Thursday, October 29, 2009

... i read that guy's riposte to your vituperative blast, see the thing is your
thing was arguably ill-considered -- who cares though? SWEEPING AND
PREJUDICAL = RECIPE FOR GOOD PROSE! ... and is somebody really supposed to have listened all 47 Melvins albums before they can offer an opinion? your invective was entertaining and excitingly-written, whereas his nuanced thing just drones on staking out his likes and semi-likes, no argument there as such, nothing anybody can use to fire up their own thoughts. almost as dreary as a popist dissecting the songs on Kelly Clarkson's new stinking black turd of an album, mapping its knobbly surface and noting its variegated color-tones...
there was one point he made that i thought kind of insightful or at least interesting to think about, where he talked about how rarely i brought "the tribunal of live performance" into my assessments of bands in Rip It Up... i thought the language was interesting (tribunal with its suggestion of popular justice)... and he misses the mundane pragmatic reason for why i don't talk
much about the gigs--my memories of them are faded (wasn't taking notes,
obviously) whereas the records are here, accessible to me, something i can
plunge into as part of the research and writing process ... but it's also
quite true that the phonographic experience is much more key to me than the live one... i've seen some amazing, amazing live performances in my time, but the majority of my profoundest experiences with music have been based on listening to records (plus some epiphanies via radio or TV). and then secondarily in the writing
and discourse around music... i think that may actually be quite a British thing
(in American it's the opposite -- seeing the band live is the ultimate
arbiter)... also there's something ephemeral about a gig (they vary so much)
whereas when a record is released it is the Band's Statement and also it's Accessible
to All, it becomes the locus of shared memory...
i'm not sure why people get so fussed by the genre terminology and semantic distinctions. quite a few people (nearly all Americans) have responded to the concept of "postpunk" as if it's an affront -- and as if hadn't actually been in widespread use since 1979! i mean i've trawled the era's music press, it's used quite often that early and by the time i was doing my own fanzine Monitor circa 1984 it was an established term for that era, and had these associations with a particular kind of music. so it's kind of a futile battle to resist what is an established social fact. when enough people use a certain word to signifiy a certain entity, there's not much that can be done about it

but mainly i'm not really sure what is at stake in the proposals some had made to refold postpunk into "punk" -- what would actually be gained except to make punk itself meaninglessly expansive? A historical sense of punk itself is best served -- and I think is actually more flattering to punk -- by the idea of it as a short sharp shock. That a lot of people got stuck on that particular moment (Oi! etc) is not necessarily to the detraction of the prime punk moment itself

like all cultural fields :postpunk" is is fuzzy at the edges, fuzzy at the start, and fuzzy at the end (which doesn't end, in so far as the bands themselves mostly carry on after 1984, johnny-come-lately bands doing postpunk-y type things after 1984, and then you have later bands who refer to or reactivate ideas from that era (radiohead, nine inch nails, whoever), so postpunk is still with us to an extent). but for all that fuzziness the area/approach/attitude has enough coherence that people can use the term postpunk and other people know what it's referring to

i don't really see postpunk as a slight to punk, it refers above all to the idea of the next stage from punk; not necessarily the refutation or cancelling of punk, but an attempt to move on from it. But because people disagreed about what "the next stage" would be, and indeed disagreed about what the really important element of punk was, you got a panoply of directions, an ever-widening delta. in that sense, you might say that postpunk is the actualization of the internal contradictions of punk, or the releasing of the dissensus that for a year or so was contained within the pseudo-consensus of the word "punk",

the "post" in postpunk is similar to the post in postmodernism -- the latter isn't the cancelling of modernism, but a kind of relaxing off its strictures, a kind of selective betrayal of its tenets, an attempt to sidestep certain blocked paths and dead ends. The original impetus of modernism subsisted in postmodernism in the very demand to keep on innovating; postmodernism was not about a simple return to tradition or classicism; it was a response to the becoming-tradition, becoming-canonical, becoming-institutionalised of modernism after WW2.

A similar kind of complex set of reactions and relationships with the precursor informs postpunk activity; there is a simultaneous move of keeping faith and breaking faith. From this point of view staying true to punk as a form (Oi!) or indeed in terms of a narrow idea of its content (Oi!, anarcho-Crass) would be to betray its spirit (change).
with the apparent fading-away or self-annulment of rockism-as-a-mode-of-discourse (at least in certain quarters, i suspect it's alive and kicking in many places) it seems like there's a bunch of other ways of talking-about-music that've stepped forward to take rockism's place (rockism of course not being a coherent, tidy scheme of value but a set of overlapping ideas: art-into-pop, rock-as-revolution, rock-as-folk, "fictions of community and resistance" (that's me, on post-rock, in 94, i have no idea where my head was at then!), anti-capitalist-energies-expressed-through-the-market, etc etc).

MODE 1: high seriousness. Treating music (certain musics: out-rock, post-rock, avant-jazz, avant-classical, experimental electronics -- Wire stuff, basically) as if it simply were high culture, outside the market (ignoring of course its own niche market economy etc), and simply taking for granted that it's superior to pop. You might say, well this is just rockism innit, but no actually, because a crucial part of rockism is populism (not pop-ism). True the approach is auteurist, but generally it lacks a social or political aspect, and the tone is quite mandarin. So I prefer to see it as straightforward substitution thing, various avant-gardes treated simply as if they were classical music. And the emergence of this mode is mirrored on the economic level by the alliance of this experimental fringe with various high art institutions (Queen Elizabeth Hall, etc), subsidies, the museum and gallery circuit etc.

MODE 2: pop as marketplace. pop as an entertainment product sold by stars-as-brands. You get a curious auteurist version of this in magazines like the Source (interviews entirely about career moves, the artist's rise through struggle and breaks and making contact with tycoon-benefactors etc etc; rap as the franchising of personality) but mostly it's consumer-oriented -- "I like this".

MODE 3: the quiet enthusiasm of the genre expert. I like this mode as far as it goes but what’s absent for me is the arguing-the-case-for element, ie, cos speaking to a readership of likeminds, the importance etc of the genre is taken for granted, one instinctively knows what is righteous, -- and so the proselytizing or justificatory element is absent. it stays relentlessly sub-meta and all great music writing must occasionally ascend to the meta level and the big questions of "what is all this worth? why does it matter?"
yeah the funny thing is that in a weird way, whatever you think of their music taste or bigotries, the surviving pockets of rockist values are in some ways also surviving pockets of recalcitrance in the face of market-oriented thinking. rockism is about loyalism, to a genre or whatever. so for instance the extreme form of rockism is blind loyalty to a single band as the Greatest Thing Ever -- which is directly opposed to consumerism, because once you've got the records, all you do is listen to them over and over. obviously the industry tries to exploit even this with double disc cd repackaging of beloved albums with a bonus disc of 'desirable' alternate versions etc, box sets, live dvds, etc but its real interest lies in encouraging a kind of genre-crossing, promiscuous consumerism that keeps moving on and on.

i was going to argue at one point on my blog that rockism had generated 1000s of bands etc but anti-rockism was utterly sterile. in fact that's not true and
the Pet Shop Boys are totally a product of that discourse that started with NME and Paul Morley. in fact neil tennant was a music journalist at Smash Hits!

it's difficult making this point of Neo-rockism though because people think you're talking about the Hold Steady. to me anyone from grime to Kanye West to Isolee is rockist in the sense of thinking there's something Art-like and therefore (however you define it) "improving" in their music -- improving might just mean a commitment to new sounds and new sensations

but then it's a mistake to think that rockism itself is only about rock. to me genres as various as hip hop, gabba, grime, freak-folk -- they're all rockist, in so far as they're about a certain set of values (undergroundism, notions of the 'real' and authenticity, ideas of rawness of sound etc).

