So my last two posts about choices have been somewhat inter-related. I’m working on a project that I started some 17 years ago. I’m now calling it “A PolyWogg Guide to Music”, just cuz I like naming my projects. And I didn’t want to call it Dave.
The intent is that I will look at the Billboard top 100 list each year, as well as some other songs from the year that maybe didn’t make Billboard’s sales lists, and see what I think “endures” past the year. There are lots of songs I listen to from the 1980s or 90s and think, “How the heck did that chart?”. The song was mildly entertaining, maybe a bit of a riff that was catchy, but after one year, pffft, it was gone.
And back in about 2003, maybe even somewhat earlier, I started looking at the idea of doing every year. I originally thought, maybe I’d start with around 1980. And I did 1980’s list, made some playlists from it, burned some CDs, and I really liked the result. But the more I messed around with it, the more I started to see “missing” links to earlier music. 1980 was an interesting year to start with, as I saw some songs from the tail-end of the disco era, some others starting into the big hair phase, early sounds of what would become things like Miami Vice themes, etc.
At the time, I was just doing it to see if maybe there was a good way to do up killer playlists for myself. Then, as I started to see trends crossing years, the analyst side of me kicked in. Later, I was listening to a couple songs from about 1955, the early days of rock and roll, and a couple of songs were almost post-40s swing, a bit of R&B, and pre-rock.
It’s kind of a thing with me, casting my eyes backward on what came before. I would love to review all the Best Picture Oscar winners, so I started with 1927 and Wings. I want to review some award-winning mysteries, so I start with the first year of the Edgars. For a current project I am doing on astronomy, I’m starting with the first issues of Sky and Telescope from 1941.
For my review of music, the first year for which I have a reliable set of lists of top songs is really 1943. And while there are lists for R&B, soul, country, classical, jazz, etc., I am focusing on the pop and rock charts (often together). But that wasn’t what my “choice” was about today.
Today, I decided to fix a post. Over the last two days, I’ve made choices about ways to do the formatting and layout, or more pointedly, choices about how much time and effort I want to put into getting the formatting and layout right. I wrote the first post 3 or 4 years ago, and reviewed 1943. There were 117 songs in my working list, and I don’t remember how long it took me to go through them. The point isn’t to rush through them, maybe I’ll do 2 songs one day or 20 the next, it is just that I have a list to work from and I can take notes as I go, marking down ratings or even if the song has some sort of audio glitch in the middle and needs to be replaced.
Yet even if I get the formatting right (which I did) and finally decided on a working layout (which I did), the prose was NOT hanging together. The main pieces were fine, but there was something off with the flow. It had always seemed incomplete to me.
You should know something, I guess, about my editing style. I edit as I go. I am not a writer that plunges ahead, does a whole draft and then goes back and fixes things, nor do I write to an outline usually. If I am in THIS paragraph, and I start to take it in a slightly different direction than I was thinking 2 or 3 paragraphs back, I might finish the sentence here, and then go back and tweak that other paragraph before going on. I tend to think of it as my “edit” window is the last three paragraphs. They are constantly in pencil, so to speak, and as I go, I will indeed frequently edit something several rows back.
But this was more than that. I felt like I had no consistent flow, no real message, kind of like I was lacking a storyline or narrative. Which seems silly for a non-fiction piece, until I realized what I was really lacking was my normal voice. I had comments here and there, other facts I dropped in, but what was really missing was “me”.
So I stepped back and did what I used to do at work when reviewing speeches for Ministers when the flow seemed off. I basically wrote a reverse outline of what I wanted to say, and the problem was obvious. I had 2 or 3 pieces that were linked, but I had separated them by several paragraphs, so it was jumping around. An easy fix. But once in the weeds, I let my inner editor go crazy. Lots of places in the piece were expressed a little too casually, while others were more formal. I smoothed them out, made them more consistent, made them more “me”.
I spent way too much time on a few headings, trying them in regular text, then in a table format, as a large header, as a small header, as a header with multiple colours, and finally as medium headers with one colour and some italics for the song names. Then when I got to my final comments, I grouped them in order with a common structure and feel to them, so it makes a better sense of what I was trying to convey about my review methodology. All of which was helping “me be me” in the piece.
Why am I fussing? Because generally speaking, if I do this for every year from 1943 to 2020 and beyond, I want the structure right before I start, as well as the general approach to content. I hesitate to raise it to the level of saying that I want to do a “professional job” of it, not the right nuance, more just that I have pretty high standards and I feel like it finally meets them. Am I going to have any amazing insights into music that will revolutionize the industry? Hell no, I know less about music than most 11-year-old piano students. But I have views about what I think endures and adds to the cultural collective and what should probably remain a footnote.
I spent a LOT of time editing one single post. And while it IS 3500 words, my edit:writing ratio was pretty high for this one. I don’t know if it was really worth it, but I’m pretty happy with the result. A PolyWogg Guide to Music: 1943 – Pop is the first of many posts about music, I hope other people like them too.
Today I choose to edit myself out the wazoo.
What choices are you making today?