Understanding The Pop Music Abstract

Fast trains and telegraph wires.

The Pop Music Abstract is an annual exercise in automatic writing.  In the Abstract I attempt to write at the speed of thought about the subject that dominates my rambling internal monologue.  I go through the albums of the year in alphabetical order and I type the very first thing that enters my head.  I don’t allow myself to revise, and I’m only permitted to use the delete key to fix immediate typographical errors.  Once an opinion is registered, that’s it; I’ve got to live with it, even if I violently disagree with it a few seconds later.  An entry in the Pop Music Abstract should, theoretically, take no longer to write than it does for my brain to string the words together.

Sometimes it feels like it’s faster.  When I’m in the middle of an Abstract, the typing outpaces the thinking.  Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I learn what I think, or what I thought in one errant moment, a few seconds after I put it on the screen.  This is not how I usually operate.  If I’m doing a review or a story, or sending e-mail to a friend, or making a normal post to this site, I’ll write a sentence, and then I’ll stop to consider what I’ve done.  I’ll turn clauses around, or swap out a weak verb for a better one, or prune it a bit and position it differently in the paragraph. I will ask myself: does what I’ve written reflect how I really feel, or does communication demand a more nuanced explanation?  When I make an Abstract, I don’t do any of that.  Many of my immediate thoughts are irresponsible or offensive. Many more are just wrong.  If, at the end of the process of writing the Pop Music Abstract, I’m not at least a little bit mortified, I haven’t done it properly.

Why would I bother to do it at all?  The Pop Music Abstract is written quickly, but thirty to fifty thousand words takes time to type, no matter how fast I go.  Shouldn’t I apply that time to more grown-up pursuits, such as currency manipulation or archery practice?  It’s a legitimate question.  The Abstract isn’t even a permanent feature of this website: it’s only up for a few weeks.  I tend to pull it down the minute I figure out what I really think about all these records.  It’s not fair criticism or a consumer’s guide; it isn’t even the first draft of my evaluations.  It’s more of a record of a testy arbitration session between my ears, my memory, my hands, and my feelings.  My brain is deliberately late to the party.  My conscience is not invited.

I didn’t think I’d be capable of doing this exercise in 2022.  It’s been a turbulent year.  Circumstances beyond my control prevented me from listening to albums as much as I usually do; signal problems on the Hackensack River Bridge delayed the arrival of my trains of thought.  When I sat down to retrieve words, the transmission signal was not always as strong as it had been in the past.  Abstract 22 took longer than prior versions did.  It was harder to find the time to do it.  Yet once I started, I found that I was far more interested in learning what I thought, and the way that I thought, than I believed I’d be, even if those thoughts were themselves less interesting than they’d been during prior Abstracts.

So I did it.  This year’s Abstract consists of forty-five thousand words on one hundred and fifty-nine albums; shorter than usual, but still a workout for a scrolling finger.  There are no pictures or letter grades or anything like that.  It’s not user-friendly.  I did put the 20 and 21 Abstracts back on the site so I could link to them, and associate current impressions with prior ones, and if you’re interested in the course of my brain-waves as they bend, it’s possible to trace them through the pandemic period.  The usual characters are present: Drake, naturally, and Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, Beyoncé, etcetera. The longest, and, I believe, the most pedagogical entry is the one for Caracara’s New Preoccupations; in it, I write about the differences between emo and pop-punk, and for once, I back up my work with some citations that you can rock out to. If you’re looking for the sociopolitical digressions, I’m sorry to say they’re there again — this time in the entries for Kids On A Crime Spree, and poor Daniel Rossen, who ends up as a springboard for my too-personal reflections on the January 6 riot at the Capitol.  

In a few days, I’ll post a listening schedule to this site.  I’m looking forward to changing my mind about some, or all, of these albums.  Will I go back to the Abstract and post corrections?  Oh, heck no.  Sorry, Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg. I’ll make it up to you two somehow.