The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'rockism'
Apparently it's time for another Mod revival now, only this one hearkening back to the 1990s and the heady days of Britpop, with Oasis being a touchstone:
If you were looking for a reason, Oasis, forever riding on the fishtails of Paul Weller in the 90s, didn't help; the "Modfather" had ceased moving forward after the Style Council's ill-fated but entirely logical detour into house music. The Gallaghers were pictured on scooters, publicising their Earls Court gig, and mods now seem to equate Britpop (mainstream, nostalgic) with modernism (elitist, forward-facing). Mod bands who dress the part but favour Britpop over black music and its myriad mutations – and admittedly your writer has only anecdotal evidence, though it's the sort of thing mods argue over, a lot – are like a Jpeg of a photocopy of Liam's bumcheeks.Of course, strictly speaking, Paul Weller has little more claim to the holy grail of Mod authenticity than Noel Gallagher; despite being styled as “the Modfather”, he was a product of the 1979 Mod revival, the first backward-looking permutation of Mod which grew in the fertile soil following Punk's bonfire of 1970s vanities. Which, if one defines Mod as an explicitly reactionary phenomenon—a sort of mid-20th-century retrofuturism for those disaffected with the banality of the present day, and the present day always looks more banal than the tasteful photographs which survive from the past—would make Weller more authentically Mod than the paperback-reading Soho jazz intellectuals of 1960.
Then again, there is no way that something stylistically true to the tropes of the cutting edge circa the 1960s could not be reactionary. All the symbols of modernity tied to Mod—Italian tailoring and coffee, Black American music, the end of national service and rationing—are so ubiquitous that they have not been cutting-edge for a long time. Even more damning is the fate of Mod's technology of young freedom, the moped. Back then it was cheap, modern and cool; nowadays, a vintage Vespa or Lambretta would be a cantankerous inefficient relic, less an enabler of freedom and more a cross to bear for one's commitment to the Mod identity. And even worse, in the age of climate change, electric cars and cycling, wilfully riding around on something powered by a dirty 2-stroke engine would seem trollishly reactionary, like propaganda of the deed for global-warming denial and anti-green hippy-punching, a transportational equivalent of voting UKIP or complaining about foreign food. Or, indeed, about music that doesn't sound like back-to-basics rock, as those latter-day Mod icons the Gallaghers have been wont to do.
And so, just by standing still, yesterday's shining future becomes the ugly, reactionary past.
Punk Rock Is Bullshit, a robust broadside against the ideology and cultural phenomenon of punk and its legacy, both in terms of the lumpen aesthetic conservatism of punk rock as a musical genre and the narrow, self-defeating and ultimately nihilistic nature of punk's ideal of that great subcultural holy grail, Authenticity:
I have friends in their mid-40s who don't even have a savings account because "saving money" never seemed punk rock. I can't count the number of small businesses I've seen fail because worrying about inventory or actually charging customers didn't seem very punk rock. I was once chastised for playing at a private Microsoft function by a guy who worked there, so disappointed was he that I would sell out by playing a corporate gig.
I'm not talking about punk-rock music, because I don't believe there is such a thing. Punk music is just rock music, and the best punk is halfway decent rock. Punk rock was nothing new in 1976, and it's nothing new today. The Beatles' cover of "Roll Over Beethoven" is more punk than 90 percent of all punk rock; the Ramones were way more conservative—musically and socially—than Sha Na Na; the Sex Pistols were just dumb David Bowie; The Clash was a world-music band and the direct antecedent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If anything, the mantle of "punk rock" was an umbrella to describe a reactionary retro-ness, a feeling that music was best played with old-fashioned dumb energy, simple to the point of being simplistic—which not coincidentally corresponded to the period of the widest proliferation of recreational drug use in world history. It was music to validate being too wasted to think.
