July 26, 2008 by A.C. Rhodes
Home on the Firing Range
Category: Question of the Week
Idiosyncratic writers like Lester almost always have a bad influence on subsequent writers. The urge to imitate is too strong, and you can’t imitate idiosyncracy. The result is invariably a melange of the worst attributes of Bangs.
For me personally, Greil Marcus is the guy. When I went to Cal in my 30s, I chose professors, mentors, and a major based on what/who Marcus had written about. It all came full circle many years later, when I’d finished grad school and was teaching American Studies and Mass Comm at Berkeley. One semester, Marcus taught a course, and had an office around the hall from me.
Having said that, my writing style isn’t anything like his. Or Lester’s, for that matter.
Bangs had a really negative influence on me growing up – I knew I couldn’t write like that so I figured I could never be a rock journalist! As a result I fell into writing about rock music purely by chance and a natural inclination, long delayed. If it wasn’t for a combination of Bangs’ madness and a lot of the more brainiac rockcrit types who easily tore through obscure band influences and intimidated the hell out of me, I might have gotten into rock writing several years earlier than I did. Luckily, since I knew I couldn’t write like Bangs, I never had the desire to imitate him.
We’ve been down this road before. It’s often construed that someone writing poorly in first person confessional is imitating Bangs. Chances are the writer in question has never read Bangs but is just young and finding their way. I don’t come across these “imitators” in publications that pay $$. Not with most mags offering 150 words or less — often 75 — to review anything. Feature writing comes down to lunch with the artist.
As per influence, I’m not sure what he taught me. I know what I responded to. Mostly, the same things I responded to in rock writers like Mendols(s)ohn, Meltzer, R. Johnson, Riegel, DiMartino, Kordosh…the ability to enjoy the music without killing that enjoyment, without turning it into an academic lesson. I like the idea that the writing could be as entertaining as the music itself…but then, admittedly, I don’t enjoy most music writing. I’ve tried reading Marcus many times and I can’t get through it — or when I have I’ve felt like I’ve been led astray…part of that might be that I don’t like the Band or Gang of Four enough…but I think it has to do with a basic aversion to critical theory.
As for writers I’ve tried to imitate…oddly, I got the Rick Johnson collection and found stuff in there that I’d definitely never read before that now seems like I was stealing from him. And DiMartino / Kordosh seeped into my blood…but Nick Tosches is the one who I can’t say I’ve tried to imitate (too high a mountain and I haven’t studied the Greeks or the Bible) but who somehow haunts my ambitions…which is probably why I will continue to fail in a big way…no way to reconcile it.
Lester Bangs was a big influence, since his prose has that same ecstatic erratic thing I like in the music I like. The review of Astral Weeks that opens Psychotic Reaction was one of the things that made me say “I want to do that.” Richard Meltzer too. But, I’ll agree with Steven – Greil Marcus is the guy.
He got me to buy The Guess Who’s Live At The Paramount album. It takes a very influential man to get me to consider anything by Burton Fucking Cummings.
I loved Lester, but I never forgave him for panning the first MC5 album (even though he later changed his mind, obviously).
Come to think of it, has Dave Marsh ever apologized for his unbelievably condescending and dismissive CREEM review of Springsteen’s second album?
Dave tearfully issued a formal apology for this on ABC’s Nightline on Feb 12, 1978, with the Boss and Jon Landau holding him up on either side. I have it on video if you’d like to see it (mind you, it’s Beta format).
I’ve said this many times before, but it is always worth saying again: To focus on Lester’s writing at the expense of the intellectual content (which was considerable, even as the writing was so entertaining/idiosyncratic/stylized, etc.) is to do him a huge disservice. Key ideas such as his crystallization of the punk and heavy-metal and bubblegum aesthetics have certainly been forwarded by myriad writers who followed in his footsteps, many of whom write nothing like him and might even dismiss the fact that he ever wrote about those ideas (I’m thinking of the Popists who hold him up as King Rockist while blissfully ignoring all of his writing on bubblegum, Olivia Newton-John, Anne Murray, ABBA, etc.). But even beyond that, which is of course subject to debate, I think his core honesty, commitment to his readers and fearlessness in speaking his mind, often at great personal expense (banning from Rolling Stone when he needed that money to LIVE; friendships ruined for daring to criticize Blondie or Patti Smith or many others who expected blind two-thumbs-up subservience at all times; first-person confessions — with the purpose of critical illumination, not self-aggrandizement — that often made him look very, very human and fallible and completely messed up) are inspiring to any and everyone who cares to do this job well.
