Archive for the ‘Blabbin’’ Category
Off the top of the head sort of stuff – of no import to anyone, really.
Posted by s woods on May 21, 2013
You know, I don’t care that most rock critics hate the Doors — I became a fan of their music at the age of seven or eight, and the greatest of their music has continued to sound good to me ever since (in the eighties, just as I was discovering and being persuaded by rock criticism, I adapted a kneejerk reaction towards them for a few years, but I got over it). But I guess I do care enough to make two brief points here, both inspired, of course, by Ray Manzarek’s death (for a few hours, my Facebook feed was aggravating; so many people making a point of explaining that they “didn’t care much” for the Doors; thank God Jim Morrison had the smarts to die before Web 2.0, else I’d have tossed myself out the window along with my monitor).
1. The idea, espoused for years (at least as early back as Dave Marsh saying as much in a Rolling Stone Record Guide), that the group is “overrated” is of course a complete fallacy — the opposite of reality, really — unless the people who call them “overrated” mean that their fans like them too much, in which case every group with any kind of following is “overrated.” Because they’re sure not “overrated” by rock critics, the genre of species we normally rely on to “rate” things — under, over, whatever. Of the many critics whose work I’ve followed over the years, I can count on one hand those who have liked the music of the Doors, by which I don’t include critics who, in that polite, critical way, “admit” that the band “were not devoid of talent” (wow, careful that limb doesn’t break while you say as much). It’s possible that there was more love towards the band in the early days of rock criticism, but I don’t think so; they were pretty much mocked from the get-go, were they not? (Or maybe the disconnect here is that the band was written about much differently in the daily press accounts than in the stuff I have access to, the Creems and Rolling Stones of the world?)
2) On the subject of mockery, sometimes you have to remind people that a critic can mock something, deride it even, and still love it, or at least love parts of it. This is always how I read Meltzer and Bangs on the Doors. In one of his early reviews of them (I forget of which album), Meltzer calls the band (not even Morrison, but the band) “ridiculous” but means it, I’m pretty sure, in a way that is entirely complimentary. Bangs referred to Morrison as a bozo, but also was intensely moved by some of their music; in the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, he suggests that “Light My Fire” paved the way for “Gimme Shelter” (an argument I think Greil Marcus picked up in his recent book on the band). One of the trends I find disconcerting in so much music criticism today is that writers seem unwilling to acknowledge the idea that ridiculousness and pretensiousness and buffoonery sometimes don’t prevent great music, and in fact, sometimes lead directly to great music. Pretensiousness can be aesthetically/philosophically worthy in and of itself. This point in some ways is not just related to the Doors — I know people who simply can’t stomach their pretensions enough to hear whatever might be good in it, and that’s fine. No one is required to hear the band the way I do. All I’m saying is…? Pretentiousness CAN be a virtue?
This funny Kids in the Hall clip re: Doors fandom is also notable for its ultra-snide reference to “America’s Only…”
Posted in Blabbin' | 4 Comments »
Posted by s woods on March 21, 2013
This week hasn’t gone so well in terms of finding five available minutes for this site. Will hopefully resume with some activity soon (at least until the baby comes, at which point…?).
Posted in Blabbin' | 3 Comments »
Posted by s woods on March 8, 2013
In which I muse about something which is hardly “news,” but never not a bloody distraction.
TIMOTHY WHITE: You spoke to me earlier, in the taxi, about the incestuous, elitist qualities of the British press as opposed to the rock-crit self-importance of some of the American press. Do you think the music press makes any significantly positive contributions to the overall environment?
ELVIS COSTELLO: If they’re not actually informative — which in different ways they are, I guess, on both sides of the Atlantic — and merely negative, then they set up something to work against. Fighting the American press is like disobeying your parents, because they’re so pompous. Critiques in the States usually have the tone of book reviews a lot of the time. In live concert reviews they treat you like opera!
“Mister Costello did this” …and so forth.
WHITE: There’s the famous instance of Meat Loaf being referred to in the New York Times as “Mr. Loaf.”