What started out as teenage piss-taking at baby-boomer onanism quickly morphed into a humorless doctrine characterized by acute self-consciousness and boring conformism. We internalized its laundry list of pseudo-values—anti-establishmentarianism, anti-capitalism, libertarianism, anti-intellectualism, and self-abnegation disguised as humility—until we became merciless captors of our own lightheartedness, prisoners in a Panopticon who no longer needed a fence. After almost four decades of gorging on punk fashion, music, art, and attitude, we still grant it permanent "outsider" status. Its tired tropes and worn-out clichés are still celebrated as edgy and anti-authoritarian, above reproach and beyond criticism. Punk-rock culture is the ultimate slow-acting venom, dulling our expectations by narrowing the aperture of "cool" and neutering our taste by sneering at new flavors until every expression of actual individualism is corralled and expunged in favor of group-think conformity.
The Quietus has an essay by Swedish writer Johan Kugelberg about the psychology and psychogeography of record fairs, and that peculiar combination of nostalgia that causes a subculture of men of a certain age and decrepitude (the “British psychedelic fatsos”, in his words) to seize on a moment from one of various golden ages of the rockist canon (typically the psychedelic moment of the late 1960s, though these days, often also punk rock and its immediate aftermath) and strip-mine it for its elusive magic:
When it comes to original copies of popular 60’s rock records, it seems as if the importance of the condition of the vinyl is contradicted by the physical well-being of the people who are safe-guarding their sixties memories through the collecting of artefacts. The records, posters and Beatles autographs are doubtlessly relics of the time of their lives, infused with such a potent voodoo of nostalgia that the psychotic amounts of emotional projection that is fixed on them is starting to be reflected by the stars themselves. One needs only to go to the grotesque Who documentary DVD Amazing Journey to hear a bunch of propped-up geriatric rockers inflict godlike self-importance upon the viewer, comparing their stage ass-wriggling and studio knob-twiddling with the people who actually did something actually important during the same era. That the sixties survivors believe steadfastly that what they did was for the better good of the world, instead the commodified expression of the spectacle that it was, is very sad. Autographs, posters, vinyl records in mint condition, saleable things infused with nostalgia, are not necessarily a bad thing. We drink a vodka drink and sing songs that remind us of our good times, but where the problem lies is where a period of time in your life is pin-pointed as the only one directly lived, and the remainder of your days being devoted to a representation of said times.
Our emotional projection on the artifacts that remain of our youth’s cartoon rebellion is supposed to necessitate our belief system of extended adolescent self-worth. The hedge-fund lower- upper- management aging hardcore kid spending upper four figures on Misfits test-pressings is battling the same laws of gravity that middle-aged women struggle against at the plastic surgeon or the cosmetics counter. This battle, masking as against grave and ageing process, and against gravity itself, constitutes one of the most necrotic abrasions into the body-fabric of our very existence: this perpetuated falsity that only certain years in our life-span really truly matter. That life in our youth is worth so much more as a commodity, that once youth passes us by, we are obliged to forfeit what we directly lived and recede into a representation of said years for the remainder of our actual duration. Our choice of appearance, our choice of the most meaningful artifacts we surround ourselves with, our choice of the record we place in double plastic bags in alphabetical order, all representing time we address as lived in qualitative actuality.
Q: Do we collect records awake or dreaming?
A: We collect them awake, but we hope that the records will make us dream.
Q: What does a record fair mean?
A: It means that alienated consumption isn’t that great.
Q: What happens at the record fair?
A: A lot of men venture further from their goal of having plentiful sex by looking for records that quite often sing about plentiful sex.
Q: Where does its powerful allure come from?
A: The physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living.
Correlation of the day: Rock music quality and US crude oil production, by year; more precisely, "rock music quality" consists of number of songs in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of greatest songs of all times:
There's more on the theory here.
Notice that after the birth of rock & roll in the 1950’s, the production of “great songs” peaked in the 60’s, remained strong in the 70’s, but drastically fell in the subsequent decades. It would seem that, like oil, the supply of great musical ideas is finite. By the end of the 70’s, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Motown greats, and other genre innovators quickly extracted the best their respective genres** had to offer, leaving little supply for future musicians.The graphs don't line up precisely, of course, though follow a similar arc.
The correlation may initially seem spooky, and invites outré speculation about the relationship between Rockism and Hubbert's Peak Oil theory and whether, as the Rockists would have us believe, we passed Peak Rock in the mid-1960s and have been in decline ever since. However, there is a more prosaic explanation; one which, in retrospect, seems obvious and somewhat boring.
