I attended a wonderful presentation by Dr. Daphne A. Brooks, author of Liner Notes for the Revolution. The book explores the influence of Black women in music – a contribution that’s overlooked all too often. It’s a deep dive throughout history, touching on Aretha and Beyoncé, Bessie Smith and Zora Neale Hurston. Dr. Brooks articulates so clearly the power of music, and how its cultural impact is negotiated. In the presentation, Dr. Brooks expanded on this concept: her work is about discovering how to assign a framework for “how music matters,” especially in communities on the fringes.
What I also enjoyed about the presentation was Dr. Brooks’s discussion about her own relationship to music. She described how music criticism came to her from an early age. It was a way of making sense of, in her words, the “foreign” music of rock n’ roll. (Evidently it wasn’t really played at her house.) Growing up in the Bay Area was a natural environment to foster this burgeoning skill: a lot of influential rock music criticism came out of UC Berkeley, Dr. Brooks’s alma mater.
Obviously, this entire presentation was exactly relevant to my interests. It got me thinking about my own life as a music critic and what that title even means. Being a music critic isn’t just album reviews or gushing about the latest single (ahem), though, to be sure, that’s often a big part of it. I think at its core music criticism is a lot like the labor of love that meant Dr. Brooks spent 12 years (!) writing Liner Notes. You’re making sense of the sound and your relationship to it. Then you widen the scope to put both those things in context: perhaps historical, perhaps cultural, or perhaps personal. For example, I often ask myself the following questions: Have I heard this song before? Does it sound like other songs I’ve heard? When did I hear them? What memories did they evoke? (The latter two questions have been especially key for my Throwback Thursday series.)
It is a joy to hear other women talk about music, especially from such an academic standpoint. I haven’t heard that perspective nearly as often. Definitely food for thought and inspiration for my own criticism going forward.