At a more philosophical level, rockism encompasses a range of attitudes (it's not really an ideology but a field of discourse, with disagreements within it -- Greil marcu's rockism is different from Lester Bangs is different from... ) that include Auteurism, ideas of change-through-music and change-in-music (so that includes all celebrations of music in terms of progression, whether it's an artist like the Beatles changing from album to album, or prog rock, or drum'n'bass with all its talk of the future); ideas of danger and trangression, of subversion and rebellion, etc.

A lot of the anti-rockism advocates seem to regard any reference to concepts like these as rockist. So for instance to talk about the Neptunes or Timbaland as exceptional producers is rockist because it's treating them as privileged auteurs.

Certain judgement position are forbidden (like the fake/authentic distinction); indeed at the extreme judgement itself seems to be looked down on as something "we don't do".

One definition of Rockism as criticism i came up with is any approach that takes into account Context, Content, Intent, Integrity, and Form (meaning in this case, formal Innovation). as far as i'm concerned, if you take ALL these off the table there's not that much to discuss really. Integrity is an optional extra for me as obviously a lot of scoundrels make good music, but i mean more a kind of aesthetic integrity i think.

your analogy with anti-rockism and deconstruction is bang on the money -- there's certain parallels (derrida et al retreating from the disappointment of 1968 into this self-mutiliating philosophy that doesn't create anything new in terms of values but just picks apart the enlightenment) and the anti-rockists retreating from the failure of rock to change the world (first in 68/69, and then again in 1978 with the failure of punk) and coming up with a kind of anti-criticism that seeks to prove it was a mistake to ever consider that pop was art in the first place, or that rock had transformative power. For me while it's useful to correct some of the biases and bigotries of "rockist" thinking (e.g. that people have to write their own songs for the songs to be meaningful; that songs have to be meaningful to be powerful or interesting), it's ultimately a really sterile stance.
generally, I've tended to be skeptical of the musicological approach when applied to popular music… perhaps because there's often a bias within the discipline towards complexity …. An idea that more complicated = better… People doing this often seem to be doing to prove the magisterial brilliance and profundity of Rush or Zappa or Spock's Beard or something… somehow I imagine these kind of tools and techniques being used to "prove" that Buzzocks's "What Do I Get" or Ray Keith's "Terrorist" are "boring" pieces of music…

another doubt is the fact there's an imputing of intrinsic properties to the music that will have infallible effects on all listeners… this downplays the ability of listeners to over-ride these properties of the music owing to other, socially-driven factors (their general antipathy to a style of music, say, or a visceral response to its more surface qualities: noisiness, angriness, etc). I always think of Susan McLary's famous book on pioneering musicological analysis, a great read, but often there's a moment like where she's breaking down what's going on with harmonic language and the musical structure etc in Madonna's "Live To Tell", talking about how the structure of it creates apprehension and tension -- all stuff that completely bypassed this listener! Similar analysis is done of a Whitesnake song ("Here I Go Again", I think) with a section of it deemed to signify a dizzying plunge into the threatening abyss of female sexuality or something -- could have fooled me!

A final point worth making is that a musicological approach is an extreme form of formalism/genreology/auteurism, it is formalism with actual skills and technical jargon to back it up. but it it has little to say about affect or vibe, nothing to say about scene-oriented aspects of the culture, about the wider resonances.

i wouldn't want to go all the way towards a consumer-makes-meaning, social construction of taste/ affect / meaning /reception is all-powerful type argument.... i believe music has intrinsic powers, but they seem to affect certain classes and groups of people more powerfully than others, and there must be a social dimension to why that it is, and why other people respond with aversion or indifference.... some are ripe to be mobilised by the music's intrinsic powers, some not...
oh yeah totally, in the process of initially reaching an opinion, that can naturally be directed by reading/hearing others views ... there are certain bands that were totally opened up for me by pieces of criticism, where the first reaction or impression had been indifference (eg. the smiths which on superficial first listen seemed a little plain-sounding, were made extremely interesting-seeming by a piece by one of my writer-heroes, and eventually they became my favorite band of the 80s and possibly ever).

but i'm not talking about an initial impression or reaction, i'm talking about a firm opinion, and arguments that ensue based around that opinion, once it's been formed

and i can't think of any argument in my experience (at least one based on taste or passion or attachment) where one side has convinced the other out of the initial opinion

i mean maybe i just know some stubborn people but...

see i don't think that is really the goal of such an argument, although--by mutual consent or understanding--the debate will of course take the form of a reasoned argument, it will be conducted as if one of us just so happened to muster an overwhelmingly convincing and unassailable argument then the other would graciously concede and surrender the value judgement.

as if!

there's nothing that i could say that would make you relinquish your burning ardour for Paris Hilton's whatever-it's-called, and vice versa

it's much more like a legal case in that sense, except that whereas the defence and prosecution are arbitrarily assigned the case they have to argue, our "cases" are based on passion/allegiance

so what is the goal of the argument if not to convince the other?

convince oneself, perhaps...

or simply sharpen one's ideas on the stone of the other's argument?

a test of wills
the conjuring up of "authenticity" as a bogey-man or Aunt Sally or something to be distrusted or as something that immediately makes you reactionary -- that seems a rather played-out manoevure at this point. 'wow look we're all free to be inauthentic' is a well-established, almost middlebrow stance -- as much as it's still important to poke holes in reified notions of the 'authentic', it's ore temping at this juncture to mount a devil's advocate case for authenticity -- i'm not denying the fact that all authenticities are constructed, are figments, but i'm proposing a reckoning with the passion to be authentic, the desire behind constructions of the authentic. (e..g samba in Brazil, which was constructed as the national music of Brazil and embodiment of the ideology of mixing and hybridity that became dominant in the 1930s). this is just one example of the way discourse(s) of authenticity actually might have started for very good reasons, noble reasons. the discourse of the 'real' in hip hop this decade has a very interesting energy behind it, it matters, the stakes are high -- which again makes problematisations or deconstructions of it seem rather academic

i believe to a certain extent one is obliged to respond to the intent and passion behind the concept or the discursive trope of real-ness/the authentic

that said my own investments in dance music have very little to do with the idea of the authenticity, of certain kinds of dance music being more "true" than others.. the assessments and allegiances are based in responses to levels of energy and intensity -- with dance music it's all about the energy-field you want to step into ... what creates the best vibe
WE OPPOSE ALL ROCK'N'ROLL: further jottings on Vampire Weekend

