Ta-Nehisi Coates Getting Rave Reviews

Ta-nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates – Between the World and Me

I have been a longtime reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog over at The Atlantic.  Although I occasionally think Coates’s blog is too narrow in scope, there is no doubt Coates is an unusually gifted writer.  (Andrew Sullivan, who wrote alongside Coates at The Atlantic for awhile, was not only able to be an uncompromising advocate for marriage equality, but was also seemingly able to cover an unbelievably wide scope of topics.  I found that having a sense of how Sullivan viewed the wider world actually strengthened his arguments for justice.  Anyway, this is splitting hairs and is a topic for another day.  I would feel amiss if I didn’t say anything, but this is really an argument about format and outcome, and not quality of writing.)  Coates has a curious mind and without a doubt is someone that is always reaching for truth.  Before I found myself reading a lot about the Civil War, Coates own research and exploration of that time period was extremely fascinating.  I am happy to see that his new book, Between the World and Me, is getting rave reviews.  The above piece is not only about the book, but also a look at Coates as a man and writer in general.  It is a well written and interesting piece worth your time.  Also, if you are someone that reads several blogs a day, I would definitely add his blog to your list.

More Thoughts On Blogging as a Form

I rarely ever reread my own blog, unless it is for the sake of editing or correcting a mistake.  I have always tried to treat this blog like an outward looking journal.  If I am excited by a certain idea or a piece of art, hopefully that excitement can translate into words and create something that will get the reader to take notice of the same thing.  The idea is to get the reader to want to explore more things on their own, not to create a place that is a definitive take on anything.  I’m not bound to write or cover anything, so what I write about are things that I am generally passionate about.  This doesn’t negate other forms of writing, but only compliments them.  Someone that is paid to understand the science behind global warming, for instance, will have insight and knowledge that I will never have.  However, I might be able to get people interested to where they will find the more substantive article where they previously wouldn’t.  Meanwhile, with more subjective matters like art and music, you should want both the writing of people that get why something is interesting because they are passionate about it and writing that takes a more cold clinical look at a thing’s importance in time and place.  Between the two you can weigh out the subject for yourself.  The only thing I will never write about is something in which I feel I have no grasp at all of the subject matter.  I haven’t written about the crisis in Greece because I feel that I do not understand the complex financial systems in place in anyway.  I can read other writers and get an idea of what is going on, but I feel that I would just be parroting them.  This kind of writing is harmful because it can spread bad ideas without there even being any malicious intent.

But anyway, because I view blogging as a somewhat emotional and in the moment format, I have trouble rereading my own work because, quite frankly, I often find myself embarrassed by it.  It can be like if you were caught on camera jumping up and down at the ball game.  A picture like that might really translate the true feelings of that moment in time, but you certainly don’t want to relive it.  You find yourself looking on and thinking, “Yes, that was exactly how that moment felt, but goddamn I was drunk…”

Soul-Crushing, Mind-Numbing, Work

I can tell it is a slow Friday at work for y’all.  My blog stats are up, despite only having one post up today on account of travel!  Stats are always highest during the work day.  When I used to work an office job I swear some days I thought I found the end of the internet.  I know what goes on out there.  They key is to position your desk in such a way that your boss can’t see what you are doing.  (That is if they can’t monitor you.)  That way you can be playing video games and shit, but you’ll be so quiet that they will think you are a diligent worker.  I once worked somewhere where there was an extremely high turnover rate.  After about a year, except for management, I was the longest serving worker.  Someone remarked that the reason I lasted so long was that I was always at my desk, quiet and hard working.  I was playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out when they made that comment!

So if you read my blog while you are at work I understand.  I support it.  There are a lot of soul-crushing, mind-numbing jobs out there.  American is full of jobs that bring zero meaning to one’s life.  As well as working office jobs I was also a janitor for awhile, among other things.  Today on the van ride home I was thinking that at least when you are a janitor and you clean something, or you mow a field, it looks nice.  Even if it doesn’t last you can be proud of it and it increases of the quality of other people’s lives.  Kids can play on a nice newly cut field.  I’m not saying you didn’t do a lot of stupid shit as a janitor, you did, but at least you had tasks where you could take pride in your work some days.  Some of those office jobs were beyond meaningless.  You almost felt that the work you did was so meaningless that you somehow were going back in time creating more work, instead of getting anything accomplished.

Why is it that we value some people’s jobs more than others?  Often that value has no real connection with a job’s value to society.  (Hey it’s Friday afternoon.  I thought it would be a good time to raise these questions.  If you try really hard you can black out enough over the weekend that this blog will be a long distant memory!)  All I’m really trying to get at it that we should not be so quick to judge those who have jobs that we find undesirable.  Society would be pretty bad if the blue collar workers all got up in quit, but the world worked just fine before the internet.