Though I think these are major themes of his biography, about which I am admittedly not objective, it’s surprising how often they are overlooked — though indeed, many people claim to have read his writing and overlook those things, too. I just don’t think they’re very good readers.
I mostly grew up reading magazines like Rolling Stone and SPIN, primarily because they were the only venues I knew of that discussed music of any kind, and my adolescent years were largely informed by music. Even with the subesequent discovery of places like AMG and Pitchfork, I ultimately thought that music writing only had to do with how much you love the music and didn’t require any great skill as a writer. As a result, my attention was mostly focused on the consumption of music rather than the refinement of writing skill and the aggregation of knowledge in more ostensibly “academic” subject matter. Obviously, this was a foolish and childish mistake. This was pointed out to me by reading Lester Bangs’ work.
Imitating any writer is a huge mistake, but one thing that older critics seem to forget about LB was his incredible outreach with young writers. In a way, it was as if Bangs saw himself as a professor and younger rock writers as his pupils–teaching them the meaning of rock as a social force along with the tricky paths of the industry. Today, many older rock critics possess a palpable disdain for younger rock writers, and, to a degree, rightly so. Many younger rock writers have a tremendous amount of freedom with blogs and the Internet, but have little of the drive or wherewithal to start a magazine themselves, one with the creativity similar to Creem in the ’70s. Those that do encourage creative freedom don’t have the gift of language, humor, prose structure, or compassion that defined Bangs at his best.
If Lester Bangs contributed anything to rock writing, its that rock criticism can be something other than a 150-word caption in a magazine or a puff piece that’s essentially PR for the label. While he is by no means the only great rock writer or the greatest rock writer, the narrative of his life–coupled with the remarkable ideas he espoused of rock as an idea, a movement, and an artform–constitutes an incredible body of work, rock writing or otherwise.
I read an interview with Doug Wolk in the archives of this very site in which he stated that:
“I reflexively twitch at the mention of Lester Bangs’ name. Not that I don’t love a lot of his writing, but I think he’s been a terrible influence on a lot of music critics who’ve tried to be idiosyncratic exactly the way he was, and holding him up as the example of what pop criticism aspires to doesn’t tend to yield very good results. ”
Well, I reflexively twitch when people say that we shouldn’t aspire to that kind of criticism. The mistake is aspiring to mimickry, which in this particular case is impossible.
As a rock critic, in terms of style and approach, Robert Christgau has been a bigger influence on me. In terms of who made me want to do this in the first place, the latter-day Creem triumvirate of Johnson, Kordosh, and DiMartino were more direct catalysts. But Lester occupies a more important place for me than any of them. He is part of me in a way that few writers, rock or otherwise, have managed to become. What reading Lester does for me, in rock crit terms, is to remind me what I’m doing here in the first place. I have never tried to imitate his writing style (well, maybe once, the first and only time a piece of mine ever got rejected for being completely incomprehensible), but I can’t imagine having quite the same approach to listening to or writing about music without his influence. His passion was that of a true believer and his work is there to set, or rekindle (if necessary) that fire inside that makes each one of us want to grab everyone we can find to play them our new favorite song, right now. He was in it for all the right reasons, and everything he wrote was filtered through a belief system that unites his work and adheres to a set of values that he probably didn’t consciously formulate but is clearly there every time you look. In short, his influence on me was to have high standards, and to never abandon them, no matter how grim the times may seem or how jaded I’m tempted to become.
What influence did Bangs really have? I’ll tell you, in a nutshell. Right place, right time. Lucky sonofabitch, just like Elvis, Beatles, Pistols. Before Lester everything was all, “oh wow, that is just so outtasite, man” Then Lester came along and said “I’ll tell you what’s outtasite – your mothers tits are outtasite!” He essentially wrote like a Vegas comic on a bender, albeit one with literary knowhow, & up to that point we hadn’t seen that in self-righteous rock rags. He made it OK to say “fuck that shit”. He was Alfred E. Neuman’s older hipper brother. And to be honest, I’m tired of reading Bangs this, Bangs that. He was great, ’nuff said. He had clunkers in his record collection like most people, and he wasn’t a looker so he probably had trouble getting women. And he drank, so he had trouble getting it up. He was your next door neighbor! It’s easy to do something if no one’s done it before you (yeah, I know the names, but you know what I mean).
