We Need Seducing

I think it’s funny that the stuff that excites me the most to write and get dressed are about music. To be clear, it’s not surprising considering how I see many similarities between menswear and my past in writing music. . Lookbooks and photos on social media may help give me an idea for one outfit, but what gets me to think about my clothes is when people write about music. Such books engage me on another level, somehow being able to put to words how I’ve felt about clothing (or anything else I’m passionate about).

This happened earlier today, when I was reading Rough Ideas, a memoir of sorts by concert pianist and composer, Stephen Hough. The book is basically a collection of “blog posts” which he wrote on loose papers and his iPhone throughout his entire career. There are a lot of reflections contained between the covers but luckily they are organized into sections; apparently, the categorization came later, only becoming apparent once he decided to publish these thoughts.

Much of this book has inspired me. In true bad-book-owner fashion, my copy is full of dogeared pages, all done to save passages that stood out to me.

For example, there was one about doing music as an “amateur”, rather than a professional. Hough is a famous concert pianist who has recorded many master works; many of his thoughts were recorded while traveling or during lulls between practice sessions. He is a professional. This section was about amateurs, who are able to participate as a “carefree task”. Hough maintains that amateur status does not mean someone who is less good than a professional, but “rather someone for whom love overcomes obstacles”. Practice is an obstacle, but amateurs tend to love doing it anyway. An amateur still makes demands on themselves, to concentrate, but then they can enjoy. They can “find joy inside the music you play and inside yourself”.

If that doesn’t get you invigorated to find passion in a menswear hobby, then I don’t know what will. Perhaps you can view clothes (specifically, classic menswear) as a pragmatic necessity, but then I guess it’s not a hobby for you. You may be a professional than an amateur.

Now while that is such a great topic that gives us many directions to go in, it isn’t why I am writing this blog post. No, I’m here to talk about liking things. Or rather not liking things.

“The composer that Stephen Hough hates”.

In a section about recording CDS and listening, Hough had a post about how he doesn’t like Bach. This was predicated by his overview on Mompou, one of Hough’s favorite composers who is notable not only for his pieces but for saying that his favorite composers were “almost all, with the exception of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven”. I’m sure that this bold statement is what emboldened Hough to have his own opinion on Bach. Shocking, right? How can Hough and Mompou dislike such tentpole composers, especially ones that have surely set the foundation for numerous periods of Western symphonic music?

Hough’s reflection on such feelings was incredibly interesting. He is clear in that “Bach is a greater composer than Mompou, in the way that Rembrandt is a better painter than Rockwell.” But that isn’t enough to get Hough to enjoy Bach. Hough continues, “I don’t get Bach…but I do get Mompou. Perhaps it’s like friendship just like certain people and not others…A composer we love is one where we treasure even the dross, even as we recognize that it is dross”.

This is already quite fascinating. I see that Hough is hinting that “dislike” has nothing to do with shortcomings in ability. It is simply the absence of “like”. To his credit, Hough does try to quantify his “dislike” of Bach, saying that “there is a lack of dross in Bach that prevents me from feeling completely at home with him. Or the lack of mess.” Obviously these shortcomings are about preconceptions based on personal experience with the music, but at the very lease Hough is clear and adamant about his dislike.

I could stop here and reflect, but Hough keeps going in a new section, written as a response to his “anti Bach sentiment”. Apparently, word got out of Hough’s anti-Bach sentiment and a few people accused him of not calling Bach “irreducible and indispensable”. Hough took issue to that statement and clarified that he believes that Bach is certainly not “dispensable”. However, he took the opportunity to explain his bigger point. Hough is trying to refer to “something hidden, which shares an emotional space in the same part of our souls as our consciences…It is basically irrational, in the best most imaginative, most creative, most ecstatic meaning of that term. I do not need convincing; I need seducing”.

And there you have it. Seducing. Such a great term to use when talking about, well whatever we are most passionate about. It is not about arguing or discussing, trying to find some universal truth. This whole thing is about finding what excites us. What engages us. What seduces us.

Now this man seduces Hough.

The first thing I thought of when reading this was my previous blog post on taste. As I wrote about in that piece, I believe that taste is personal, a bit of curation after sampling (or being aware of) a myriad of options. Taste does not need to be empirically defended, but it shouldn’t be shallow. It should be a deep conviction.