thoughtbomb #1
As a raw thought "more interesting rhythms than any hip-hop record I've heard these past several years" popped into my head unbidden months before writing about them for Pazz and Jop: my bodymind simply couldn't help registering the fact that the rhythmic delight rippling across this music, its frisking swerves and twisting dips, were something I hadn't felt from hip hop in a long while. I just trust what my senses tell me but such an unformed proto-idea--midway between sensation and perception--needs to be dressed up for public viewing. I chose my words carefully (like I always do). "Interesting" is a pointed choice: I'm definitely not claiming the beats on this records are body-shocking or block-rocking, obviously none of these here Vampire joints would cut it as a club banger (what a thought!). Hip hop still commands that particularly terrain, albeit these days in only the most pedestrian, gets-the-job-done kind of way. What I am saying is first of all comparative/contextual: the use of rhythm on Vampire Weekend is, in the context of--let's say the last ten years of-- indie-rock, more unusual and ear-catching than the use of rhythm on any recent rap track (that I've heard) has been in the context of the last ten years of hip hop. But I further contend that in absolute terms there's more rhythmic panache and liveliness exhibited on the best Vampire Weekend songs than any hip hop record that's crossed my ears path these past two or three years. Now it's quite possible I've missed some mind-bending groove lurking out there in some corner of the hip hop world. I invite you to point it out to me. I'd be really surprised if you could, though. The reason is that in hip hop the most radical beats rise to the top, it's the most rhythmically audacious stuff that conquers the streets and thereby reaches the commercial heights (whereas the backpacker underground always lags behind with oldfashioned grooves). And I simply cannot remember the last time I heard one of those makes-your-head-swivel-round jawdropper beats that were an almost weekly occurrence in the early years of the Noughties. What you get now is the groove equivalent of comfort food: rote fulfillment of basic shake-that-ass requirements, dependable but plodding. Another indication I'm on-base here is the fact the "beat-raptured nerd" discourse that once obsessively and auteuristically tracked all this post-Timbaland groove-warpage... it's pretty much dried up, hasn't it? Nobody really talks about the beats in rap anymore, because what would you say? And actually if you look at the P&J ballots of people who are generally considered to be authorities and champions of rap, what you notice is a rather striking absence of…. any hip hop at all.

I'm not the only one to remark on VW's rhythmic facility, incidentally…

Like their melodic gift it's one of the unavoidable things about them if you're someone with any real feel for … music! It's rhythm in a wider sense than what the rhythm section is up to, able and agile as those guys are,… it encompasses everything going on in the music, from the darting keyboards and flickering guitars, to what the vocals are doing and the way the lyrics are phrased. It's mischievous and alive. Moroever I'd say that this rhythm flair appeals not just to the body but to the mind (rhythm and structure as something to contemplate, the pure rapture of form) and to the heart too. Which seem strange except that's what the Smiths (another rhythmically under-rated group) did too. Of course the kind of body and gait--sprightly, springheeled, almost fruity--that this rhythm creates, it may well not be a body and a gait that you care to step inside and inhabit.

Thoughtbomb #2
"Just an indie group": VW expose the absolute poverty of the kneejerk anti-indie stance, reveal it as barely more than inverted racism (like those people who think it a very "sharp" stance in 2008 to have a end of year faves list consisting entirely of rap and R&B… a gesture that might have had some bite in 2001, maybe..). Because here is a group that departs from every standard-issue hallmark/reason-to-reject that characterizes indie rock as pejoratively understood, from the range of rhythms they draw on (reggaeton, turned inside out, on one tune ), to the non-Western influences on the sound, to (conversely) the equally unlikely Old European influences, to the lyrical concerns (the lifestyles of the upper class have almost never been a subject for indie bands, even approached from the ambivalent perspective of VW )… NONE of this is bog-standard indie territory. Even the vocal style is as close to Rufus Wainright as to Edwyn Collins. If this band is "indie" then the term has just been made a nonsense of. Indeed it's quite probable that at this point the term no longer has any real purchase on the present musical landscape; its content is entirely social (internecine war among the middle class!) and worse, the antagonisms it represented have long faded away. In all honesty, people who continue to use it as negative term (and jump shrieking on a chair every time their ears spy a guitar) remind me a lot of ex-colonial returned-to-Blighty brigadier types, pickled on whisky 'n' sodas and fulminating about "darkies" and "the bally bosche".


Initially I wanted to create an argument that was a complete inversion of M.I.A, a different spin on those trigger issues of appropriation and authenticity. However on close inspection it seemed like VW and M.I.A. had as much in common as they had not-in-common, starting from the simple fact that both conceived of what they do as a "project". I guess where there is a complete inversion, a sort of concave/convex relationship, is the fact that with M.I.A. there seems to be a sort of a priori assumption of/conferral of "good guy/we're on your side" (feisty female goes-for- it; person of colour; subaltern credentials, etc) whereas with Vampire Weekend there is conversely an a priori assumption of "bad guys/not one of us" (Ivy League-North East-privilege-ruling class/anal-retentive white boys, etc). These allegiances decided, or heavily slanted, people's responses even before the music is actually assessed.


"we oppose all rock'n'roll": suddenly it struck me that VW were a band that Vic Godard would have approved of. Specifically the fact that in their initial joint conceptualization session/mission statement, they decreed that no band member would ever appear onstage or in a photograph wearing a T-shirt! But I also remembered Godard's bookishness and vision of rock as a kind of higher education system; of how he talked about wising "I'd lived fifty years ago or something. I wish I had been born in the aristocracy. I wish I had been born rich." Of how he was into playing golf and even spoke of admiring the Royal Family for doing a great job for the country.

I can also hear parallels with a certain kind of New Pop: Haircut 100's slicked-up, hand-percussiony take on Postcard/Orange Juice, Bow Wow Wow's Mahotollah Queens meets Monochrome Set Afro-bop. On which subject it's interesting how they've gone through indie's ultra-whiteness (its severance from the blues, from heaviness, but also from funk and soul) and right out the other side to where the spangled/jangled guitar pop style joins up with a different kind of blackness, a non-American blackness: the music of Africa in all its buoyancy and rhapsody.


The "coolest" response to anything of course is the what's-the-fuss-here, not-bothered-either-way option. That's where I dwelled, re Vampire Weekend, to the point of not even hearing the album until the summer. A young friend's virulent dislike finally sparked my intrigue and sent me off to eMusic. Just one "spin" and I was ambushed. "Fresh" and "clean" are words easy to use in any discussion of Vampire Weekend, but it was actually me that felt refreshed, cleansed. Bliss comes at you from unexpected angles and adjectives like "blithe" and "sprightly" that would once have sent me lunging for the toilet bowl were here transfigured, redeemed, exultant. The sensation reminded me of hearing The Smiths's "Charming Man" the first time, and that sensation isn't related to any aesthetic particulars so much as the abstract wonderburst of being confronted by a singularly original voice (the band-voice, not the vocalist, good as he is). As so often (and as with The Smiths) this hit-by-lightning sensation of Newness has nothing to do what's conventionally regarded as "innovative" (emphasis on "convention"--since nearly all noise/drone/improv/abstract-electronic operators today are slogging away in settled, close-to-stagnant traditions, making modest incremental contributions, challenging or surprising absolutely nobody.) It's quite a trick to make music that's instantly melodically appealing but doesn't wear out with repetition, come to seem cheap.