Ted: When you speak of the latter-day CREEM triumvirate, I think you’re speaking of Holdship, Kordosh and DiMartino. Not to take anything from Rick Johnson, who I always thought was one of the great CREEM writers — in fact, I believe I was the only writer to ever share a writing credit with Rick in CREEM (“Who Needs The Beatles?”), which is something I’m proud of.
That said, it was Bill Holdship, Dave DiMartino and myself who not only constituted the latter-day staff, we actually “oversaw” CREEM’s famed Triumvirate of Metal Wisdom, the oft-imitated-but-never-matched homophobic geniuses of digression. Those were heady days!
In any case, it’s a pleasure to be cited as a catalyst, something like platinum, I suppose, and I applaud the standards you cite.
Absolutely John, Bill Holdship was huge for me as well. I grew up reading 80′s Creem and Creem Metal and you guys made me want to be a rock critic.
Metal Wisdom has suffered in your absence.
Question for Jim DeRogatis, re: this:
“I’m thinking of the Popists who hold him up as King Rockist while blissfully ignoring all of his writing on bubblegum, Olivia Newton-John, Anne Murray, ABBA, etc.).”
Who are you talking about here exactly? I mean, which “popists” have put forth this argument? I honestly have never seen Bangs dissed in this way by critics I’m aware of who are fans of pop music. I’ve seen such dumb retarded arguments stated over and over again against Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau but I don’t recall seeing such charges leveled against Bangs. (Also, did Bangs actually write about ABBA or simply wear the t-shirt??)
I admit I don’t understand these “Popist” “rockist” whatever arguments to begin with, so it’s likely that my brain skips over them by default, but is there a particular place where people argue against Marcus and Xgau? I’m just curious. As I’ve said I don’t “get” Marcus. Xgau can be pretty obscure but I’ve always liked certain aspects of his prose — preferably the short takes where it reads like a riddle I’m only half-comprehending. That can be fun. I especially enjoy the fact that his “duds” are usually my faves and vice-versa. In some ways I prefer critics — heck, people — who think I’m wrong. More fun that way.
For ex, one of the few “critics’ bands” I like currently would be The Hold Steady and yet I agree with most of the negative criticisms. I can hear the point. But I like it anyway. And I understand why they get under other people’s skin.
But back to the point. Scott, could you point out where these attacks on Marcus / Xgau occur?
Bob, I will try and get back to you with a link or two. Now that you’ve (rightly) put me on the spot, finding instances where the “rockist” moniker itself is actually hurled in their direction may not be so easy — if I came off as a bit accusatory towards Jim, it’s fair enough to suspect I’m doing the exact same thing — but I know for certain I’ve seen it applied to Marcus, probably on the I Love Music board (where you can find some discussion on Marcus and loads of discussion on Christgau; you’ll also find that opinions on these guys are all over the map). I may be confusing charges against Christgau of being a “canonizer” (is that a word? spell check doesn’t seem to think so) with charges of being a “rockist” — they’re both similar arguments, I think, and they’re both similarly ridiculous. But the truth is… I’m pretty confused at this point also.
You know, part of my reason for asking Jim that question is because I got into an e-mail spat with another writer a couple years ago who was levelling various accusations against “popists,” but when I asked him repeatedly to name one single name, he repeated his accusations but refused to oblige with a name or a publication, anything — even just privately, between the two of us. It’s frustrating to see these terms applied to invisible people — and that goes both ways.
I’m asking mostly because I don’t think I understand the terms to begin with. It sounds like one of those bizarre man-made grad-school constructs with no application to anyone in the real world. I consider it all to be a matter of taste. If someone doesn’t like hip-hop, I don’t expect them to begin listing their favorite hip-hop albums or be writing about it. That’s fine. I don’t assume someone is a misogynist if they don’t list female acts. I assume they don’t enjoy them. (Though an ‘all-time” list with NO women might be an issue…even if to suggest they have really boring taste.)
