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Nod Your Head: In Defense of Lists…

on December 05, 2010, 10:00pm

Image (1) nod-your-head-feature.jpg for post 198601

I have two distinct memories of this time of year from when I was a youngster. One is Cookie Day, an annual tradition in which my mother baked Christmas cookies for eight hours a day as I sat there in my pajamas eating the various pastries she painstakingly labored over. The second is making lists for “Santa”. Each year, my parents would demand lists or vaguely threaten that “Santa” just wouldn’t take the time to visit our house. And each year, lists would be made, ordered from the seemingly improbable (never did get that ball pit) to the wholly undesirable (socks and pants). Thankfully, though, the list-making era ended when I hit my teens, when the call of “Money or gift cards or whatever” was enough to pacify my parents’ holiday demands. However, as if out of some hackneyed Xmas movie, fate would make it so that lists and I reunited with my work through CoS. Oy. Is it Cookie Day yet?

I don’t hate making lists, but there is something unbelievably stressful about the whole process. Writing for CoS, you learn to love making lists. Undoubtedly stemming from our collective nerdiness and anal-retentive tendencies, we make these lists for any occasion, and we even make lists of lists we’re going to do. Sure, they bring a lot of attention and traffic to the site, but really, lists are, at least for me, a way to interact in this newfangled blogging world. With so many voices saying so many things about so many different kinds of music, lists are a way to make your voice heard above all in the most succinct manner possible. Lists take away the thought and the careful critiques and assign values, actual concrete concepts, to songs, bands, albums, etc. They’re the perfect kindle for the ultimate firestorm of adulation or absolute outrage. If we happened to rank your favorite song really high, then there’s a kind of relief to it, a recognition that your tastes are good because, duh, other people agree. On the other hand, if you disagree with our choices, you might feel (at least in my own paranoid mind) that all your musical choices have been rendered invalid by the masses. Never has putting pen to paper been so enthralling. Or nerve-wracking.

Despite their relative ease to assemble, I’d wager that many of our readers don’t understand the stress that putting a list together really entails. Sure, it’s one thing to make a list and share it between friends, but it’s another to share it with several thousand (potentially more) people, all of whom have their own uniquely dangerous venom to share. That is by no means a lame excuse to boast, but there’s a kind of pressure we’re under from the start of the compiling process until, well, forever and ever, thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web and its ability to archive things for easy access until the end of time (or when the Web finally burns down).

The pressure starts when you put the list together with the full knowledge you’re opening yourself up to ridicule. That kind of gloom hangs over you and makes it next to impossible to adequately compile a list. Fears of missing a crucial release abound as you begin to question your own taste. Fears of being too mainstream collide with equally ferocious fears of picking far too obscure songs and albums. Friends and co-workers offer help and advice and really, really stupid ideas as lists get destroyed and remade. Then, the list is actually published for the entire nerd world to see. As a music writer, the worst part isn’t being immediately insulted or called a waste of genetic material; no, hardened skin makes the blade of those words dull. Instead, it’s the comments a few weeks, even months, later, when you’ve all but forgotten about the list, and someone comes in with a right hook to the soul and makes you sound whiny to your girlfriend, because you don’t listen to her talk and instead enjoy the sounds of your own sad pity party. Ah, such happenings truly warm the heart.

Despite the whole questioning-my-musical-credibility part, lists are fun. Sure, there’s more pressure involved than when I was asking for every Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy and accessory ever made, but there’s also a kind of geeky joy to the onslaught of list-making that happens during the holidays and end-of-year periods. Creating lists adds to the community of blogging and online music journalism, letting you, often in the most simplistic terms imaginable, share with those involved in a similar undertaking as you. But more than giving you the warm and fuzzies, making lists is exhilarating in the sense that it forces you to face those aforementioned situations. It’s nice to articulate your thoughts and points, but so much of criticism stems from the fact that you need to get your point across and stand by it for good.

Lists are that bare-boned declaration you’ve put out there into the ether for good or bad, ’til next year’s lists do you part. All the praise and barbed comments are worth it for the potential good that can come. While they’re seemingly unimportant and random collections of your own tastes over the course of a year, lists are the most direct way to make sense of a vast and always-changing sonic landscape and to navigate a way to some greater truth — a truth about how we enjoy and interpret music and the means it uses to get to us and its unique impact on the listmaker’s life. And that truth is worth more than all the Lego kits and double chocolate chip cookies in the world, even if it’s just that the new LCD Soundsystem is one randomly assigned number better than the new Arcade Fire.