The good, the bad and the everything else in the 100 Best Things Read Since You Were Old

LISTEN, check, respond, feed. Follow the rules and you, the internet, may be ready to relax. Today’s new writers read your responses to be helpful, typically, and might even have advice for keeping the…

The good, the bad and the everything else in the 100 Best Things Read Since You Were Old

LISTEN, check, respond, feed. Follow the rules and you, the internet, may be ready to relax. Today’s new writers read your responses to be helpful, typically, and might even have advice for keeping the Internet from turning you into a paranoid wreck.

Seen in this light, Singer’s book feels like music. It’s genre-bending, computer-assisted songwriting, existential philosophy and New Age. Writer-lyricist artist Esther Archer sums up the book’s approach in the prologue: “Sometimes I feel like watching a dancer do a pose. Flick forward to other notes. Move quickly on the piano, slide the hands more easily to the ends of a chord. It’s all a dance.” How can you resist? A wide range of songs with similar whirling rhythms.

Music is a huge, glacial object. Here, Singer creates his own era in the music business, one that presented (literally and figuratively) a range of possibilities. Singer’s list of people he counted among his mentors is vast: Steve Reich, Noam Chomsky, Stevie Wonder.

Many songs are either good or bad, but the Book of Restless Verse is not a music journalist. Singer is not here to tell us about the great albums of the ’70s or ’80s. He lives in the present.

He offers advice, not on how to write a book, but on how to live the passage of time, how to love and be loved. Watsinger, for example, splits his life into portions. He’s half-crazy, half-religious, half-thoughtful, half-hollowed out, but the first time we hear him sing is on a the first song of “My Favorite Things.” He mentions a Zen cycle, the phases of life. That really, in most lives, is the usual order of things. Singer changes things up. In the form of a musical game, it turns out that sections of life carry the same weight as mini-hits.

Why didn’t Singer write a “list of the 15 albums I’m proudest of?” Is it because a scale of preference can be so small and dense? That’s not the only problem with the book. As an observer, Singer is self-conscious and provocative. He makes use of “seductive language,” and it’s tempting to feel overly rapt by Singer’s sweetly metaphorical idea that with some subtleness of style, one can often summon a melody.

As an artist, Singer is derided in this book for being “quasi-authoritarian,” for believing in “his world,” and “godlike.” Singer’s New Age–influenced music conjures the illusory world of spiritual transformation that we sometimes see in the articles and videos on YouTube, especially the fantasy where you can float through space on a floating airplane.

If Singer was looking for a place in pop culture, one writes in “In Praise of Echo,” no place in it was more attractive than his one big idea, “the project of discovering the universal, of being more than yourself.” But it seems like Singer was living and working in that world already.

Here’s another warning about Singer’s book: Only six songs are included in the book. A “list” could have three or four dozen more. Singer, who became a founder of the influential Northwest Modern Music Festival, on his website describes his work as “filled with discoveries, not few.” It seems that Singer recorded so many exquisite songs that he just can’t fit them in the book.

So, what a wonderful idea. Singer should devote two or three volumes to this ornery listicle.

The Book of Restless Verse

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