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Classical gas

I used to listen to classical music sometimes, usually when I wanted sound that wouldn't distract me too much while I was reading books for my prelim exams. I am one of those hopeless philistines who think of classical music as sonic wallpaper. So I would just turn on the classical music station, and whatever was playing was fine with me; I didn't need to know anything about the composer or the performers or even the titles of the works, and I would get completely annoyed with the deep-throated DJ would come on and read through the details of all that information. It seemed like so much bullshit connoisseurship. The idea that one would invest the time and energy to master all that data seemed preposterous to me; it much better to let that kind of music just wash over you. My atttude toward classical music is probably most people's attitude toward music in general.

Like his cousin, the comic-book nerd, the music snob is subject to all sorts of derision, in part because he tends to be represented as someone enacting a revenge fantasy against the world through something that most people take for granted -- they will accept whatever music is in the air. I think most people accept that popular music is popular without questioning why, and they appreciate that it will be diverting for a time and then vanish and then maybe reappear again years later to spur fun memories. Music snobs are the butt of jokes because they worry about why, are perhaps even tormented by the alienation it makes it impossible for them to ignore. People generally have incentives to accept the given culture and the apparently spontaneous way it is ordering itself rather than to heighten their separation from it and keep themselves constantly aware of the potential ulterior motives. The former get to be swept up into a shared joy via whatever song has captured the zeitgeist (even if its "My Humps"), whereas the latter must regard his peers as either brainwashed or idiotic. The former accept notions of spontaneous order -- the idea that society regulates itself with no master plan or purpose and without any specific person guiding it -- without any angst; the latter perhaps is secretly horrified by this and wants someone in charge, some cabal of profiteers who have a conspiracy against, say, decent music reaching the masses. But DJs don't have an agenda; there's no reason to "hang" him per that Smiths song. Most of them care only about ratings, if they care about anything at all.

(Spontaneous order: I was just in Duane Reade to get a gallon of drinking water, and per no one's instruction a single line formed for the three registers. Then at some point, the line naturally dissolved into three separate lines, per no one's instruction or initiative. What does this anecdote express: the inherent desire of humans for order; the proof of well-internalized codes for social behavior; the invisible hand that patterns economic life at work? The post-facto construction of rules to organize any group behavior? Or the implicit natural law that we all coordinate with? If these questions interest you, read more here.)

The rock snob is tortured by the very existence of popularity, of the monentum that gathers behind seemingly arbitrary songs or bands or phenomena. The snob is a rationalist, who expects careful deliberation before one makes a choice to assent to some piece of music. But everyone else is content to let their taste be accidental, driven by contingency and circumstance, not planning and deliberation and study. The snob wants the efforts that go into establishing a coherent collection of tastes to be the whole of identity, something that can be curated and groomed and managed like a collection; but the chaos of actual life requires much more flexibility than that in identity, which is much more fluid, much more a matter of who one is surrounded with at any given time, and with whom one wants to get along or associate oneself with. Identity is tactical; snobs have the profoundly conservative wish that it were a monument. The snob cares about music as information more than he cares about it as sound.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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