Not that I’ve given much thought to it (compared to other people reading this board, I’m assuming), but Xgau’s always struck me as someone who tends to inflate the grades of pop acts after the fact (at least in the case of Madonna, whose albums have been bumped higher in his guides –and to which this is not a criticism of mine, just an observation). And as per canonizer? He seems to like Arto Lindsay and Peter Stampfel more than any canon. But again, just casual reading over the years.
I’m assuming “rockist” means some sort of preference for, uh, rock, as opposed to hip-hop and ???? While I’ve never cared for Marcus’ taste, I’ve never doubted his own interest and would rather he stick to what he’s interested in than immerse himself in rave culture just to make some imagined audience happy. If he can convince a publisher to accept another book on Bob Dylan, good for him. I’ve never cared for his work and have always been mystified by those who swear by it. Maybe I’m tone deaf in this area. But then I’ve also put “Music from Big Pink” on at least once a year only to take it off and realize I STILL don’t like it. Why do I do this? Because I’m as insane as the next OCD listener, I suppose.
This is more than anyone needs to know, but what the heck. It’s a friendly forum and I appreciate any enlightenment slung my way.
Ha ha, hate to break it to you Bob, but the way the mostly useless (and yes, entirely man-made!) term has generally been used (not without much contention) over the past few years, a critic could conceievably be a “rockist” without listening to ANY rock music — heck, it might even work for an Olivia Newton-John or Abba fan if they’d written their own songs and/or paid their dues and/or were in it for the long haul and/or dealt with important issues and/or set out to subvert stifling paradigms and/or were perceived as authentic artists and good stuff like that. (Playing their own instruments might help, too.)
Which is another thing I don’t get in Dero’s complaint about these imaginary-strawman-until-he-spells-out-otherwise “popists” — I mean, I don’t doubt that there might be some critic out there who calls herself or himself a “popist” and also has no use for Lester Bangs. But if one were to confront me on the issue (and none ever has), I’d probably point not to Bangs’ fleeting (if existent) Abba and ONJ infatuations, but more likely to the fact that he wrote several thousand words on enshrining the Count Five, a bunch of phony 15-minute-of-fame one-hit-wonders with no long-term artistic purpose if any ever existed. Seems to me popists might consider him a saint for that alone.
Though if they didn’t, who knows, it might be because they hold him responsible for laying the groundwork for the canon that is punk / garage / indie / etc. and on and on into the night, which canon stood in the way of more worthy sounds in the long run (which it often has, though I’m not the one who’d blame Lester for it.)
For whatever it’s worth, Ann Powers’ own straw-man piece on popists in the LA Times a few weeks ago did something similar to Dero’s post above — attributed to this mysterious clan of critics arguments I’ve never actually seen any state, without naming names.
(Also, who ever said Greil Marcus should pay attention to rave music? Personally, I really miss his Real Life Rock Top Ten days when he believed radio was a good weird machine and found Stacey Q and Bryan Adams singles to love to prove it, but that’s just me. And let’s face it – radio isn’t anywhere near as good or weird as it used to be.)
I never answered the question, did I? Oh well…
Bob OC: this is a very good explanation of the term (I’m biased because I edited it, but don’t let that get in your way): http://www.seattleweekly.com/2005-05-04/music/thinking-about-rockism/
Incidentally, there are confusions and misconceptions in that Douglas Wolk piece that Michaelangelo linked to as well; some of which are discussed (and some of which Douglas himself answers) here:
Wow. I have to take this slow. First off, thanks for the Douglas Wolk link. I like his stuff (thought his Jandek appeciation on the Jandek on Corwood DVD managed to balance itself without being patronizing and yet kept its sense of humor. I think most of us would’ve sounded like either we were tone-deaf or lying, but that’s another discussion). It’s my own density here. I’m not sure where the real problem lies.
Considering that most music writing outlets are either now gone or hamstrung by a lack of space, I’m not sure how much influence any of the writers being bandied about could possibly show through. Give us 75 words and we’ll give you…a paragraph.
