One Man's Cool Cat

Like claws on a chalkboard

Happy Monday, and here's the question of the day: How is it possible for two people to hear the same sounds, yet one perceives the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard while the other experiences the soothing benefits of a mountain stream? Over the weekend, I had a conversation with a friend who sharply disagrees with my opinion that listening to Ken Nordine is a soothing, relaxing, and wholly positive experience. To him, Nordine—in the context of Word Jazz, anyway—is nothing but an irritation. This fascinates me for a couple reasons.

Ordinarily, I can at least understand a differing viewpoint; I can see why someone has connected the dots in a pattern different than my own. But this one confounds me. I'm unable to understand my friend's perception, so it's intriguing for the sheer mystery of it. It's an enigma.

The second point of interest is the particular person who owns this perception. What Nordine does isn't everyone's cup of tea, but if you knew Christopher I'm sure you'd share my surprise; you'd think something like Word Jazz would be right up his alley. And yet, it is not. It isn't the quirkiness or the material in general causing the problem; he just doesn't like the way it sounds. It gets on his nerves.

I know I won't be able to let this go. Further analysis is required, but I need more data. Maybe I misunderstood, or maybe I just missed something, but I'm not yet able to admit to myself that Nordine's trippy multilogues might be anything less than a nice bubblebath for my head.

It's going to take another conversation with Christopher before I can rest easy again.



  1. Anonymous10:31 PM UTC

    I can relate to your experience. I find Ken Nordine to be relaxing (though admittedly in a surreal way--it's like taking a vacation on another planet). When I've tried to share a Nordine track, I've had people look at me like I should be committed to a mental hospital.

    Frankly, we can't know what other people's ears are hearing, even when the same soundwaves are involved. I think the same goes for every sense. My mom is repulsed by the aroma of orange-spice tea, but I find it enchanting. My granddad was literally repulsed by the smell of garlic, but I adore it. That probably means that our sense of taste is also idiosyncratic. When I drank carrot juice for the first time and loved it, my grandma's face fell in disgust (it might as well have been a glass of sewer water, as far as she went.) When two people share a love of anything, it may be for wholly different reasons! (And each party naturally assumes that whatever specifically floats his boat floats the other's boat as well. When in reality, both parties are lost in their own seas!)

  2. Anonymous8:14 AM UTC

    Perhaps Nordine, like carrot juice and sewer water, is an acquired taste. I've often thought there's a general lack of appreciation for the surreal, but this may be due to lingering bitterness over my misspent youth. I still have tapes, somewhere, of the Nordinesque ramblings of certain friends in high school who used to get together in a roomful of microphones and just let it flow. One guy's stepfather actually did try to have him committed after hearing one of those tapes, although there may have been other factors involved in the decision. Fortunately, the attempt wasn't successful, but did result in my friend getting his own place, which turned out to be a far better recording studio than we had before. I'm not sure we ever achieved the coveted Word Jazz plateau, but we did lose a lot of brain cells, so at least it wasn't a complete waste of time.

    Great visual on the granddad! I can see him flying about the room in reverse, like a magnet exposed to the same pole of another magnet. I happen to love garlic, too, although a big part of it has to do with its effect on those who do not. And like garlic, I suppose Nordine can be used as a weapon. Or a magnet. But probably not a foghorn, because his voice isn't very loud.