And don’t think I am casting judgment from down on high because for the moment I am making my living as a musician and don’t have to work a day job except for on occasion.  Even if you aren’t willing to hear the argument that being a musician is not as glamorous as you think, there is no guarantee that this lifestyle is going to last.  Second, I’m pretty sure that if the deal goes down, and World War III starts, that playing a guitar will most likely qualify you for cannon fodder!

But its ok.  I am used to non-sympathetic treatment.  I remember one time my brother and I were riding tractors mowing grass on a super hot summer day.  A local denizen, who knew we were both musicians, was jogging by and asked my brother how our day was.  Covered in grass, bitten by flies, and sunburned, my brother replied that our day was pretty shitty.  To which the citizen replied, “Why don’t you sing me a fucking song about it!”

February Declarations, New Albums, and a New Coat of Paint On My Blog

One of the reasons that I started this blog, despite obviously loving the written word, was the far less noble pursuit of earning a living.  The music business, tougher than ever, had me casting about for an alternative income stream.  Luckily, I am one of those musicians that earns almost enough to survive on.  Thankfully, enough of you have also tuned in that I am getting close to generating some revenue from my work here.  In order to do this I have to make some structural changes.  When I started this blog I didn’t know that it was much easier to earn through wordpress.org than it is through wordpress.com.  In fact I knew nothing about the technical and structural side of blogging.  I just followed all of the advice columns that said I should write as much as possible if I wanted to get traffic to my site.

So I am currently transferring this blog over to wordpress.org and making some much needed changes to the overall structure as well.  I have no idea how long this will take me.  I am hoping it is a seamless transition, but I have no idea what I’m in for.  The process has already begun.  If you notice any hiccups, that is the reason behind it.

Although there may be changes to the structure and look of this blog, I plan to keep writing in the same style that I always do.  I have an uneasy relationship with advertising.  While I acknowledge its place in the modern world, so much of modern advertising makes me ill.  I am hoping that my own compass, and the fact that I predominately earn my living as a musician, will keep me honest.  No one wants to buy the records of a sellout with nothing to say, or at least I don’t.  (Come to think about it, a lot of people want to buy records by musicians that are sellouts with nothing to say!  Fuck!!!)

I do believe that musicians, artists, writers, should earn a living from their work.  This whole streaming thing troubles me, because it does not yet seem that it pays anyone anything that they can survive on.  But hey, y’all got a blog out of it.  I might not have ever started this blog had the economics of the music business been different.  I really enjoy working on this though.  Even if the economics changed, I don’t think I would stop now, for any reason.  There is a lot more I want to add about how economics, and people’s support for the arts, directly effects the kind of art that we see.  I am late to start packing for tour right now and that will have to wait for a later date.

I just got a copy of the new Shinyribs record that I play bass on.  Mr. Russell even gracefully allowed me to coauthor one song, which I am extremely excited about.  The record, which has long been in the works for sometime, should be out soon.  As soon as I have a finite date, I will make it known.  The Ted Hawkins tribute record I played on, that I have previously mentioned, is supposed to be out later this year.

I also hope to record a solo record this year.  I don’t like New Year’s resolutions.  A February declaration seems fitting somehow, as February seems like no one’s idea of a time to begin anew.  Why can’t it be?  My goal by the end of the year is to have three records in various stages of completion and to have this blog newly formatted and running clean.

Anyway, I’m off to Louisiana for a tour, as soon as I can stuff enough random things in a suitcase to feel like I tried.  Over and out…

Going On Tour in Louisiana

Shinyribs Tour Dates

The hour is getting late, but I wanted to mention that tomorrow I will be going on tour with Shinyribs in the great state of Louisiana.  The above link is to the Shinyribs tour page featuring dates, venues, etc.

The new Shinyribs album will be out soon.  Tonight I just heard the final version of it for the first time, so I know that it does indeed exist!

I am bringing my computer with me so that I can blog from the road.  Posting has been slightly slow the last few days.  This is partially due to the fact that I am making some structural changes to Windup Wire that I need to make.  I will comment on those  soon enough.

In the future when all’s well…

Jeff

Ta-Nehisi Coates On Andrew Sullivan and Error

Andrew Sullivan and the Importance of Self Criticism

I was checking out Ta-Nehisi Coates blog tonight, I came across the above piece on Andrew Sullivan.  (Coates and Sullivan both used to blog for The Atlantic.  Coates still blogs for them.)  The piece is not only interesting for its views on Sullivan, but because it is also about how error is an essential part of intellectual pursuit.  This is a good read, especially for those of you interested in writing.

Andrew Sullivan On Blogging

The Years of Writing Dangerously

Andrew Sullivan, soon to be retired blogger and creator of The Dish, posted some of his earliest words about blogging itself.  I think he is someone that understands the best of what blogging can be.  I think that it is a valid form of writing, but it is a new form of writing.  It operates with a different set of rules than other forms of writing.  It is more about capturing the honesty of the moment, and through a cataloging of moments, capturing the larger arc of the world around us.  Here are some words on blogging from Sullivan’s piece:

[T]he speed with which an idea in your head reaches thousands of other people’s eyes has another deflating effect, this time in reverse: It ensures that you will occasionally blurt out things that are offensive, dumb, brilliant, or in tune with the way people actually think and speak in private. That means bloggers put themselves out there in far more ballsy fashion than many officially sanctioned pundits do, and they make fools of themselves more often, too. The only way to correct your mistakes or foolishness is in public, on the blog, in front of your readers. You are far more naked than when clothed in the protective garments of a media entity.