The cultural phenomenon of rock'n'roll (at least in the classic sense that is venerated by the likes of Rolling Stone) was a product of the economic factors of its time, such the rise of the modern teenager, with disposable income and the freedom from harsh adult responsibility to identify along generational and subcultural lines, which were a result, in part, of an abundance of cheap oil. When one looks at it from this angle, one finds other correlations: the rise of plastics (made from oil), suburban sprawl, car culture (it's little surprise that the teenagers of the baby-boom era were about cars, from big ol' Cadillacs to hippie VWs, the way today's teens are about iPhones and social networks; witness the references to cars, and to making out in the backs of them in drive-in cinemas and such, in classic rock songs). Rock'n'roll in its classic sense was very much a product of the economic factors of cheap oil.
(via Boing Boing)
This book looks like it could be interesting:
They believe that in-authenticity is the defining nature of popular music and that notions of authenticity have been manufactured and marketed, as a matter of fact they argue that the more performers try to "keep it real" the more artificial they become. Everything from black-and-white minstrel shows, the "primitive" blues of the South, and The Monkees, to Neil Young's Tonight's The Night as their most "honest" record and Kurt Cobain's suicide note denouncing his own "fakery" are all grist for their mill.
Another case was Mississippi John Hurt who was in fact was not from the Mississippi delta, his name was amended by his record company for marketing purposes. Originally he played a mixture of Tin Pan Alley tunes and ragtime guitar with a white fiddle player but that was seen as problematic, the reverse of the situation where Jimmie Rodgers who was a white blues player was told to play folk and country because it was more saleable for a white man. For Southern whites, meanwhile, "authenticity" consisted of fiddle tunes, Appalachian ballads and square-dance songs. And so, after one recording session, John Hurt went back to his house in Avalon, Missouri. He stayed there until 1963, when two young white men found him and hauled him off to help lead the blues revival. That he didn't think of himself as a bluesman seemed not to matter.
The authors argue persuasively that the authenticity commonly ascribed to these forms of so-called roots music is, as often as not, artificial in that the distinctions drawn between these musical categories distort both the experience of the musicians who played the music and the history of the songs assigned to one category or another. They argue that considerations of authenticity distort the music and constrain the musicians in the world music genre (Ry Cooder, Paul Simon and the Buena Vista Social Club) and how authenticity plays out in genres that embrace artifice such as bubblegum pop (The Monkees), dance/electronica (Kraftwerk) and early rock (Elvis Presley).
Rock aristocrat Bryan Ferry, unapologetic Tory and fox-hunting advocate, has expressed his admiration for the Nazis' aesthetic achievements:
In an interview withWelt am Sonntag, the 61-year-old also acknowledged that he calls his studio in west London his "Führerbunker". "My God, the Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves," he said. "Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful."Of course, when cornered about this, Ferry denied having Nazi sympathies, making all the right noises about abhorring Nazism itself and repudiating the Nazis' genocidal actions and ideologies. No, to him, it was purely about the spiffy uniforms and spectacular parades:
The singer, who is also a model for Marks and Spencer, issued a statement yesterday in which he said he was "deeply upset" by the negative publicity his remarks had caused. It added: "I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective.Which would be alright, except for a few things; as No Rock'n'Roll Fun argues, you can't separate the aesthetics of Nazism from the "bad bits", without seeming monstrously callous at best and at worst to be protesting too much. And then there's his statement that he refers to his studio as the "Führerbunker" thing, which seems to give lie to his protests of having no Nazi sympathies whatsoever.
Though just looking at the aesthetics whose praises he sang so loudly: Albert Speer's cyclopean monumentalism, the Wagnerian bombast, the masses marching and chanting in unison, all subtlety subsumed beneath the single-minded show of raw, primal force. There isn't much good that can be said about these things; at best, they're crass and kitschy, and at worst, the mindset behind them is inseparable from that which would countenance projects such as the Third Reich. One does wonder about the mindset of someone with such aesthetic sensibilities.