As anti-VW invective goes I enjoyed mightily Julienne Shepherd's principled opposition to the band, fiery and categorical in the grand rock critical tradition, brooking no qualification. I have no idea what her background is, educationally or otherwise, but I do wonder more generally if a lot of the squeamishness about VW comes from the fact that the higher echelons of US rock criticism is positively crawling with Ivy League graduates. In other words, one way or another, a lot of the band's haters are actually pretty familiar with the world VW lyrics describe. (The distaste must be given a further edge of sourness from the fact that being a rock critic these days means having chosen a path that promises disembourgeoisment; it's proved to be a poor career choice compared with others that people in your year in college might have chosen after graduation). But nobody suggests you shouldn't read Evelyn Waugh or F. Scott Fitzgerald because their books are about posh people, the wealthy self-made and the inheritors of fortunes. It's a stratum of society that's as interesting as any other, a rich terrain for the ambivalent observer (which is what I think Koenig is). And that zone where old money and new money meet and mingle has after all long been part of the fantasy life of rock and pop. But it's only okay when rappers and Roxy do it?


I've talked before about my deficiencies as a lyric interpreter, but VW present special challenges--meaning tantalizes and glistens but so often skips gaily out of reach. Half not really wanting to know but unable to resist the urge for understanding, I visited one of those "lyrics debated" message boards to see what people made of "The Kids Don't Stand A Chance". The interpretations were bizarre, but one of the most common takes seem to be that it's about corporate recruiters coming to colleges and luring the soon-to-be-graduates into conventional high-flying career paths. Whether it's true or not, the perception is interesting in itself. I wonder if this makes it a sister-song to Animal Collective's "You Don't Have to Go To College".

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

listen with prejudice

Returning to the idea of "the cop in your head": I'd forgotten, until Carl mentioned it, that this was a Sixties concept --killing the policemen in your head,

Many at that time, in a fatal slippage, went one step further on from simply deposing the Super Ego… and proposed eliminating the ego too (wasn't that one of Charlie Manson's little mantras, "kill the ego"?). To be a "head" in those days was paradoxically to be one whose head had abdicated and let the body take over… not so much "free your mind and your ass will follow" but free yourself of your mind...

I think you see a kind of parody version of this would-be utopian trajectory in the progression we've seen in a certain critical milieu from overthrowing the aesthetic superego (no more guilty pleasures!) to the goal of self-erasure. Here identity itself is an obstacle to limitless enjoyment. Hence the oblatory tic you sometimes observe of people apologizing for their deaf spots, their limitations as listeners. Yet amidst this quasi-utopian tabula rasa, the Big Other somehow reconstitutes itself; it's Bourdieu in reverse; somehow one's uncontrollable revulsion, or simple indifference, to--let's pick an example out of thin air--the recordings of Celine Dion, is an insult to entire populations one was barely aware of (Quebecois proletarians).

But even back in the Sixties there was already a critique of the "kill the cop/topple the super-ego" party line, in the form of Herbert Marcuse's concept of "repressive desublimation"… Even though he was lumped in with the "sex radicals" of that era (the post-Reichian equation of libido as an intrinsically anti-fascist force), Marcuse twigged that removing the shackles on desire was not only compatible with capitalism but something that could be harnessed.

To see the truth of what Marcuse was talking about with "repressive desublimation", you only have to turn on the TV.

MTV is particularly interesting because at a certain point it's almost as though pop music wasn't vulgar and debasing enough for it anymore, it had to make the move into around-the-clock reality-porn and its ever more grotesque contest shows, gladiatorial spectacles of exposed emotion … the same ingredients that pop works up into art or entertainment--aggression, vanity, conflict, jealousy, lust, domination--but presented in raw form.

But then the same could be said of anything that's ever been called "the new rock'n'roll" -- comedy (just look at the Brand/Ross debacle), video games… they are all forms of id-unleashing. All pornographies.

Really, Herbert's term should have been "regressive desublimation" not "repressive desublimation".

Without going quite as far as Carmody, it does seem clear that the idea that rock/pop's traditional province (desire/hedonism/unrestraint/informality/Robert Pattinson's notion of rock as the triumph of vulgarity) is somehow intrinsically allied to the Left is no longer tenable… You don't have to reel off a list of right-wing rockers to prove that. You just have to look at whether mass hedonism has changed the fundamental organization of society in terms of production, the class system, the distribution of power and opportunity. Quite the opposite. It's not even made anyone happier.

In a way the old Left's puritanical streak -- it suspicion of America as font of consumer capitalism, its confusion about whether pop culture, desire, etc, was on the side of the angels--this was rooted in good sense, in sound instincts about the home economics of libido.

These notions and polarities seem oddly familiar and I realized that's because Stubbs and I played around with them in a Melody Maker thinkpiece called Indecency in 1986, in which "rock" was deemed dull and worthy, studious/stadium-ous and historically/politically conscientious ("decent") and pop was thrill-powered and heedless and barbarian.

From that we further posited pop as intrinsically wanton and socially destructive, wasteful, profoundly anti-ecological… "Pop or a better world" is how we posed the dilemma, but the difference then was that it still felt possible, intellectually, to side with the anarcho spirit of pop as disruptive of all things controlling.

(Perhaps I'm older now, have nonselfish reasons --two of them, sleeping twenty feet from me-- to want a better world, whereas at 23 it's easy to play-act the nihilist)

Some of the slogans of the Sixties now take on a different light… "take your desires for reality"… that's what the neo-cons did, famously scorning "the reality-based community" i.e. the responsible media, concerned liberals etc. They wanted a war in Iraq, that was their desire and it over-rode all obstacles (truth, good sense, realpolitik)

Or how about "Be here now, tomorrow never knows". The credit boom was the financial equivalent of "overthrow the super-ego". Bat (a Marxist who once worked as a financial journalist) explained it to me in terms of Capital needing wages to stay down but consumption to keep expanding. Solution: leash the unions and their capacity for collective bargaining over wages, but make credit really cheap. Encourage people to live beyond their means. Stoke the furnace of consumer desire and don't worry about the day of reckoning.

What I wonder is, if there is such a thing as "repressive" or as I'd rather put it "regressive desublimation"… does it logically follow there can be such a thing as progressive resublimation?

Strictly speaking, I'd say not -- sublimation can't be undertaken as a conscious decision or procedure. It's something instilled.

Nonethless, I think we are entering a phase of history where the idea of the symbolic restoration of the Super Ego seems relevant. That's what Obama represents*. Rectitude. Regulation. Words that mean something, are firmly affixed to referents. The idea that somebody is in charge. (Really with the last lot you felt simultaneously like the lunatics had taken over the asylum and that nobody actually had their hand on the steering wheel). Sanity, steadiness, caution, stability, stolidity. The Wise Father.

If this current of -- genuinely conservative and conservationist--sentiment continues to develop, maybe in our lifetime we'll see a World Government.

