I’m backed up on all my reading. I’ve got stacks of things all over that need to be read, want to be read, ought to be read, and, you know, maybe someday will get read. It doesn’t help that I keep coming up with new things I want to learn more about, things to research, things I simply must check out of the library and delve into despite the half-dozen other half-read books all around.
I recent rekindled interest in jazz is the current research malady. What was it Elvis Costello once said, Reading about jazz is like dancing about architecture?* It isn’t so much about understanding or a forced appreciation about modal intonations but looking to see how a uniquely American art form changed over the course of its first century. I want to understand how within the space of a hundred years a new medium of expression came into being, reinvented itself nearly every decade, then got stuck in the mire of cultural irrelevance.
I’m looking for a couple of things in all this. First, I’m trying to understand the thinking behind all those mutations and innovations from a creative perspective. Second, I’m sniffing out relevant clues about what’s about to happen to publishing. I don’t think anyone doubts that we’re looking at a seismic shift in both what and how people read, but the question is what form will it take and how will we get there? Are we headed toward a scattershot free improv full of squonky text that mirrors our devolved attention spans, or some fusion that, as with jazz, attempts to bring together some combination of the old and the new? Or will fiction plug along as it always has, moving to the digital age the way music moved from wax cylinders to vinyl albums to magnetic tape to compact discs to mp3s, only to be eclipsed the rock and roll stood in front of jazz’s blue moon?
With jazz, the innovation comes from within. Mostly. Musicians learn to play, become masters on some level, then innovate. Young turks who innovate while coming up still tend to do so within the jazz household. Rock and roll was always more about energy and attitude than musicianship and in the end it was that emotional response that captured young hearts and minds. Jazz and its complex tonality cannot hold a candle, popularity-wise, to a catchy hook and an anthemic phrase. Those songs that people wake up humming and cannot get out of their head, they’re rarely jazz.
What jazz has become is almost a form of contemporary classical music. It was cutting edge, defined it’s parameters, and now a safely-defined x/y axis where a listener can plot their preferences along the curve.
Yeah, I guess I’m still trying to second-guess what shape the rock and roll revolution of writing will take. Because that’s where I think we are.
But I’m curious: how many other writers feel a wind of change? I sometimes think that with so much involved in learning the craft of writing, and then the business of getting published, that I wonder how many authors just don’t want to deal with thinking about one more thing.
How about it? Any writers out there sensing what I am? Anyone else wondering about the next thing to come? Anyone know the after-hours club where someone’s playing around with the form and content in a way?
* not quite.