The shallow part is key in this discussion. It’s easy to assume that taste is shallow, based on trends or simply doing what is recommended to you. But that’s such a slap in the face. After all, Hough’s “dislike” of Bach is not shallow. He is not being a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian. . After listening and playing a myriad of composers, Hough realized that he no longer likes Bach. This is a fully formed feeling based on experience. It’s not that Bach is indispensable, it’s simply that Hough is not seduced by Bach.

If we continue the seduction metaphor, this naturally leads us to human relationships. Platonic and romantic relationships involve trust, communication, and shared interests. But the difference is that a romantic relationship comes with more. Attraction. Excitement. Seduction. The thing is that a romance (or sex) doesn’t devalue your existing friends and make them disposable. I think the metaphor is falling apart (unless you wanna fuck your clothes), but hopefully this has some semblance of sense.

Hough does say that he doesn’t hate any composers. He also says there are composers whom he decidedly does not listen to. That’s what taste is about!

At this point in my life, I am seduced by items that may not seduce others. Black fedoras. Kimono jackets. Brown suits with big legs. And I guess it worked well enough that these things (or these ideas) have stuck with me. I’m committed!

At this point in my life (or rather, stage of my hobby), I am looking for seduction. I want more than just “getting by”. The good thing is that I’ve found it. I’ve been seduced (by something that isn’t) by everything you see me wear: spearpoints, wide pants, berets. There is a conscious choice to like them. Keep in mind that these aren’t shallow or temporary relationships– I’m fully committed to them, even when the mainstream (or #menswear, whatever) mood for them has changed. But the point is that I needed to be seduced. I needed to get something from them. To feel ecstatic. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have paid them any mind.

As you can tell, this whole blog is meant as an exercise for me to figure out why I was seduced and to make a case for their merit. At a certain point, it really does come down to that feeling. Where a garment’s “smell”, much like Mompou’s effect on Hough, “seduces us, leading us willingly into submission beyond analysis or logic”. Only now, we should make a case for seduction. To let ourselves enjoy things as amateurs.

I wish that we could talk about menswear like this. In fact, it’s sad that we don’t. It’s almost as if some facets of menswear have a puritanical view of how we should think about clothes. Like Kivy says in his book on Expression, people tend to think that emotions are undignified or trivial; it’s even odder to think that diving deep into emotions somehow goes full circle to being considered a form “gatekeeping”. It definitely concerns me that any taste that isn’t the”indispensable” are regarded as being elitist when this is just about subjectivity. Perhaps this is because people view the words “I don’t like” as some kind of offense. Maybe being introspective and figuring out what you like is too much effort.

Granted, it probably doesn’t help that those with specific tastes tend to evoke their taste through hyperbole, just like when Hough compared Bach and Mompou or Rembrandt and Rockwell. Some people may take it the wrong way, seeing such statements as objective truth when it was assumed that at a certain point, objectivity is no longer in consideration. I know I’m definitely guilty of this.

In any case, we should be taking every opportunity to form deeper connections with our clothes. Even hyperbole is meant to be analyzed with good-faith rather than with immediate derision. It is the only way we can truly get past the existing hegemony of traditions and oft-repeated recommendations. Diving deeper into these feelings, again built on un-shallow experience, is what reveals the most about what excites us. The hope is that we get to be like Hough, where we yearn to experience more than what would be considered “required reading”. Such things (like Bach or The Basic Bastard) are formative and certainly not dispensable, but that reason alone may not be enough for some to truly enjoy then.

Sometimes those things are successful in seducing people, and that’s great! But it’s also okay to realize that you want more. None of this is meant to be vindictive or mean to be a slight against things that are not seductive. It is just a personal reflection, meant to help you live a more intentional and exciting life. And yes, we could all use more positivity and talk mainly about what we like, to keep the whole vibe positive. But to be consciously positive means that we must also discern what does not make us positive. This is the whole essence of taste.

I like that Hough seemingly makes this case for music in the hope that others follow suit. I want the same thing but about classic menswear. Is that so hard to ask for?

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget that you can support me (or the podcast) on Patreon to get some extra content and access to our exclusive Discord.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan M. Wong

Big thank you to our top tier Patrons (the SaDCast Fanatics): Austin, Philip, Shane, Jarek, Henrik, and Alexander.

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