I skimmed a book I believe called Faking It (?) that discussed how the Lomax Brothers stuck Lead Belly in prison garb (that he hated) to make him more “authentic” and it went on to question why punk was perceived as more authentic than disco. I’ve found these arguments just make my head hurt (though I do appreciate the argument for some perverse reason) and can’t explain for me why I react the way I do to something. Some singers do sound less sincere. Are they? Probably not. I’ve known plenty of amateur musicians who “meant it” but they were lousy. They certainly didn’t walk into a recording studio planning to make a bad album, but they did it!
I think we might be asked to get a room somewhere if we stray any further.
For the record, I don’t know if anyone’s ever asked Greil to write about rave culture. I was figuring if Marcus is considered a “rockist” from my understanding of the term (and from what I see I DON’T really understand it)that that would be something an editor would want him to do, as opposed to sticking with his interests, which would be considered too “rockist.”
Seems to me the best way to defeat this bogeyman is to find writers who like different types of music. Bad news for me, since admittedly I tend to like “rock.” Can’t help it. But I don’t begrudge anyone their right to tell me why their favorite band matters.
I think the reason Bob Dylan will always get more ink is because his followers write more than most. When I first signed onto the internet last century one of the first newsgroups I found was a Dylan board and it was as if I’d signed up to read thesis papers. Then I found one on the Stones and it was close to inarticulate (people were probably setting up Canadian pharmacies).
Are we far enough off topic? Sorry, folks.
Bob, as stated above (I think), I don’t think liking “different types of music” has much to do with it. “Eclectic” tastes have always been the norm for “rock” critics. I’m guessing you’d be hard pressed to find one (maybe a really young person who’s starting out would be an exception) who doesn’t like all sorts of different stuff (though whether they have a paying outlet to write about different genres is a different story).
Anyway, for further illumination — or not! — a few more quotes and links…
1) “Unlike many of the more over-the-hill rockist snobs, Christgau has always kept abreast of developments in the genre.” (Of course, these “snobs” are not named… one has to assume he means… er, who DOES he mean?)
2) Franklin Bruno: “I have to admit that I’m a little nonplussed when Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus are lumped in as rockists (which, nb, doesn’t happen in Douglas piece). Setting aside large and obvious differences: Neither writer has ever, to my knowledge, disdained pop categorically (though, yes, xgau was deaf to ABBA), neither is especially creeped out by technological change (though Griel exhibits signs of discomfort, ultimately neither is all that interested in the “how” of music), neither is an albums=serious/singles=trivial type, and both are capable of appreciating –and conveying — surprise, joy, and sexiness. (And which one of the two, exactly, is supposed to be racist or sexist, if that’s your version.) Xgau’s got his baseball card bag, and Greil his mythic one, both of which are decidedly not mine — but in practice, don’t they each shoot the curve on the supposedly relevant categories? For me, the rockists to watch out for — complicated figures who are compelling enough to be pernicious, stylistically and conceptually — are Bangs and Meltzer at one juncture, Carducci and Albini at a later one.”
So, there’s some evidence for Jim’s point, not that I really know if Bruno is someone who could be lumped in as any kind of “popist.” Mind you, him pinning the label on Bangs AND Meltzer strikes me as flat out wrong. Especially Meltzer. Isn’t part of the point of Aesthetics of Rock that pop (fine, he calls it “rock” ) entirely collapses previous distinctions between “authentic” and “fake”? That rock/pop incorporates everything, and everything is “valid” (or usable) including the “invalid” (and useless) itself? (Mind you, he does kind of turn on the Monkees toward the end, or anyway, seems conflicted.) Maybe that’s a lame summation, but anyway…
3) And here at Utopian Turtletop, Marcus is called “aggressively rockist” because he thinks Anita Baker is ridiculous (as stated in an interview with Phil Dellio, the full version of which you can read here.)
Damn smiley faces, telling lies again (truth is, I’m feeling like DIRT tonight.) No idea how they keep sneaking in to my comments.
Chuck, you could make a case that, though Count Five were dismissed by rockists when they came out (and when Lester Bangs wrote about ‘em), that 60s garage-rock is now widely accepted by the 2008 equivalent of that crowd (and possibly even thought of as authentic in some ways), and praised by folks who wouldn’t give the time of day to similarly trashy 2008 pop.
As for Meltzer, once he started losing interest (which is like, what, 3 weeks after he started writing about music?), didn’t he start dismissing all popular music as fake, compromised, contaminated, doomed to never be as cool as he is, etc. etc.?
