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Throwback Thursday, III

February 4, 2010


While researching this book, I pore over as many relevant articles as I can.
Every Thursday, I’ll highlight one of the good ones.

I have mixed feelings about this week’s Throwback.

On one hand, Kevin Griffis’s piece is pretty moving, and in a lot of ways, it embodies exactly what is so significant about the music of the Elephant 6: the personal bonds people create with it. The music of the Elephant 6 is not just “good music.” There’s tons of good music out there, and on a purely sonic level, there’s a lot of stuff that’s better than what any of these guys have ever done. But what makes this music special — and what makes me want to write a book about it — is the emotional resonance that, intentional or not, is undeniably there.

On the other hand, this article is a good example of a few of the things I don’t want to do with my book.

First, as emotional as all this stuff is, this book will not be a memoir. It is not about me. If I can help it, I won’t even use the first-person. This is about other people. I can write a compelling narrative — so far, it seems like it might write itself — without making myself the subject.

Second, Griffis used a much different strategy than I am using. Whereas I’m being patient and spending my time building trust and rapport, he went with a more aggressive approach, going so far as to track down Jeff Mangum’s father when Jeff himself would not speak with him. As a reporter, it’s sort of inspiring to see such digging, but as a person (and especially as a fan), it strikes me as more than a little disrespectful. Griffis rationalizes by saying, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, like other great works of art — no matter how obscure — has grown beyond the grasp of its creator.” He thinks he has as much ownership of it as anyone else, Mangum included.

And he’s wrong, of course. That Griffis, along with so many others, feels such a strong bond with this record is as beautiful a thing as you can find in the world of art. That he feels entitled to an explanation embodies so much of the art world’s ugliness.

So I understand why some of the people I’m trying to interview are distrustful of people of my type. But that’s exactly why I moved here, why I’m taking my time, why I’m doing this the way I’m doing it. Of course they’re not going to trust me right away. I’m ready to accept that they might never trust me. But there are two ways to overcome that: circumventing it as an investigative guerrilla, and cultivating it as a respectful documentarian. Guess which one I’m choosing.

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