Songs are better than sociology

Jason Isbell’s lyric “Is your brother on a church kick? Seems like just a different kind of dopesick” is everything I’d like my sociology to be.

It’s critical without being uncaring. It points out that religion is mundane – that it’s just like a lot of other human salves.

The next lyric, “Better off to teach a dog a card trick than try to have a point and make it clear” clearly makes a point I’ve never been quite able to communicate. This is that any successful human communication is pretty remarkable given how difficult it often is to get across the most basic things like what ingredients you want on your sandwich.

The whole song, “Relatively Easy” on his album Southeastern is an excellent portrayal of privilege, a concept social scientists know matters a lot but seem never to be able to share without producing mass confusion and angry backlash. Listen to it:

Self on the Shelf: Music and Relationships

What is music? This is one of those classic questions that seems easy on the face of it, but then becomes remarkably complicated when you think about it for a minute or two. I’ll skip that mess, and ask a different question: what is the meaning of a music collection? I’ve got a relatively large music collection by some people’s standards, but an embarrassingly small collection next to some people I know. What’s that collection say about me? I estimate that I’ve got around 800 CDs, and there are about 7,000 songs on my iPod. I don’t own any vinyl, and only a handful of cassette tapes, most of which  are mixes I made from CDs to play in my first car. In terms of genre, my music collection is heavily 80s and 90s alternative, Americana, and a bit of punk. I’m a product of my time and social location, and I’d argue my music collection is good evidence of that. (I swear the GSS used to list a finding about people saying their favorite music was what they listened to in high school, but I can’t find it anywhere). A sociological discussion of music would probably consider the relationships between race, class, and gender, among other variables, and one’s tastes. It would be an exploration of social capital, and I know it’s been done. But, what about the meaning of a music collection? (more…)