* Whereas Sarah Palin, his true opponent, was pure id. Much, much more rock'n'roll
(image, raw animal magnetism, grotesque sexual charisma (Paglia the pagan loves her), all about gesture and vanity and bling; inarticulate and non-cerebral like rock'n'roll should be, driven by aggression and will to power, American through and through, the perfect fusion of politics and reality-TV).
Words and Music, it's not really a book with an argument, it's a work of poetry - like most of his stuff really, you just fall in with the flow of the language... perhaps the nub of my Bloomian agon with Morley is that he does that so magically while i operate on the "lower" level of pugnacious argument, slugging it out point by point, making a case...

i do think there's a vein of technophilia and neophilia running through Words and Music that is distinctly woolly-minded, he refers to "machines" a lot but never really unpacks what he means by that. the book carries you along with its poetry but falls apart i think in the final chapter--the one after the overload of lists--it just doesn't read like Morley at all, it reads like something you'd find in Mondo 2000 in the early nineties, or Wired -- this hymn to the utopian promise of technology.

and throughout, the whole vision of a pop paradise, the City of Light, he keeps conjuring, to me it brings to mind a shopping mall or megastore... or maybe the interior of an iPod

a lot of is based around this plastic versus wood opposition (e.g. "there was absolutely nothing wooden about Kraftwerk" or words to that effect), which is essentially cooked versus raw, and that didn't strike me as particularly original, indeed when Stubbs and I did our anti-soul manifesto in Melody Maker, All Souled Out, we used 'plastic' as a positivized term, and i'm sure you could trace the plastic = good thing back in some form to Nik Cohn's pulp Superpop vision

generally in Morley's vision there's no place for a figure like Dizzee Rascal.... i suppose my Bloomian Sumo-wrestler counter-move would be to point out the absence of a political dimension, you could scan the entire corpus and there is not a single indication of what his political sympathies are... i was really surprised when reading Nothing that at the end -- and interestingly this only appears through the mouth of his sister (this section where he interviews his mother and sisters about their father and the suicide) and it slips out that he votes or voted Labour which annoyed his Tory dad...

it's odd that in a book about futuristic music, black music appears so little -- he acknowledges Destiny's Child and Missy Elliott and has some weird obsession with Dr Dre but apart from that hip hop hardly figures.... dub barely does... nor techno or house... dancehall, forget it... in all the lists at the end there's a slightly better rate of appearance of black music but there's this weird erasure of a bunch of black British music that really ought to be in there -- jungle, drum'n'bass, garage, 2step. it's odd -- too "real" perhaps?

i think it would be more interesting if he'd made it about Missy Elliott's 'Get UR Freak on' and tried to find a way of apotheosing her w/o the obvious feminist and racial angles (which would generate the kind of discourse Morley would find unattractive, i suppose, as an aesthete). whereas Kylie is too easy a blank canvas and the lines to draw are easier -- "can't get you out of my head" to "blue monday" to kraftwerk to the sixties NY minimalists, Lucier etc

i did really enjoy reading the book -- well you can hardly fail to -- and was chuffed when he wrote about the blogs and gave me a mention (albeit with the exquisitely subtle barb of "politely" as modifier: yes that's me isn't it, never rude about anyone, don't like to rock the boat) -- but at a certain point i did feel "no, this doesn't describe the full picture of pop, let alone..."... "no, it doesn't describe a pop world i'd want to live in..."
the thing wrong with this:

"For purposes of this discussion, rockism is an approach to music that uses the values of one genre as an unquestioned set of rules and then judges other music by those values."

is that there is no consensus in rock discourse about what rock is/when it's good/what it's for, in fact it's a field of dissension... Lester Bangs-ism is different from Greil Marcus-ism is different from Steven Wells-ism is different from Chris Bohn-ism .... you can perhaps identify certain tendencies or core underlying biases and preoccupations, but i'm not even sure about that though.... at any rate the dissensus-zone is so dense with claims and theories (many derived and adapted from high art, or political, or literary, discourses) that it's perfectly likely that some of them would have applicability outside their "field" (since they were taken out of their original field in the first place). Or even beyond that might simply produce interesting results. So e.g. my rockist take on techno (and it's only one kind of rockism amongst many rockisms-- Bangsian i suppose) produced more interesting results -- or at least for me, more enjoyable results -- than if i'd dutifully taught myself to like techno in the proper pious manner, on "its own terms" (if such terms even exist, they're endlessly arguable aren't they? or they should be)
i've been gathering martin carthy stuff but i must say, while his
guitar playing is great, i don't really like his voice -- generally vastly
prefer the female brit folk singers to the male, for some reason that nasal
style of male folk is quite dreary, makes me think of people whittling wood
and wearing chunky sweaters
you've always loved music for the personalities and backstories involved and the mystique of charisma, as much as for pure sonix, right? i can't understand people who aren't interested in all that (and the social/political/historical etc). it's not like taking those things in account is a depletion, it's an enrichment surely. i also can't understand people who aren't affected by the intent or integrity that something's made from. it matters to me if something's done cynically. even if i still loved the record, there'd be this twinge. i saw an Abba documentary the other day and it was really moving, you could see the love and dedication and fanaticism they had for making those records. they made heaps of money but they weren't mercenary (whereas Pete Waterman, although he was in the doc making worshipful comments about Abba, i'm not sure of). i think the same of the atmosphere surrounding the making of Off The Wall or Triumph, you just imagine quincy jones, MJ and rod temperton being in this totally visionary mindset, pursuing perfection way above and beyond making the records commercial or radio-ready. that's why i say the rockist value scheme can account for when pop is great.
... i'm not sure how i knew it was [him], just sort of smelled him, maybe it was just the
feel of the alter ego name and the language he uses. which incidentally
disproves mark kpunk's theories about the impersonality of text-based
communications, the voice manages to creep in, despite the nature of the
medium. it's like the fingerprint of someone's mind. in fact your blog was
all about that, voice, wasn't it. i wanna do some massive pro-personhood
post dealing with all this, the importance of charisma, grain of the voice,
intonation, voice as "language lined with flesh" as barthes had it. it's
like with MC-based music, it's not really understandable or enjoyable
except in terms of the voice, character, idioysyncracy, the rhythm of
someone's thought.

once again bloggers = MCs.

although i suppose that said, the word "character" is ambiguous, meaning
both a role you theatrically play and your truest deepest authentic self.
persona versus personality. hmmm...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

more on Ballard

on the term "Ballardian"

It has become something of a cliché - and that's perhaps the inevitable result of having an impact and becoming famous, that your ideas get simplified, reduced to a caption. So Ballardian equals "picturesque post-industrial decay", "kinky technophilia"/"pervy obsessions with celebrities". When the Diana & Dodi crash happened, apparently people in TV newsrooms were like, let's get Ballard on the phone.

His work is complex and subtle, obviously, but it's strongest ideas and insights are capable of being turned into quite easy to grasp notions. Perhaps that's why he's had such an impact, through starkly delineating what we're all semi-aware of anyway, in terms of our culture, a bit like the Burroughs idea of seeing clearly what's on the end of your fork.

on Ballard as prescient and epoch-crystallising

He was dealing with the same kind of things as Marshall McLuhan and, later, as Jean Baudrillard, but with far greater clarity, sharper perceptions, and with more style and wit than either. All that obscenity of mass communication, simulation, implosion of the social, et al stuff in Baudrillard's books is being explored earlier, and more effectively, in Ballard's stories and novels.

