Music makes the people come together/Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebels
Some awesome bloggers are talking rather brilliantly about music lately, the politics, the poetics. Much of it is inspired by this article and its predecessor in Slate that I linked to last week, so check those out first.
Jean @ You Are Here: The Blogger Finds Herself at A Crossroads:
I had a real problem---a rage-inducing, stroke-precipitating problem, with this, from Glassine: "I understand that the reviewer doesn't care for the aesthetic of the muisic [sic]."
What does that even mean? To paraphrase The Zappa, shut up and play your synthesizer. Or your drum machine. Or your parents' Flock of Seagulls 45's. Whatever. I suspect that what he's trying to say is akin to my own feelings about half the bands in the Great Rockist Canon: I hate the fans, love the band. I would rather die than go to a Neil Young concert, just because it would mean being surrounded by tie-dye and flannel and self-satisfied smirking over organic coffee, or beer, or weed, or whatever. That doesn't change the quality of Neil Young's music, and why let a bunch of pensioners get in the way of my enjoyment? As far as it goes, I understand what Glassine person is saying. The problem is that this wasn't what the reviewer was saying. He was saying that the CD was boring and derivative, had been done before and better. That's not hating your aesthetics, dude. That's hating you.
This is a problem more and more, or just something I'm noticing a lot lately, and it goes back to the Poptimist thing: we will wipe away the barriers created by the canonization of certain approved music by declaring that all music is good. It just has different aesthetics. This is clearly bullshit. I know there are deeper issues here, but this is going about it all the wrong way. Want to convince a hardcore rockist that pop can indeed hold its own against Wenner's Hordes? Do better. Stop paying homage to bands that are better known for their creative hair than their music, which wasn't very creative at all. Do something different. Rockists complain about derivative rock all the time. Metalheads practically live to do such complaining. It's not your aesthetic, it's your lack of understanding, your lack of respect, for even your own chosen niche. If I wanted to get real snotty, I'd pull out the old line about there being only two types of music: good and bad.
Sad Billionaire @ Fluffy Dollars: Color and the Kids:
I will not be the first person to suggest that the deliberate avoidance of syncopation in much of the canon of indie rock music contributes to its "white" quality. Nor would I be staking a very original claim by pointing to the "white" valences of affectless or self-consciously arch vocal tendencies favored by many indie rock singers. For those of us who grew up on classic rock, and made the transition to "indie" music after an apprenticeship in 1970s AOR, the links between "black" and "white" and "good" or "bad" are easy to recall. Playing "white" was slang for insufficient motivation, feeling, or expressive capacity in musicians. We understood that there was a reason that Led Zeppelin and the Stones ripped off delta blues records and the performance practices of R&B musicians when they wanted to access fantasies of exotic sexual power in their music, and if we thought about it later (especially in light of the new vogue in indie for British Isles folk music) we also put it together that these groups used white-coded UK folk music when they wished to tap into pastoral fantasies of a white past.
It is my guess that a lot of the musicians who created the first few waves of indie rock grew up in similar milieus, and that the creative decisions that went into the formation of the indie rock aesthetic included critical reflection on these "black"/"white" oppositions. I will further speculate that the decision to explore "unfunky" music-making was, in many cases, a way to avoid the uncomfortable aspects of racial mimesis that were so crucial to rock in its first decades. Thus, I think it is fair to say that, at once, the birth of American indie rock was both a moment of self-conscious reflection on the politics of race in pop music, and the crucible of a certain influential strain of "white" aesthetics. For whatever reason, as the genre came to be concretized this racial aspect came to be submerged and eventually hidden behind other aesthetic and thematic concerns, so that by now it is a fairly controversial move to even talk about race and indie rock...
Noz @ XXL's Posse on Blogway: This Machine Kills Fascists - Tommy Ain’t My Motherfuckin’ Boy:
All music - gangsta fairy tale to revolutionary manifesto and everything in between - is interpreted by the bulk of the audience as entertainment. Most music listeners do not care enough to learn from it, at most they want music that will help them cope with their immediate surroundings. And thus, political music thrives when those surroundings are inundated with politics (generally in a well organized form, not stray, sardonic daily show shots at the president). Tom could use a long talk with this guy next time he’s on stage with him.
It’s also a little ironic that Morello makes a point to throw around accusations of (musical) gentrification. His own band, Rage Against The Machine became a huge success by stripping most of the racial subtext (a lighter shade of brown is a whole lot lighter when you traffic in dimly lit videos - ask cypress hill) from the Public Enemy formula and replacing it with a decidedly rockist ethos to create their pep rally protest music. Their self titled debut album bore the following disclaimer - No samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this recording. Yet De La Rocha had no problem appropriating rap cadences for cutesy Rakim covers while Morello did his damnedest to make his guitar sound like Terminator X on the edge of panic (or Johnny Juice Rosado, depending on who you ask).
