Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Musical Cultural Query, With Lots of Backstory & A Few Asides

(Cross-posted from Facebook.)

So people regularly use (in casual conversation, in fiction, etc) music as markers of personality and character — the sort of music that sort of person would listen to, listening to that sort of music carries *these* connotations. Music, basically, as cultural signifiers, as cultural coloring.

ASIDE: Personally, I happen to think a lot of this is bullshit (which is perhaps affected by the somewhat separate fact that I think it would be a better world if everyone recognized it as bullshit); I happen to think that a lot of what degree it isn't bullshit is actually about tribe/class/etc rather than personality (and sometimes rather damagingly conflates the latter with the former).

But set those personal beliefs aside: the fact is people do it, and do it a lot. My problem is that I simply don't know these associations. I was just listening to a podcast where someone said "I couldn't put U2 on that playlist" and another person said "thank you", and they clearly had the same association with U2 and I don't have the slightest fucking clue what it is. (My only association with U2, beyond knowing a few of their songs, is that when I was in Ireland several decades ago there was a huge amount of basically nationalistic love for them. That wasn't what these podcast people meant, though.) What did U2 mean in that sentence (aside from the specific band, which is only a fraction of what it really meant)? I genuinely don't know; I can guess a bit from context, but not very specifically, not very richly, not very accurately. (I know a tiny bit of it for classical and jazz. But only a bit. And that's not what gets most used, by a very long shot.)

ASIDE: Actually, these things are so vague that I rather suspect that people themselves have very different understandings of them: that one person will say, "U2, damn" and another will reply "I know" and that they'll never work out that they are actually meaning almost entirely different things.

It seems to me, however, that this is precisely the sort of thing that the web ought to help with. To tell us not only who U2 is (members names, song names, release dates) but what they mean — or, more accurately, what they are taken to mean, including any big disagreements in that. I'm thinking of something vaguely like "urban dictionary", except for bands/singers/songs. Except I don't know of anything like that. It's certainly not on wikipedia (probably too opinionated, although it's the sort of thing I wish wikipedia had more of, frankly).

So: does this exist? And if not, can someone build it? (And please don't say 'you do it!'; obviously, I am the *last* person who should try this, or I wouldn't be asking.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

David Hartwell

(This is a combination of two things I posted on Facebook today.)

As anyone with anyone in the SF field in their social media feed knows by now, the extraordinary editor, David G. Hartwell, is dying. (Contrary to various reports, it seems he is not actually dead; but his wife has reported that he "is not expected to recover", and that he is being tested for brain death.) As best as I can tell, a fall down a flight of stairs triggered brain bleeding which has become fatal to his self if not actually his heartbeat.

There will be a lot more to say, mostly by people better qualified to say it than I. But, like so many in (or on the fringes of) the SF field, I knew him. I was his student in a summer class in 1988. It was a good class; and only years later, having myself been a teacher, can I recognize how extraordinarily above & beyond he went in teaching that class, meeting with us for hours before and after nearly every time. After that I saw him from time to time at SF conventions, once or twice elsewhere. He was a kind and generous man, and it is a shock to imagine him gone from the world.

A shock: it was so sudden, so unexpected. That a man who yesterday was (I believe) seeming in full health can today be on the brink of death is terrifying, and magnifies what is already an incalculable loss.

A note to anyone not acquainted with the SF field (should anyone in that position have read this far): I strongly suspect that David affected your life, too: simply because his affect on the SF field was *so* vast (he was the most influential SF editor in my lifetime), and because SF has had such a prominent role in the culture beyond the field proper (movies, TV, etc), it seems inescapable. I am not myself capable of articulating what that influence is, but it's there, and I hope others will do a better job of tracing it than I.

Finally, I can help noting that David and his wife Kathryn had children who are — I believe — teenagers. As overwhelming a loss as this is to so many in his field, as utterly overwhelming as it must be for Kathryn and his two kids from his first marriage, I can't help but think of them in particular. I know a bit of what it's like to have a parent die suddenly around that age; my heart goes out to them.

Not yet gone, you are already missed, David.


Can't stop thinking about David Hartwell. Most people (rightly) will be talking about his impact on SF, so here are a few links on another subject: his clothes.

Lee Whiteside's photo of David showing his ties at a SF convention (below, with another of his photos further down):

David as Fashion Theorist: his three laws, with corollaries (scroll down a bit).

Mary Robinette Kowal on some of the thinking behind his outfits.

And more ties.

And still more ties.

And yet more:

Seeing all this made me quite nostalgic for David all over again. Which is the point, I guess.