I don't know if in his later years, J.G. wrote much about online culture, the web and the net, later on, but it seems to be a culmination of a lot of the stuff he was dealing with. The porn-ification of everything.

on Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes and the post-Empire novels not "contributing a jot to his enduring cult…"

That assessment isn't a critical one, really, it's not about the relative merits of the books, but about what his cult is based on. It's a bit like with rock stars. Morrissey put out a number of solo albums, ranging from dire to mediocre to excellent. But the basis of his cult will always be the Smiths, those are the records that defined his style and persona and the range of things he deals with and can do. Same with the Rolling Stones -- their last album A Bigger Bang was actually a really fine album but "Stones-iness" was defined by the Sixties albums plus Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. It's hard to imagine many people starting their Stones fandom with A Bigger Bang, just as it's hard to imagine many people becoming obsessed with Morrissey on account of You Are The Quarry. But of course fans and well-disposed critics will always be eager to report a return-to-form by the idol, and that was the kind of response that greeted You are The Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors, as it did certain Stones albums like Tattoo You and A Bigger Bang. I think the same thing applies to Ballard's later work.

I tend to feel that at a certain point artists arrive at who they are and hone it to perfection, and their future, regrettably, involves either betraying that or falling short, or making misguided excursions into genres or styles that just don't suit them. Or, more rarely, they'll rise to those heights again but they'll be very unlikely to surpass them. In music, I tend to be most interested in the early phase of an artist's arc, when they define the nature of their contribution and exhaust all the avenues available to them, and I'm not so much engaged by the later period (the rest of their lives!) when they refine and embellish their thang (and in some cases chafe against the cage of their own style). So e.g. I can't be bothered with Elvis Costello after Punch the Clock (and you could really cut off much earlier than that with Declan) and I haven't even listened to the Morrissey albums of this decade, just hearing the singles was enough to convince me there wasn't anything much new going on. It's a bit harsh for the artists, of course, who believe they have things to contribute, often feel they get better and better at what they do, and beyond that, understandably feel they ought to count on the loyalty of fans and well-disposed critics.

It's a little different with writers as I don't start with the first work as often as I do with musicians and their discographies, but generally I do still hold to this view with artists that "best and freshest work comes first". Or it's a "rising to a relatively early peak followed by long slow fade" view of artistic production. There's plenty of exceptions (Pulp is a good one, thirteen years of awkwardness before hitting their stride!) but it's surprising -- or not so surprising, perhaps -- how often things follow that model.

on Ballard's enduring legacy

The legacy is, I guess, having come up with a completely original -- yet utterly in tune with the Zeitgeist -- way of perceiving reality -- the merging of reality and unreality (the mediasphere/entertainment-scape). To the point where it comes to seem almost obvious, even a cliché, as discussed earlier. Becoming a cliché is in lots of ways a triumphant success for any artist. You see that a lot in music. I've argued that coming up with a cliché is the highest achievement in dance music, a sound or a beat or a riff-pattern that that everyone wants to copy.

I don't know about his legacy in terms of s.f. and literature -- someone put it to me that cyberpunk was obviously indebted to Ballard, which I can't really see stylistically that much. Cyberpunk is so American, isn't it; Ballard is so utterly British. Overall, Ballard might be someone who's easier to parody than to be positively influenced by. But obviously you can see his influence in the movies and, massively, in music.

Ballard and Britishness

Much of Ballard's fiction bears the imprint of the colonial years. The protagonists are invariably known by their surnames, as if they were pupils addressing one another at a British boarding school, and the names are always in the vein of Maitland, Forrester, Sanders, Ransome. The later, protagonist of The Drought, is particularly evocative of a lost upper class England, through its association with Arthur Ransome and his series of much-loved children's adventure stories, the Swallows and Amazons series. Sometimes the vibe is slightly more modern, suggestive of the technocratic/bureaucratic culture of the former Imperialists who stayed on the newly liberated countries of Africa or the Asian subcontinent, involved in the development of their economies. But there's still much the same ambience, a stiff upper lipped, whisky-and-soda, vaguely military.

That sort of archetypally British phlegmatic and pragmatic response to calamity (keep your head, roll up your sleeves, stick together) may be why s.f.'s catastrophe subgenre has been something of an English speciality, as handled by writers like John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalids) and John Christopher (The Death of Grass, A Wrinkle In the Skin).

See also Lord of the Rings by William Golding, which JG Ballard cited as an influence, and also argued that originally Golding had been going to write something much closer to s.f., with a nuclear war being the reason the plane crashes on the island.
Scouse House/Donk ... i must say the bits of it i've heard that aren't by Blackout Crew have been pretty horrid. In Liverpool, near FACT where I did the talk, and right next to the famous Probe Records was this dance store, a proper one with decks and white labels on the walls, but it was really eerily desolate, completely empty of customers, the records were all on sale -- minimal 12inches going ten for a pound, lucky bags of 12 inches sealed up 20 for a fiver, everything else was 50 percent off. Anyway there was a big section of Scouse/Donk on the wall and i listened to one called "Suck My Donk" and God but it was dire. There must be some other good tunes though apart from "Put a Donk On It" right?
Goth seems to be this freefloating set of genes (sonic and in terms of the look), it pops up all over -- in quite mainstream metal like Avenged Sevenfold who have a touch of the Alien Sex Fiends and Specimens (ie campy rocky horror end of goth) to AFI who named their fan club The Despair Faction and covered “Hanging Garden” by the Cure.... the black metal seem to owe a lot to things like cocteaus, dead can dance, the more atmospheric/ambient end of goth and industrial

on blissblog i said something about Xasthur sounding like Robin Guthrie jamming aimlessly with all his FX pedals on full

on the things that connects it all is whiteness i think -- industrial, goth, gabber, power noise, the post-Slayer kind of metal (when the blues roots have completely been eradicated) etc -- it is all music that has no relationship with black music at all. not intrinsically a bad thing except that then you do get your Nordic pagan sorts do their own highly dubious versions of all of these genres...

one of the things about "militant dysphoria" / misanthropy is that when it gets politically mobilised it can lend itself to the right wing as much as the left wing... check out this on "martial industrial" -- scary!

perhaps "blackness" in music is connected to vitalism, somehow
fifty fave tunes for an italian magazine