And here is Momus' take on the whole matter, in which he reiterates his view that the aesthetics of rock are inherently fascist:
The fact that I sense some kind of fascism in rock music (especially live rock music) is absolutely central to my lifelong avoidance of the form. And rock stars don't seem to disagree with me, just disagree that it's bad, or matters. In 1975 a coked- and occulted-up David Bowie called Hitler "the first rock star -- he staged a whole country". Keith Moon liked to dress up as a Nazi, and Bobby Gillespie is fond of throwing Hitler salutes, probably more in tribute to Iggy than Adolf. What Ferry is saying now is a tame, drawing room version of the same thing.
I just watched Sticky Carpet, a recent (2006) documentary on the Melbourne music scene. It was quite interesting, interviewing musicians and scene figures about various aspects of it, such as the interplay between the mainstream and the alternative (most of them were very anti-mainstream), art and commercialism (the consensus was that when money becomes a consideration, the range of allowable creative decisions narrows severely), Melbourne's profusion of band venues and community radio stations, and even the theory that Melbourne's preeminence in the Australian music scene has to do with the cold winter days encouraging musicians to go indoors and rehearse.
Sticky Carpet's main flaw was its fairly heavy
I was surprised to find that the frontman of Eddy Current Suppression Ring wasn't wearing a blue singlet or sporting a rat's tail mullet. I sort of placed them as part of a Bodgie revival.
Another interesting thing that was said in the documentary: Tony Biggs (who presents the talk-radio segment on 3RRR) made the claim that the fact that 99% of commercial music consists of love songs might contribute to depression and mental illness, as such songs instill unreasonably optimistic expectations in listeners.
The Chinese government is considering a law banning lip-syncing in live performances, on the grounds that it is equivalent to selling fake goods. Who would have thought of China's government as a bastion of Rockism?
The Graun's Alexis Petridis looks at why the (ostensibly) mentally disturbed make such compelling rock stars:
According to Oliver James, a clinical psychologist and author of They Fuck You Up: How to Survive Family Life, the rise in numbers and popularity of emo acts may be linked to a rise in mental illness among their obvious target market of 18- to 24-year-olds (the age group most likely to be affected by psychological problems, according to studies published in Europe and Australia).
But if fans buy into it, that may be because rock music, unlike other art forms, is depicted as benefiting from being created by those with mental illness. Most critics would tell you Van Gogh's paintings are great despite, rather than because of, his psychiatric problems - but that's not true of the Beach Boys' Smile or Barrett's The Madcap Laughs or Nirvana's In Utero, for example, whose greatness is widely held to be inexorably entwined with their creators' mental problems.
It's the whole dionysiac genius thing; the myth, deeply ingrained in the Rockist mindset, that primal authenticity and true brilliance comes not from carefully honed technique, deep knowledge of the genre, cleverness or anything so square and totally un-rock-and-roll, but from abandoning oneself to the frenzy like a Viking berzerker. To give a topical example, crack-smoking, junk-shooting fuckup Pete Doherty is one of the greatest geniuses of our time, and his new band Babyshambles is ten times the band that The Libertines (who kicked him out) were, as the world would find out if he'd ever get his shit together for long enough to actually play a gig.
The article also mentions Ol' Dirty Bastard, as an example of the fine line between empathy and voyeurism. One notable omission, though, is Wesley Willis, described by Jello Biafra as one of the most punk-rock artists ever.
Of course, with the rising popularity of emo and various forms of fuckedupcore came a lot of opportunists putting on the "tortured genius" act, acting like caricatures of pissed-off, fucked-up, tantrum-throwing teenage nihilists and raking in the cash. Thirtysomething Universal Music executive and part-time teenage mook Fred Durst is one name that's mentioned there; and I'm sure you can think of other notable examples (anyone remember Vanilla Ice's reinvention as a tortured, angry-white-guy rap-metal mook? Or cyberpunk boy-band Information Society's post-Reznorian take-a-walk-through-my-nightmares industriogothic makeover?)
Righteous rant about the greying of rock'n'roll: (The Age)
ROCK is about urgency, vibrancy, the passion of youth. Trying to give it gravitas by bringing in a few violins and a bunch of 50yearold rockers way past their prime is such a betrayal of everything it once stood for that it beggars belief.
Can you imagine how awful Jimi Hendrix would sound nowadays if he hadn't choked on his own vomit back in the '60s? He'd be getting up on stage at the Colonial right now, alongside Lenny Kravitz and Whitney Houston.