And wasn’t some of Bangs’ writing in his last few years somewhat curmudgeonly? He’d fill his Pazz and Jop ballots with jazz reissues, and I remember reading something to the effect that preferring John Lee Hooker (or something equally old and authentic) over Psychedelic Furs and the Go-Gos wasn’t living in the past, it was good taste (not that he was necessarily *wrong*, mind you). And he seemed pretty conflicted about disco, to say the least – Psychotic Reactions had several passing (but incredibly sweeping) references to disco being the end of humanity. But he did like some individual disco songs too, right?
Re: Graphic smileys, be sure to close your quotes and even then, put a space between them and the letters.
Now, to find out how to keep Chuck Eddy’s replies from winding up in the spam queue.
Wow…Bangs, you dead bastard, lookit what you did!
Here’s how I always kinda figured it, maybe I’m wrong:
ROCKIST would lean towards Thin Lizzy, Boston, Foo Fighters – a wide swath, mostly guitar jacking and maybe horns-throwing.
POPIST I’ve never heard before, but it can’t be that difficult – I would imagine fans of Smile-era Brian Wilson, US-banned era Ray Davies, Belle & Sebastian.
Sloan, The Move, even pre-Tommy Who could fit in both.
I don’t think either one of those would address one’s affinity or lack thereof for hip-hop, or any black genres per se. Those would be covered under Soulist, Funkist and of course Rapist (!).
The intl – what’s most likely to end up in the pop charts, soul/funk/hip hop or Belle & Sebastian/Sloan/The Move (combined us top 40 hits: zero)?
And if half-assed pop band the Foo Fighters ever did a rocking song, I sure as heck haven’t heard it.
Bangs voted for Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” in Pazz & Jop, didn’t he? (He may have voted for one or two other disco songs, too, either on year-end ballots or in the monthly Pazz & Jop Product Report, but I’m not sure what. Though didn’t he write something defending “I Will Survive” or some record like that, or saying at least he understand why people liked it? Or was that one a dream I had?)
Patrick, re Count Five winning canonization points over time: Yeah, I agree. I kind of said that already up above! But when Bangs spilled all those words on them, they were just pop-radio tripe, obviously. (So now I’m wondering what “similarly trashy 2008 pop” would be….Soulja Boy, I guess? Or people like him?)
Okay, I’m gonna attempt a name and email address with the letters “uck” in them this time. Maybe I’ll avoid the rockcritics.com Spam folder, or maybe I won’t.
#30 Patrick: I rewrote my response to you about 5 different ways & times, so let me just publish the one that says: “huh?”
#31 Chuck: Don’t kid yourself, Foo Fighters did plenty of rocking songs – and that doesn’t mean that I subscribe to their style or sound, I’m just using them as an example of “rockist”, ditto Boston, and FYI I don’t like them either. And truth be told Ive never requested any Thin Lizzy. Just trying to get a bead on the terms.
*without* the letters “uck” in them, I meant. (But apparently it didn’t work.)
And didn’t Bangs also vote for some early Bambaataa single once — “Zulu Nation Trowdown,” maybe?
Intl, it’s pretty simple — he’ saying Belle and Sebastian etc. aren’t “pop,” when they’ve never had pop hits. And lots of rap etc. *is* pop. Which is true, though it depends on your definitions. (None of which has much to do with “popism,” which is an even more nebulous concept than “rockism,” but whatever..)
Yeah, Mr. E. I had to do another ‘save,’ which makes me feel somewhat the hero whenever I do, but it will be great to get you past our filter. We’ll have to confer with the new 24-hour customer service.
We now resume the ‘ist’ conversation, already too much in progress. (wink)
Actually, Patrick, I’m pretty sure he gave it at least a month before he started packing his bags, but point well taken.
