And Why Not?

by Rob Brookman

Just for the record, it was Elvis Costello who said it. Or maybe it was Frank Zappa.

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

It was something like that. Or not.

If we got it wrong, well, how appropriate. Because that was Mr. Costello's (or Mr. Zappa's) point. Write about music, and you'll never have it quite right. It's the wrong medium entirely, inadequate to the task. How could 26 letters - however imaginatively they're configured - capture the feeling of a lean, propulsive rock and roll band roaring through "Radio, Radio" or "Gimme Shelter" or "Smells Like Teen Spirit"?

Hell, it'd be like trying to dance about architecture.

So why bother? Because sometimes, when it's done well, music writing can transcend its limitations, communicating something of the thrill of watching a young band suddenly master its talents onstage, or the revelatory rush of hearing the first perfect notes of soon-to-be-classic CD.

And also, most simply, there's the fact we at Dancing About Architecture are fans with a slightly evangelical streak.

Will we capture the zeitgeist of the moment every time out? Probably not. Our name itself is a hedge against those kinds of expectations. But secretly, we do hope to offer something you won't find just anywhere. That's because most of what you'll find just anywhere these days is rock journalism and opinion shot through with apathy, prejudice and an unquenchable thirst for hype. Whatever turns former fans into nine-to-five navel-gazers - too many deadlines, too many press packets, too many free, front-row passes to shows the rest of us can't get near - it's effect on the music is every bit as insidious as the omnipresent videos that extract imagination and interpretation from any listening experience.

Our pursuit, then, at least as I see it, is to provide a space where other fans of rock and roll and its subgenres can delight in the discovery new music and (hopefully) fresh ideas, and maybe even experience new ways of hearing the artists and recordings they've lived with for years. In spite of the numeric grading system that adorns our album reviews, our goal is not a simple "thumbs up/thumbs down" assessment of crucial music. On the contrary, we'll take pains to provide a level of subtext and analysis that might actually sway an entrenched opinion or two, or open your eyes to a diamond in the rough.

The critic Robert Christgau summed it up in the introduction of his recent collection of columns, Grown Up All Wrong: "I'm driven by a continuing quest for music that will serve some function or other in my life and yours - inspire, amuse, enlighten, calm, excite; help a person do the dishes or stay awake on the interstate, get through a bad night or a good marriage, know beauty and feel truth."

Beauty and truth? Wait a minute - isn't it only rock and roll? Well, not if you believe that artists from Dylan to the Archers of Loaf actually are artists, and that just because their métier is a musical form beloved in part by teenagers and other under-evolved forms of life, it doesn't preclude them from capturing something like beauty and truth when they're on top of their games.

Now, let's assume you buy into the Dancing About Architecture belief system. Why do we deserve one of your browser's precious bookmarks? For starters, there are our weekly columns, ones that will tackle music-oriented topics as extensively as our limited resources and demanding day jobs will permit. You'll find essays on artists, analysis of trends, and even peons to some of our favorite albums.

Then there's the nascent Dancing About Architecture album review catalog, which deserves a little background. First, all albums in the catalog are graded on a 1 to 10 scale, with a 10 representing recordings of such exquisite, um, beauty and truth, they're almost too virtuous for our humble CD players. A 10 album might come along just a few times in a decade, like, say, "Exile on Main Street," the Replacements' "Let It Be" or, in my opinion, Lucinda Williams' recent "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road." Likewise, a grade of 1 would be equally rare. In fact, almost nothing except the musical equivalent of a hate crime would earn a CD that spot in our critical dungeon. That leaves grades 2 through 9, which represent a northward progression from pretty godawful to very good.

Despite that range, you probably won't see many grades below a 5 or 6 in this space, principally because we at Dancing About Architecture still buy our own records. That keeps the quality of our purchases fairly high, but it has the not-so-beneficial effect of limiting what we hear in a given year. At some point, maybe a record company or two will grace us with a few promo CDs. But until then, you'll have to forgive the fact we're just like you: lowly consumers who spend too much money on too much music, but just can't hear all the good stuff that might be hiding out there.

And there's a bit more to keep you coming back, like our weekly top-five lists, periodic desert-island disc essays by guest contributors, and possibly some other little extras that will appear depending on our level of ambition in a given month.

If this all sounds hopelessly half-assed to you, well, welcome to Internet publishing. As God and our Internet host know, we're doing this for fun, not profit. So while we'll strive for a modicum of professionalism, the only real bone we have to throw you is a boundless enthusiasm for our subject. And that means, if we are really just dancing about architecture, at least you can be sure it won't be a slow dance.


Dancing About Architecture accepts outside submissions, providing the writing is tight and the opinions sharp. We do not pay writers, but if published, you will earn the respect of the editors and your three friends who care about your views on pop music.

We accept submissions in three categories: essays (800-1,200 words), CD reviews (100-200 words) or live show reviews (100-200 words).

Before submitting anything, we suggest sending us a short email inquiry first to Editor Rob Brookman.

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