The Eyes -- "When the Night Falls"
The Beatles -- "Strawberry Fields Forever"
John's Children -- "A Midsummer Night's Scene"
We The People -- "You Burn Me Up and Down"
The Byrds -- "Everybody's Been Burned"
Pink Floyd -- "Paintbox"
The Doors - "The Soft Parade"
Love -- "You Set The Scene"
The Stooges - "Ann"
Scott Walker -- "Boy Child"
Miles Davis -- "Bitches Brew"
The Rolling Stones - "Moonlight Mile"
Roy Harper -- "The Same Old Rock"
Black Sabbath -- "Iron Man"
John Martyn -- "I'd Rather Be The Devil"
Roxy Music -- "If There Is Something"
Al Green -- "I'm Still In Love With You"
Can -- "Quantum Physics"
Kevin Ayers -- "Decadence"
Robert Wyatt -- "Sea Song"
Faust -- "Jennifer"
Neu! -- "Seeland"
Max Romeo -- "War Inna Babylon"
Television -- "Marquee Moon"
Sex Pistols -- "Bodies"
X Ray Spex -- "Let's Submerge"
Ian Dury -- "My Old Man"
Kraftwerk -- "Neon Lights"
The Slits -- "So Tough"
Public Image Ltd -- "No Birds Do Sing"
Gang of Four -- "At Home He Feels Like A Tourist"
Fleetwood Mac -- "Sara"
Michael Jackson -- "Rock With You'
Scritti Politti -- "PAs"
Talking Heads -- "Seen and Not Seen"
The Associates -- "Party Fears Two"
The Blue Orchids -- "Low Profile"
Meat Puppets -- "Two Rivers"
The Smiths -- "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"
Nitro Deluxe -- "This Brutal House"
Public Enemy -- "Public Enemy No. 1"
My Bloody Valentine -- "I Believe"
Orbital -- "Chime"
Joey Beltram -- "Energy Flash"
Aphex Twin -- "We Are the Music Makers"
Omni Trio -- "Renegade Snares (Foul Play Remix)"
New Horizons - - "Find the Path"
Daft Punk -- "Digital Love"
Jay-Z -- "The Takeover"
Dizzee Rascal -- "I Luv U"
funny thing happened actually -- i the funky house mixes on the big stereo in the living room and after about 20 minutes Kieran pipes up -- and bear in mind he never says anything about the music i play, seems to have virtually no interest in music -- "Dad, this isn't like the music you usually play" -- which made me chuckle, cos of course he's exposed to a really wide range of music (that he appears to never notice, certainly never remarks on) and yet he's sharp enough to know somehow that i'm playing something that "isn't the kind of thing Dad would be into". So i almost felt: there it is! from the horse's mouth! done and dusted! case closed! my own son can tell it's not my bag!

actually after chuckling i had to ask him what he thought about the music and he thought for 5 seconds and then said "it's okay". which is kind of how i feel about funky. about every tenth track there's a slightly rude bassline that starts to come through insistently and i perk up interest and get hopeful but then it's back to the soca/broken beat/reggaeton-like rhythm and that just doesn't do it for me.

i am still curious to hear it played out on a big system but then again i've been to enough clubs that i can kind of tell what a dance music's going to be like at massive volume -- and things like bassline --and at the start grime too -- i only ever heard at home and was crazy for -- i think it's just not for me, in the end.

now the wonky stuff though i do really like -- or rather i really like the wonky stuff that sounds like well produced and mellow-hash-stoned grime (Joker, he's totally like a cleaned-up terror danjah or davinche) OR (in zomby's case) it's really spaced-out and jelly-legged on Ambien and/or Robitussin dubstep -- so basically the wonky that is most Nuum-y i dig but the rest of it (hudson mohawke etc) sounds like 2nd rate dilla copyism or in flylo's case like dust bunnies of digital sound with the odd jazz chord coming through (nice enough i spose)
on Christopher Booker's The Neophiliacs: A Study of the Revolution in English life in the Fifties and Sixties

The Booker one is really interesting -- especially his view of Americanisation as malign, which he ties to the obvious well known forces (rock'n'roll) but also things i wouldn't have considered or even known about, e.g. the arrival of supermarkets, a new thing; or the liberalisation of gambling laws, with casinos opening in London for the first time; also the spy movie is a particular bug bear of his, the James Bond movies he credits as glamorising sex and violence in a new way! Although I love the Sixties and know quite a bit about them, I learned so much from reading this book, even with its very "anti" prism of looking at the decade. I think it's partly his odd methodology, which appears to have been to sit with piles of newspapers and work his way through the late 50s and Sixties year by year. It's lazy on one level, a chronicle, insufficiently analytic, but fascinating on another level --you get to know what the weather was like, how that affected the national mood. All kinds of little stories get included that a historian of the era operating later on might not include, like a reference to some kind of "power breakfast" that David Frost held with all kinds of cultural bigwigs and movers and shakers in attendance -- i'd never heard of this, no doubt a big deal at the time for a few weeks.

Another interesting tic is the way he often lists what school people went to, or university -- all part of his running theme of how the old social barriers were collapsing.

The overall theme is the idea of Sixties neophilia as a kind of collective national hysteria, a delusional mass mirage caused by media stimulation and faddishness that stoked its own appetite for newness leading to this spiralling upwards of demand that couldn't be satisifed, short of revolution, and could only crash and burn into bitterness and disillusionment -- history as a series of spasms of irrational exuberance ... which is quite convincing, especially looking at the market euphoria and crash of recent years, but also has this potent effect as you read, such that even a "Sixties fan" like myself finds the sense of it all being really quite insane is quite hard to shake off, you really start to see it through Booker's eyes. Of course his viewpoint is based on this totally Christian view of society as ideally being in a state of equilibrium, nothing should change, everyone knows their place and is humble and stoical and doesn't try to get above themselves or shake things up.

it is bizarre that Booker was so involved in the satire boom of the 60s but had this totally conservative worldview. and in the book he is quite critical of all those TV satire shows like That Was the Week That Was which is ... odd, and possibly hypocritical

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rockism versus Popism in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World:

"And yet," said Helmholtz when, having recovered breath enough to apologize, he had mollified the Savage into listening to his explanations, "I know quite well that one needs ridiculous, mad situations like that; one can't write really well about anything else. Why was that old fellow such a marvellous propaganda technician? Because he had so many insane, excruciating things to get excited about. You've got to be hurt and upset; otherwise you can't think of the really good, penetrating, X-rayish phrases....

[Said the Controller]"But that's the price we have to pay for stability. You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We've sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead."

[said the Savage] "But they don't mean anything."

"They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience."

"But they're … they're told by an idiot."

The Controller laughed. "You're not being very polite to your friend, Mr. Watson. One of our most distinguished Emotional Engineers …"

"But he's right," said Helmholtz gloomily. "Because it is idiotic. Writing when there's nothing to say …"

"Precisely. But that requires the most enormous ingenuity. You're making flivvers out of the absolute minimum of steel–-works of art out of practically nothing but pure sensation."

The Savage shook his head. "It all seems to me quite horrible."

"Of course it does. Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand."
cf K-punk's nihilation, Julie Burchill column from The Face, December 1980, contrasting "Rock's Rich Tapestry" versus her own tunnel visionary fixation on Punk, her fidelity to the Event of 1977:

"The Sex Pistols were about destroying the rock monolith; the Clash were about rescuing it…. [Punk was] not just another fashion, Peter York, because a fashion does not turn everything sour with its passing, a fashion does not destroy the hope of a huge money-drenched monolith… A fashion is a tranquiliser; Rotten was the biggest stimulant--Do Something!--this country has seen since Winston Churchill. After the Knowledge the Sex Pistols offered you, how can you ever forgive all these bands for being around?"
apollonian versus dionysian

it's true that Nietzche, to whom we owe this binary as a prism for looking at music and art (and we should concede it's one that most academics sniff at--although they're often the ones who also sniff at vitalism/Romanticism for reasons I've never wholly grasped -- you mean, you would rather be dead?) that his line in the Birth of Tragedy is that he greatest art fuses the Dionysian and the Apollonian, it's primal aka cthonic energy given shape and direction by the essentially pictorial

So music terms you might say that this occurs when recorded sound becomes something you can almost see

So even things in rock that tend to be seen as pure Dionysian like The Birthday Party (as per the incomparable reading/advocacy of Barney Hoskyns)if you listen to their records, the primal-ity occurs within music that is actually very arranged and at its height (the Bad Seed/Mutiny EPs)almost cinematic

Junkyward, the most Dionysian and edge-of-chaos is probably my least favourite for this very reason - oh it's great but I prefer Prayers On Fire

That group's great unacknowledged ancestor, The Doors, epitomize this even more -- Jim's preoccupations with Dionysiac are well-known and permeate the lyrics and interview statements -- but the music is Apollonian in its glistening, cinematic production and subtle details. And what could be less primal than Manzarek's arpeggios and the delicate soloing of Robbie Krieger?

