Why I’m Doing This

Several nights I have sat and worked on this project (often few and far apart, regretfully, as one tends to do when they lose sight of what it is they love in the mire of  the things they must do out of obligation).  The nights are quiet and I  am usually alone. God only knows how close I have come to driving the neighbors upstairs crazy with the 16th replay of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night.” What is it about the song that deserves to be heard so many times? Why can I not just listen to it once and then sit here and read the lyrics while finishing this paper?  I find myself in the familiar predicament–  at least when writing about music–  of realizing, once again, “how difficult it is to talk about what one loves. What is there to say about one loves except: I love it, and to keep on saying it?”. What I can say, with certainty, is that the music makes me feel something and this “something” feels good. What exactly “something” is, beyond the comfortably vague term of “good,” remains a bit harder to pin down “Because the Night” is powerful not so much because of “what it says“, but because of “what it does, in how it makes one move and feel.”  Like Andre Breton, I “never have been able to exhaust the constituent elements of this disturbance by analysis” ; but still, it exists and lives and disturbs. This “inexplicable sensual response” is why I cannot sit here and read the lyrics all night, regardless of the inherent difficulty in describing exactly how the piece as a musical whole acts at a sensual (beyond lyrical) level. The difficulty in describing what happens when one listens to a song, particularly on a sensual and not explicitly intellectual level, causes some scholars to “approach music with the same attitude that gynecologists (quite rightly!) approach female sexuality: gingerly. In both situations, a concerted effort is made to forget that some members of society regard the objects of their scrutiny as pleasurable.” I will not approach this song that way. In addition to being an academic, I am also a lover of rock and roll music and of Patti Smith in particular and will make no attempt to hide this fact. My initial role of fan is was in fact the propelling force for my dive into the study of popular music and is in every way a good thing. Smith’s “Because the Night” makes me think, but more importantly than that, it makes me feel – and it makes me feel good. It is pleasurable to listen to. This act of sensory pleasure as a result of listening to a rock and roll song is one of the things that need to be better understood and one which I will address.

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