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Monday, May 16, 2016

An embarrassingly auto-ethnographical piece of writing

Although it is rainy and windy now and one would not say it is late spring, only a couple of days ago the weather made us believe it was summer. One afternoon, I was cycling home after a quite busy day. I was good-humored, due to the fact that the last meeting I attended showed signs of improvement in a field which had given rise to worries and even conflicts in the past year.

These days I often listen to music while biking to my work and back. I put some fifty or so albums I like on my phone and listen over those small earphones which deliver a quality which never stops amazing me. Occasionally I listen to Soundcloud - I subscribed to a couple of channels of EDM-artists just to keep an idea of what is going on in the world of my son, musically: Skrillex, David Guetta.

That particular afternoon I was cycling home listening to Dylan's Blonde on Blonde. As you know, I am listening to Dylan's work systematically these days: start with his first album, listen to it until I have the feeling I have built a first relationship with it, then starting with album number two, and so on. You can follow the project on my other blog if you want.

I am on the verge of starting with the New Morning album, but some of the albums I have 'done' I relisten from time to time, and of those Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and especially Blonde on Blonde are my favorites. I admire everything on Blonde on Blonde: the songs, the lyrics, the great musicianship, Dylan's audacious, commanding, authorative singing style, the mistakes, yes, I like even the one song I don't like ('Rainy Day Women #12 and 35').

And while I was biking home and listening to such great songs as 'Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat' (great timing of the lyrics, and very funny) and the incredible 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands', I noticed how well I knew the route I was taking. Having taken it year after year, day after day, mostly on my bike but also running and occasionally by car, in my head the route had accumulated innumerable memories of experiences - that one time I fell off my bike, stupid accident; that time I mistook a bird for a mobile phone (check it out here); chats I had with various friends and acquaintances; passing the skateboard facility I went to one summer evening with my son and met a Latin-American boy practicing a particular trick over and over again, filming himself with his mobile; snow, rain, heat, wind; all those and many more memories gliding through my mind while biking home, connecting to the actual experience of biking that particular route that particular afternoon.

While I was biking home I was struck by the amount of cyclists I met going the other way, until I remembered that our local heroes, football club FC Groningen, had to play the first of two matches competing for a European ticket. As I biked on, I had the impression at some point that half of my village would be visiting the match: I saw boys from my son's football team pass by, parents of kids from school, celebrities such as local shop owners and local politicians, one of my neighbors... And I remembered that time I visited FC Groningen with my son and enjoyed the singing of the Groningen supporters - read about that experience here. And seeing the neighbor biking to the stadium I thought about the home concert we organized for friends and acquaintances because he was present (read about it here), while the school kids reminded me of the time I gave a music workshop at their school (turn here). And lots more memories whizzed by, some clear and conscious, many half clear, half conscious, just floating by; some connected to music, many hardly or not; and I realized that I was witnessing as well as experiencing the making of my own 'biographicity' (to use a concept coined by my academic mentor Peter Alheit); and that this was actually the only direct source of knowledge about those processes I would ever have because the process is too semiconscious and too complex to ever catch second-hand in any realistic way. And I knew that it would even be hardly possible to catch those personal processes of biography-in-the-making first-hand in any realistic way, them being too fragmented, too whimsical, too hidden to put down in writing. As is so aptly being shown in this little piece of writing, that represents nothing but a faint shadow of what I was experiencing while riding my bike.

But there is little else to go by if you are interested in the importance of music in everyday life. Which explains my growing interest in auto-ethnography, not as a genre or an ideology but as a methodological tool. And which explains my conviction that in thinking about the working of music, it is not music that stands central but the person - the value of music will never be explained in a satisfying way by analyzing the value of musical pieces or processes.

And when I say 'person', I mean the idiosyncratic individual. The working of music will therefore also never be explained in a satisfying way by looking at the way the brain's hardware works, at the tendencies of the 'generalized individual' of psychological and sociological research, at the anthropologist's culture, or at the educationalist's stages of musical development. Because life is not about abstractions; it is about persons. Which is the most complex matter in the world, because even "[i]f a Sigmund Freud had been listening and taking notes from the time of Adam, he would still not fully have explored even a single group, even a single person." (D.M. Thomas)

Which is why I take myself so embarrassingly serious these days.

Quote from: D.M. Thomas. The White Hotel. Phoenix: 1995 (1981), p. 220.

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