views as isolated from the social world around you, too? At some point you break away — or maybe many small points or millions of tiny points — but prior to that you’re exactly as this minister or church requests — a beast being groomed to work in a civil society. So looking at that idea, on grown adults, it seems sick and devious, and yet we do that to our babies by necessity or else they toss their own poop about, etc…

  2. Yeah, that’s a valid point: we, as a society, do seem to exert influence and even control over others, particularly our youngest and least able. And yet, maybe there are ways we can promote individual thinking rather than mere order-following. And part of what I wanted to say was that, even as we may act in ways that accord with social expectations, we still don’t need to agree about theories of Ultimate Reality.

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