And where exactly does tepid adult oriented post-grunge fit into Mr. Morello’s argument anyway? Maybe after Chamillionaire carves “soul power” into his microphone (or perhaps pops his trunk to display the phrase in garish neon lights?) then these lemmmings could read “Ridin’ Dirty” as a political statement.
Josh @ Metroblogging Seattle: merrit's rockist racism:
In the weirdest exchange of the already strange panel discussion, Merritt suggested that white audiences don't notice the intense amount of production that acts like Belle & Sebastian [?] or Celine Dion use to shape their sound and are still able to view the music as authentic. In contrast, he claimed that these same audiences expect "non-white" artists to be entertainers whose work is unfiltered performance -- emotion without production. The whole discussion quickly became very confusing, particularly because it rapidly became unclear whether the panelists considered Celine Dion to be "white".
Scantron @ Wash Av Huffy Crew: The rockism/popism debate produces my longest cultural critical rant yet!:
So far as I can tell, "popism" is basically the postmodern, postcolonial answer to the liberal tradition of "rockism." Critics in the 60s and 70s thought they had found the true, honest way hiding beneath all the bullshit of shiney happy Vietnam/Johnson/Nixon America. Later, when the New Left didn't really pan out, rock critics thought that if rock 'n' roll didn't bring the revolution, listening to it at least made you a Better Person. Popism, on the other hand, is a typical sign of the late capitalist times (by the way, I'm not just saying this, I actually sorta kinda mean it). Pop music, in all its fleeting, 15-minutes-of-fame, easily digestible and more easily forgotten glory, is to be celebrated. We are now supposed to consume music for the love of the consumption, listening to it through our iPods as we sip a tall latte, schedule our lives on our blackberrys, talk on our cell phones, etc. It is the stuff of yupsters, people wearing Chuck T's and faux-retro clothing to investment banking jobs and profitable dot-coms.
Popism is postcolonial insofar as it recognizes the rockist, no matter how liberal or turned on to black music, as a misguided white ideologue who can't see past his own soft-liberal racism. This is nowhere more apparent than in the case of Stephin Merritt. The guy dared to question the popularity of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and Outkast and he is declared a hater of women, people of color, and people...who...like the music of people of color...? The underlying assumption is that all of the four above named artists must be doing something artistic or worthwhile. Racism must be the true cause behind Merritt's dislike of them, not their musical merit. (Jesus Christ I used the term merit. I must be against affirmative action or something.) And if it were a question of merit, Merritt (ha!) would be guilty of subscribing to rockist notions of it. Who's to say Beyonce doesn't make good music? Doesn't it have a good beat, and you can dance to it? (This air-headed teeniebopper disco phrase, once the mocking putdown of rockists, has been turned into some popist's rallying cry.)
I've seen the downsides of rockism, to be sure. I've worked at a music store where there could be four guys on the job who all know the second solo record put out by the lead singer of Thin Lizzy, but not know last year's American Idol winner. But the extreme opposite is to suppose that we should abandon all the obscure music collected and hierarchized by the rockists and lose ourselves in the mindless pop of the present. Please note that these are half-finished and incomplete thoughts, intended to start discussion. I don't go for the reactionary rockist backlash found especially here, which tries to use the argument as an excuse to pan hip-hop wholesale and say how low and depraved (i.e. how black) it is. ("How boring is hip-hop?" asks Andrew Sullivan. Just like those Muslims are so sex-crazed...) My point is that the extreme of popism is dumbness masquerading as hip, clued in savvy. It's learning to love your masters.
I am loving this rockism/poptimism debate. It reminds me of the whole English Lit/American Studies stuff, where the former argues for a cultural canon comprised of Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, Whitman, Frost, Pinsky and the latter argues for a cultural canon constituted by ragtime, blaxploitation, Poison videos, the National Enquirer, and Survivor. As if these are mutually exclusive. As if there is much relevance or interest to either without the other.
You may have noticed that I love me some high-brow and I love me some low-brow and some middle-brow is good too. I am, not question about it, a postmodernist in my eclectism, but don't doubt that this eclecticism can also be a form of snobbery. When I look at a person's iPod or CD collection and all I see is Justin Timberlake-Pink-Pussycat Dolls, I'm going to sneer. Same goes, obviously, for Senator Clinton's blast-from-the-past playlist, and, if you are a Death Cab-Iron and Wine-Shins person, or a Parker-Davis-Gillespie freak, or a Roots-Common-Mos Def lover,
I'll give you the very same treatment. And I'll hate the hell out of you if none of the above are displayed prominently, in favor of a more obscure selection. Or if I've heard of everything on your iPod.
There should be a name for my kind of snobbery, but we think in binaries, don't we?