Friday, December 14, 2007

Pop Life


So, the list of this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honorees is out. I think it's pretty decent, and I note some personal geographic connections: like Madonna, I grew up in Michigan, I went to college in the Coug's homebase of Bloomington, IN (where his name is now on an athletic facility he helped fund), and some of my family resides in Seattle, hometown of the Ventures. Aside from Leonard Cohen and Huff and Gamble, no one on the list leaps out at me (although I don't know as much about Little Walter as I should), but I've enjoyed music from all of them, and none of the choices offend.

There are those that are offended by the very idea of a rock and roll museum, of course, feeling that it's something of an oxymoron (these purists overlook the irony that the museum is in Cleveland, a town whose river once caught on fire-- I mean, what's more rock and roll than that?). Emblematic of these carps was food writer/TV guy Anthony Bourdain's, on his recent trip to our fair Dawgtown this past winter (the episode aired in the summer); he visited the Hall with a Ramone and decried, in voiceover, the enshrining of a music that's meant to be "rebellious," "tough-edged," "anti-institutional," and best of all, "garage."

Well. I can see the point, I guess, but the problem for me is precisely the pairing of the anti-Hall sentiments with this sort of moldy ideological critique, which is itself no less of a museum piece, and no less of an institutional mode of address. As Jeff wrote, "The music collection becomes artifact for display at some point," and those artifacts can be critical modes as much as the Edge's guitar. Like the Hall, this sort of critique works to freeze a certain reading of the music in political and generational terms, works to control the discourse, and therefore to affect the future of the form. Does this kind of reading-- powered by an album-centered, thesis-driven sort of meaning (a critical "concept album," if you like)-- still make sense in the age of the I-pod, the the cherry-picked single, the shuffle (a term which connotes, not bearded folkies or angry punks, but dancing to the beat and sensual bliss)? Don't get me wrong-- a lot of good writing (including folks like Greil Marcus and Simon Reynolds) derives from this position in different ways, but we shouldn't fool ourselves. It's not a garage band sound: it's the music of the Man.

6 comments:

Jonathan Lapper said...

Oh lord I was such a purist in my teens and early twenties. I love music, particularly jazz, as you (I believe) and Larry know, and I just got to a point of maturity (this is already sounding pretentious I can feel it) where I decided that rock artists going on and on about the edginess and rebellion and being a sellout if you sold your song to a commercial or film were taking themselves WAY too seriously. I know it sounds odd - shouldn't a Hall of Fame be considered taking yourself too seriously? - but I don't think it is. Thus Anthony Bourdain's visiting with a lone surviving Ramone and decrying it just sounds like an insufferable teenage pose. I've got teenagers - I know what they sound like, and that's what they sound like.

No offense to Anthony, but buddy it's time to grow up. In an age where grandmothers have tattoos and your favorite grand aunt says the word "fuck" every fifth word there is no shock in rock anymore. And that's fine. When people go on and on about the "rebellious" or "garage" essence of rock I think they're unknowingly placing it in an Ivory Tower of a different kind and enshrining it in a distant past when dad's wore white short sleeve button downs with horn-rimmed glasses and thought Buddy Holly was the product of the devil.

My only problem with the Hall of Fame is that it seems fairly indiscrimate in its choices but with something as fleeting as pop music that's a small complaint.

And by the way, as a kid, I first learned of the Cuyuhoga river (I'm sure I spelled that wrong) from Randy Newman's Burn On from his excellent Sail Away album.

Larry Aydlette said...

For the past three years, I have published and/or posted a list of the top rock snubs. Gamble and Huff have been at the top of the list. I think they should be going in as a straight-up nominee, but at least they're going in. I've got no complaints with the rest of the list, but a lot of worthies have been waiting a lot longer than Mellencamp or Madonna.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Larry - I remember reading something you wrote when I was googling you after my giddy discovery of your now outed identity. It was something on Neil Diamond and I don't know if he's in yet or not (I haven't gone to check, sorry) but I completely agreed with your logic, which if I recall concerned the wealth of hits he has had. He's exactly the type of performer that purists deem unworthy and while I'm no big fan of his I think his inclusion would be worthwhile (or is worthwhile if it's already occurred).

Larry Aydlette said...

Yeah, Neil was at No. 2 or 3.

Cinephile said...

Larry--
I think one of the first posts I read of yours was about the Hall, and I wondered what you thought of this year's list. I think it's ok, too, although I agree with you and Jonathan about Neil Diamond, for both the hits he had and the songs he wrote for others. I can't remember the rest of your "snubs" list-- who else do you think should be in (or who would your top 3 or 4 besides Diamond be)? Is Prince in? I think he's eligible, and certainly worthy (Elvis Costello, too), but I can't remember if they're in or not.

Jonathan-- I think my teen music "authenticity" phase was similar to yours. I remember reading someone once who said no one has more conservative taste than young people, because we/they are so set on "rules" about how the music should sound, and what it should signify. I mean, can't we just dance and stuff? (:

digital_sextant said...

Jonathan - I myself am a fan of ND. As Bob (As in "What about..."):

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who love Neil Diamond and those who don't.

Brian - It's phrases like bearded folkies that give your writing such panache. I wish I could be a bearded folkie.