Every Thanksgiving, my sister Leanna and I eat one green olive. One. We both detest them. Just the green ones. It has become a ritual: we each try one. There is a point in the future at which I will like green olives. I am slowly approaching that actuality. Every year, they become a little less loathsome; marginally more palatable. I hesitate to say this out of loyalty to her, but this year might be the first that I have detected a semblance of my taste buds evolving and perhaps experiencing a fleeting sensation of pleasure.

Thanksgiving 2010

Kid A, Radiohead's 2000 cannonball of an entrance into electronic music, has been a longtime puzzle for me. I am a dedicated fan of other albums (preceding magnum opus OK Computer, as well as The Bends and Hail to the Thief :) Kid A is a relentless swirl of alien bucketdrumming and sterile droning; an android's heartless dystopia that toys with end-of-world angst and may or may not have some type of linear narrative about approaching apocalypse. Also, melody exists, but as residue rather than beating heart. It feels like they tried to lobotomize melody from most of the tracks; keeping enough to still call them 'songs.'

Ice age coming
Ice age coming
Throw it in the fire

At one extreme you have Top 40 radio, that gives you what you know you like.

I don't need to decide "I like peanut butter cookies." There's no need to think about it. My taste preferences are programmed to enjoy peanut butter cookies. Some are better than others: peanut butter cookies are not created equally, yet, if you give me a peanut butter cookie, chances are that you're going to have to screw it up badly for me not to like it. Premade recipe for success.

The other extreme is where you have bands like Radiohead making albums like Kid A (or, continuing the food analogy, Raw Enchiladas, with no cooked ingredients :)

(As soon as I make this statement, there will be a heated minority who will rise up in affront and have a thousand examples of music that is truly inaccessible; that is really challenging to learn. That has been the critiques of all manner of music through the years, from Dave Brubeck's academic jazz, to John Cage's experimental compositions, to many other examples of musicians challenging people's expectations.

joseph ivan long / magdelana long (2011)
I think music is perhaps the truest art form in its ability to transcend symbolism; although it can be analyzed and dissected, it is also pure in terms of not needing interpretation. It can be interpreted, but it doesn't require the audience to do so. It can simply be experienced at a sensory, emotional level.

We're not scaremongering
This is really happening

So I suppose one of the questions is:
how much do you work at trying to like something?

You start reading a book. How long do you wait to be sucked in? If you're reading a James Patterson thriller, then you expect to be grabbed in the first chapter, if not the first page and a half. If he's not holding your attention early on, you're going to drop it.

If you're reading, say, William Faulkner, then you're probably not really reading for enjoyment of narrative to begin with. You're not expecting to race through The Sound and the Fury. Good chance you're reading it out of obligation, not desire :) Often, you gotta work at reading literature, for example, versus reading a hardboiled detective thriller.

{QUICK TANGENT: of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle successfully merged the two with his masterful tales of Sherlock Holmes...}

I used to start a book and finish it, always. I needed to know not only how it was going to end, but to ensure that there wasn't something I was missing out on. I felt I owed it to myself to try and understand it. There are all kinds of analogies: even as a teacher: there's a finite amount of energy, attention, and time to give. You have to prioritize how you use your time. There's no equitable sharing of it: some students will simply make themselves more accessible and easier to communicate with and take a small portion of your resources. Others will be more challenging to work with; to understand and assist; who will require more dedicated time and attention. In the meantime, you have a chunk in the middle who are learning at a 'normal pace.' If there is such a thing.

So I don't really have a great answer as to how much effort to devote to less-accessible events, or people, or art, or music. Or food. How much time do you spend trying to understand something before saying I put everything into this and it isn't worth it anymore? E.g. I'm going to give it my best shot up to this point, and then I'm going to quit.