Even Jim's singing is quite poised, Sinatra as much the blues wild men

Purely Dionysian music might be the most angular and fracturedly pagan passages in Beefheart. Or power electronics and industrial noise -- Merzbow. Or death metal and grindcore. A blinding amorphousness of traumatized sound, complete with S/M obsessions. The sonic/lyric equivalent perhaps of sparagmos in Dionysian rites, the rending of flesh

But if all great music has some blend of the Dionysian and the Apollonian, I'd have to say Vampire Weekend lean way way to the Apollonian.

They couldn't really be more thought-through and non-primal unless they were Momus (who has written about his loathing of faux-primal: PJ Harvey etc)

Lyrically and emotionally Vampire's domain is almost entirely the rhapsodic, which is the Apollonian register par excellence -- their genius is to have taken attributes like "blithe" and "sprightly" and "debonair", words that would normally have me lunging for the sick bucket, and transfigure them, redeem them.

i should really do a sketch towards or preliminary breakdown of the Appollonian current in pop music -- as I've realized that while I tend to ideologically slant towards the Dionysian, the other side actually figures quite strongly in my listening pleasure
the two things, anti-rockism and Pop-ism, are not the same. Pop-ism, to the extent, that is an -Ism (literally rockism turned inside out) could be said to actually go against the goals of anti-rockism, because the latter in its purest sense ought not to rest until all values and beliefs are in tatters, or at least held only provisionally

but various people in these arguments will use the anti-rockist critique to demolish all the rock values, while (switching to affirmative mode) celebrating Pop-ist values (shiny, bouncy, happy, etc) when stating their musical preferences e.g. one guy sez "Abba is greater than Velvet Underground", that's a credo, and credos are what anti-rockists are (supposedly) aiming to unravel

but they switch back and forth depending on which argument and who they want to defeat or deride

really the struggle ought to be between anti-ISM-ists and ISM-ists (rockists, nu-rockist, pop-ists, salsa-ists, rap-ists, junglists)
what's the german for 'knackered', 'shagged out', worn to a ghost of myself?

really was like a rock tour -- soundchecks! guarantees or cuts of the door! groupies? well 'mind groupies' perhaps. hangovers lack of sleep and the endless endless autobahn

played a cd i made of motorik -- autobahn, neu, la dusseldorf -- and had to stare off into the far distance to hide my tears as the music rolled out while the landscape rolled by (beautiful and further enhanced by all the green-friendly eletrictiy generating windwills that germany has)

most germans under a certain age strangely don't give a toss for krautrock!
FAVE LYRICISTS a non-definitive list

Ian Dury

Jim Morrison (but perhaps only his delivery could get away with some of that stuff)

Robert Wyatt (king of bathos)

Kevin Ayers (recently got into into him in a big way ... "Decadence" and "Song from the Bottom of A Well", amazing words)

Bryan Ferry (a genius of delivery also)

Marc Bolan (best spangly pop nonsense)

Edwyn Collins

Morrissey (not after a certain cut-off point which is almost as early as The Queen Is Dead except there are moments in the later smiths stuff and one really great later solo song I Am Hated For Loving...

Roy Harper

Billy Mackenzie

Green (the early stuff .... the songs to remember just is too cute and smugly in love with himself .... some moments on Cupid... the last LP, very much)

Jarvis Cocker

Martin Bramah

Kristin Hersh -- I used to adore, have a feeling I might be embarrassed a bit by this stuff now but meant a lot at the time

Poly Styrene

John(y) Rotten/Lydon

Pete Shelley

Syd Barrett (actually there is also one song that was a B-side early on, by Rick Wright -- amazing lyrics, strange fragile emotion i can't think of any prototype for in rock. 'Paintbox" -- well worth checking out if you have any time for Floyd at all)

Captain Beefheart (not always but often)

Lawrence from Felt makes it just for "Primitive Painters" and some of the Denim lyrics.

David Byrne (not always but quite often -- "Mind", "Animals", side 2 of Remain)

Iggy Pop when he was in the Stooges

Stevie nicks, in a funny sort of way

Rapping is almost like another thing, it doesn't look good written down often, but Jay-Z, LL Cool J, DMX

SPECIAL CATEGORY: can't say i adore exactly but you can definitely see why they're so rated

Lou Reed, Ray Davies, David Bowie

OVER-RATED LYRICISTS an equally non-definitive list
(it's not that they're bad, they might even be "good", but just substantially over-rated)

Thom Yorke (just very few really memorable lines)

Manic Street Preachers (I warm to them as people but the lyrics are just fucking wretched aren't they! as is the singing come to think of it.)

Ian Curtis (it's very young, isn't it)

Elvis Costello (used to really like but it's rubbish, not rubbish but really masturbatory -- I kind of enjoy it on that level, as grotesque showing off, and also as sensuously sounded nonsense)

Nick Cave (used to like him a lot but now it seems so posey -- the over-written Birthday party stuff is still pretty great i think, what's worse is when he tries to do "simple" later in a sort of King James Bible/Faulkner kind of way, sort of language of parables and common folk, cod-"timeless").

Brian Eno (the story ones are good, the ones about people marooned on beaches or twilight states of vegetative indolence... but the other warm jets type stuff is just twee )

Kurt cobain (some great one or two liners and the odd verse but…)

Jesus and Mary Chain, bobby gilespie, spacemen 3, spiritualized -- it's like the cooler, slightly higher brow version of how metal bands write lyrics, like they've gone to the School of Rock

X, violent femmes, etc -- American wannabe poets

vic godard (good lines here and there, don't quite understand the fuss)

patti smith (has her moments, but…)

Joe Strummer (the clash lyrics pale next to the pistols)

Paul Weller (what is "Going Underground" actually saying then?)
One thing in the withered-by-entropy blogpost folder was to write something about Bourdieu inspired by that Celine Dion book and the idea of the subtitle 'a journey to the end of taste'. it's an interesting book but leaves you at the end in some doubt about how criticism is even possible if you can't say X is bad or trivial. Also wanted to see if i could probe the tremendous aversion people have to the idea of being a snob (c.f. the anti-wyatting people, always sticking up for the common man).... see if it's possible to refloat the ideas of "cool" and "hip"... they must have had a point, at some point, presumably? Did you ever see that book about Rock Snobs (there's a whole series of these books, a film snob's guide, a food snob's guide)? there was a mocking reference in there to people who make a big fuss about knowing the difference between Nick Cave and Nick Drake and i thought 'hmmm, well if you actually care about music that is a rather consequential difference, that is knowledge worth having'.