But, somehow, you’re liberated as well as nude: blogging as a media form of streaking. I notice this when I write my blog, as opposed to when I write for the old media. I take less time, worry less about polish, and care less about the consequences on my blog. That makes for more honest writing. It may not be “serious” in the way, say, a 12-page review of 14th-century Bulgarian poetry in the New Republic is serious. But it’s serious inasmuch as it conveys real ideas and feelings in as unvarnished and honest a form as possible. I think journalism could do with more of that kind of seriousness. It’s democratic in the best sense of the word. It helps expose the wizard behind the media curtain.

Andrew Sullivan to Retire From Blogging

I am finding out late, as keeping up with my own blog has not allowed me the time to read his like I once did, that Andrew Sullivan is retiring from blogging.  I am deeply saddened at this.  I think Sullivan’s The Dish is the best blog going, a blog which greatly influenced this one.  Sullivan is someone whose interests seem to know no bounds.  You can go there any day and find discussions on politics, religion, art, and any number of topics.  Although his blog skewed slightly to political issues, I would say only slightly.  Some days you will pull up his blog and find a poem at the top of his page.  Sullivan is Catholic, gay, and moderately conservative on some issues.  (If you use the word conservative in the way that it used to be before the anti-science, corporatist, religious right completely took over.)  I am none of those things.  However, I knew that anytime I went to his page I would be opened up to new ideas, and most importantly, made to think.

There are several minor stylistic things that I stole from Sullivan, like not allowing the typical internet comments to play a part in the discussion.  (As they usually just end up consisting of endless tirades and insults.)  If Sullivan had a reader write a thoughtful dissent to what he wrote he would post it.  He allowed the best of his critics a voice.

But more importantly was the idea that a blog didn’t have to be something narrowly defined.  That in its own way it could be a kind of art form and window into the world.  Political ideas, poetry, videos, and all manner of things could exist on a blog in the same way they do in our real lives.  His blog created a community that was hungry for ideas and that wanted to think and be challenged.  His blog inspired critical thinking and how many things in our media saturated world can you say that about?  It was the first blog that I remember that was outward looking and not just a diary of the self.  Although you felt like you got to know Sullivan through his writing, he was much more concerned in trying to shed light on the world.

I am hoping that this is a premature retirement, that like many musical acts he will return after a brief interlude of rest.  If not, his blog was extremely important to my life and I know to many others.  Although there is still talk of The Dish continuing in some form, I advise you to check it out while he is still at the helm:

The Dish

Life is an Opera

“I will participate in the game. It is a wonderful, wonderful opera — except that it hurts.” – Joseph Campbell

Life is an opera.  This is post number 1,000 since I began this blog in August of 2013.  Whether performing music or writing here, I am constantly aware of the absurdity in doing.  When I get on a stage, whether it is real or in the mind through writing, I am constantly aware of the ridiculousness of the situation.  Although I can’t say that it is a constant feeling, there is always a moment when things become surreal.  Why is it that people like to drink and stare at other people bopping around making strange noises on instruments?  Why does anyone want to hear some thought that I have at 1am on a Tuesday when there are so many other people out there with thoughts, many who are way smarter than I?

It is so easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of doubt.  If you look at most situations, there is some absurd element in them.  I think it is good to always keep those thoughts in one’s mind.  If you don’t you run the risk of getting untethered from reality with an ever expanding ego.

But again, life is an opera.  One can either choose to be a part of the game of life or to retreat from it.  Both options have an element of the comic in them.  There are an infinite number of ways one can participate in life.  Whether you are teaching college students or cleaning streets you are doing something of value to other people.  And if you do participate there is only one real reason to do so:  “To help each other get through this thing, whatever it is”, as Kurt Vonnegut said.

For myself, music and writing have brought me great sanity and comfort.  They are my passions, so I hope they bring something to someone somewhere down the line.  I have spent an incredible amount of time with books and records.  I hope to share a little bit of the things that have kept me going so that maybe others too might find some value in them and keep going as well.  I have no idea if it is any more of an important thing to do than someone who keeps the streets clean, someone whose work is measurable in real quantitative means, but it is what I’m into.  I’m just wired this way, an accident of birth and circumstance.

It is only through others that we have any idea of value.  I know that other’s words and songs have kept me alive, those souls I will forever be indebted to.  Those of you that keep coming back here, or show up at the shows I play, are the reason I keep doing this, that make me think that maybe all is not for naught.  The great comedy of life keeps spinning.  I’m forever grateful for getting to share little bits of it with you, for awhile anyway…

– Jeff