That said, I still hold to my point about why it makes little sense to call him a “rockist.” To be honest, I mostly only take Meltzer really seriously as a rock critic while he was actually engaging with the stuff. Not to be misunderstood: I take him very seriously as a WRITER still to this day (I read his most recent book, about aging, last winter, and thought it contained some of his best stuff). But for as long as he was actually listening hard to and analyzing pop music — which wasn’t very long at all, as you point out — though he did pick it up again with punk — I can’t even think to describe his approach (in Aesthetics, anyway) as “rockist” for reasons that I mentioned already (i.e., his collapsing of all distinctions). As Marcus notes in his introduction, it was a much greater heresy at the time for Meltzer to favourably compare the Shondells to the Beatles — that is, to put them on an even plane — than it was for him to compare the Beatles to Aristotle (or some such… I don’t have the book nearby to quote it).
I agree overall with Chuck that “rockism” and “popism” are nebulous terms, BUT:
1) I still find them occasionally useful as ways of recognizing critical tendencies (within myself as well as others) (it’s as soon as I try to apply them with any specificity that they become problematic);
2) They’ve inspired a lot of thought-provoking and funny (and sometimes brain-killingly nonsensical) discussion over the years;
3) Pointing out their nebulousness or even their uselessness is itself an integral part of the conversation.
Is there an end to it all? Need there be??
Chuck – re. trashy 2008 pop, I was wondering too what today’s equivalent of “Psychotic Reaction” would be. Is hyphy still around? The stuff bores me, but it’s certainly not afraid to get silly. Likewise the one Soulja Boy song I’ve heard. I guess that makes me the dreaded rockist guy who only likes pop goofiness when it’s ancient.
s woods – I haven’t even once opened my copy of Aesthetics of Rock (I keep meaning to get around to it), but I have to admit Gulcher is very anti-rockist in spirit, even if there’s hardly any music content in there. I love it – anybody know any book even remotely similar to that one?
Patrick — *Aesthetics* is a great, smart, hilarious book. You should read it.
And yeah, for approximate “Psychotic Reaction” equivalents (as far as shameless trashiness for teens goes) in modern times, hyphy might not be a bad place to start. Any number of hip-hop novelty one-shots in recent years — “Chicken Noodle Soup,” “Cupid Shuffle,” “Party Like a Rock Star,” “Lip Gloss” (though Lil Mama looks like she might wind up with an actual career now) — might fit, too. Beyond hip-hop, though, I’d say selections get slimmer; no doubt if I kept up more with Europop (i.e.: hits there but not in the States), some records in that genre would fit. Beyond that, I dunno — But I could definitely more imagine such records happening in the realm of teen pop or country than current rock.
Scott, I agree the rockism debate has led to some interesting discussions, and for that alone it might be worthwhile. Still, gotta say, though, that while the phrase “rockism” is vague, I’m fairly convinced the phrase “popism” is downright meaningless. What exactly *are* popists supposed to be like, anyway? Just: Critics who aren’t rockists (as in, everybody else)? Or are they supposed to be critics who make a rule of privileging music that they consider inauthentic and that only features guitars if the act didn’t play them or lyrics if the act didn’t write them, and look down on all music by important artists considered part of the historical canon? Because if it’s supposed to be the latter, I don’t know whether any such critics even exist beyond somebody’s paranoid imagination.
(Sorry about al the typos in my posts, by the way — I’ve generally been writing late at night, after a couple beers, while taking breaks between diaper changes.)
How about that “Milkshake” song from a couple of years ago? That’s got to be one of the best recent examples.
I remember one guy on ILM saying that music HAD to be ephemeral. That’s pretty damn hardcore. I wonder how that even applies in practice – does he have someone follow him around and beat him with a stick when he enjoys a song that’s been out for more than 2 months?
(“Chicken Noodle Soup” and “Lip Gloss” = great examples of contemporary pop silliness – haven’t heard the others, but anything called “Party Like a Rock Star” in 2008 kinda starts with 2 strikes against it)
Ouch, I got crucified for telling Jim DeRo the Lester I met and knew. I was genuinely shocked by the vitriol because I adored Lester as a writer and a friend. That our personal bond began in 1981 through drugs was just a detail, however graphic. But let me make this as clear as I can: Lester’s influence on me (as critic writing since 1976) was no different than that of any other critic of the day who influenced me (Ward, Christgau, Uhelszki, Fong-Torres, Marsh, Morthland, Marcus, Meltzer, et al): They all made me want to write.
Lester Bangs was the first writer to ever truly inspired me. If it wasn’t for Lester, I would be a entirely different person today. I will be forever grateful.
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