November 2012

There is certainly a time to quit. Sometimes, simply persevering may seem like a heroic thing to do, but sometimes quitting can also be just as noble an endeavor. Quitting is like the ultimate version of changing your mind, and I'm certainly a fan of changing your mind, as opposed to bullheadedly pursuing a path which you realize is wrong, or not ideal, yet you continue on it just for the sake of completing a linear experience; for the purpose of saying 'I'm not a quitter.' I'm not afraid to say that I've quit things.

So how do you decide when to quit, when to stop trying to like something you don't like right away? Why should I spend any more time listening to Kid A when I don't get it?

Here I'm alive
Everything all of the time
Here I'm alive
Everything all of the time

I am not strictly trained as a Scientist, per se. I do not have a Ph.D in a scientific discipline. Or technically speaking, in any discipline. I am hoping for an honorary doctorate at some point, the kind you get without going through any rigorous academic research. That being said, I believe in the role of environment and nurture; in people's ability to change and to evolve their thought processes, their habits, their patterns;

I believe in people's ability to change.

I believe in people's ability to change, not just at a behavioral level, but at a neurological level; that our brains can re-program and create something new (this portion I am yanking from the excellent Jonas Lehrer book Proust Was a Neuroscientist).

The idea that when we hear music that's not in the same tonal scale we're used to hearing, or when we hear a piece resolved in a way that our minds have not anticipated, then we find it jarring. And uncomfortable. But yet, when you repeatedly experience something, whether it's music, or art, or food, or a person, and you become familiar with those patterns, then you begin to appreciate, in a way that previously might have seemed challenging (or impossible). I suppose Kid A has been that process for me. Intermittently, I play it, and I realize over the last 12 years, that track by track, I am becoming a fan of the album, and in particular, there is a song called Idioteque that has this glitchy blurble drone of a melody finding its way out from binary code; this strange pre-apocalyptic musical language that, a dozen years on, has started to sound comfortable, yet oddly futuristic. Futuristic in a Kubrick way: an historical quality that is both timeless of the distant past and timeless of the distant future. This song, Idioteque, has a suspense that I finally feel starting to pay off. I don't know if the Radiohead boys created it with the idea that people were meant to enjoy it; I'm not sure how they envisioned people experiencing it, or if they even realised at the time that they were creating the Greatest Song Ever.

A Kid / November 2011 

At the time, I think a lot of people, a lot of critics jumped on board to hail it as a masterpiece, even when they didn't understand it. That's often what happens when you have something that's new and different: it polarizes people. You have many people who don't understand, and want nothing to do with it; you have other people who may not understand it any more than the others, but they respect it and cheerlead, not in spite of not understanding, but because they don't understand it.

I find myself in both places. There's books I don't finish. Films I don't complete. Music I walk away from. I'm not leaving my mind open to any and all. There's people I might have one good conversation with, and that's the extent of the time I'm willing to invest with them (e.g. there's only so much time in my life for conversations with white supremacists and with aggressive techies trying to aggressively talk me into using Windows-based computers - no connection between the two groups, of course).

Jeremy M. Long / November 2012

My priorities with people will likely always have a nucleus, but spreading out from that nucleus will be a sense of adventure; an Openness to Inaccessibility. I want to find time, to create time, to plan holes in my schedule and my life to letting the Inaccessible become a new pattern, to having the patience to let fresh grooves get worn into my record. I also know, in the spirit of prioritization, that I will spend plenty of time with things that I am already comfortable with. I'll never lose my love of the Beatles or Nina Simone; of Amélie or Dumb and Dumber and the comfortable elements around me. They bring joy because of their familiarity. That balance between strangers and family. The bulk of my time I will spend with the people I love the most; the experiences I love the most. But I will also create time for those things that don't make sense right away. Like A Kid, I will try to experience life with Eyes Wide Open.

Green olives, I will love you. Someday. Soon.

Kid A


  1. Joseph,

    Always--you make me think! And change. And learn. And try new things. And say yes (to some). And say no (to others). And smile. And live life with my "Eyes Wide Open". Thanks!


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