COSTELLO: [Laughing convulsively] Aaah! Mister Loaf! Mister Loaf! That’s fantastic! Mister Loaf! [catching his breath, wiping his eyes] The rolling buzzards!
- From a 1983 interview, originally Musician, I think, reposted on the Elvis Costello Home Page)
Couldn’t help but think of this 30-year-old conversation when I attempted to read Simon Reynolds’s recent piece on David Bowie in the New York Times.
- “In the video Mr. Bowie…”
- “Mr. Bowie’s strongest album in decades…”
- “For most of the 21st century Mr. Bowie had disappeared…”
- “The album… asserts Mr. Bowie’s continued relevance…”
- “Meanwhile Mr. Bowie’s stature…”
- “Mr. Bowie has always had an ambivalent attitude…”
And so on, and so on. And so on: 41 instances of “Mr. Bowie” by my “Ctrl-f” count, 41 instances of a word (granted, only a two-letter word, so 82 letters in total, plus an additional 41 periods, equalling, hmm, 123 characters overall) which could be dropped from the article entirely. Forty-one words, which, if mercifully dropped, would not only not ruin anything in the piece itself but would actually improve the tone, or maybe I mean the voice, of said piece considerably, by deflating its ridiculous (“they treat you like opera!”) ostentatiousness. (That it is Mr. Bowie and Mr. Reynolds we’re talking about here doesn’t help matters, I admit.) You might say that, as a stylistic (editorially-imposed) convention, all of this is irrelevant to the content of the writing itself, but if you believe that, you also probably believe that someone who doesn’t like distorted guitars can still enjoy a My Bloody Valentine or Sonic Youth record — you know, “for the notes.” I don’t mean to do Reynolds’s piece a disservice by harping on all this. Not that the Times loony editorial policy didn’t already take care of that for me.
Posted in Blabbin' | 4 Comments »
Posted by A.C. Rhodes on May 1, 2012
Well, perhaps two months past, but today marks a special day for a couple of editors and music writers. Who might they be? Any oustanding moments in the past 12 years?
Posted in Blabbin', You Be the Critic | 1 Comment »
Posted by s woods on January 3, 2012
Lost my way with this site again recently, for a whole host of reasons, but activity will pick up somewhat in 2012. There are two, possibly three, imminent podcast interviews in the works, and hopefully a few others as the year progresses. Beyond that, it’s hard to say. I’m having the same internal arguments I had the previous two Januarys regarding the viability of continuing to spend money (not much, granted) on this domain — at some point the plug will be pulled, it’s inevitable, the question is whether it happens in 2012, 2014, 2112 (a.k.a. “the Geddy Lee option”), or whenever.
I’m open to ideas, contributions (intellectual contributions, I mean), suggestions, criticisms, witticisms, etc. This site has always been boring when it’s been only about me, so — what say you?
Posted in Admin, Blabbin' | 6 Comments »
Posted by s woods on November 16, 2011
will resume shortly.
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Posted by s woods on September 28, 2011
Why I miss the monoculture by Toure, in Salon.
Fretting about where we are and where we’re going is clearly the rock critical meme of the year, and you can add this article to the evidence (I fret also, though most of my fretting tends to be about why and how I seem to be tumbling headfirst into a do-I-really-give-a-shit-anymore attitude about the entire operation — music, writing, etc. — while still cranking up the latest Britney Spears single every time it comes on the car radio). See also Christgau, espousing similar ideas about the “monoculture” in this 2006 PopMatters interview.
I don’t know, “monoculture” made very little sense to me when Christgau posed it (footnoted, not-irrelevant question I’ve thought about for a long time: did African-Americans, en masse, give a shit about the Beatles during the ’60s?), and, given the respective eras each writer is drawing upon, it makes even less sense to me when Toure poses it. Toure writes: “We no longer live in a monoculture. We can’t even agree to hate the same thing anymore, as we did with disco in the 1970s.” Huh? Disco sucks-ers (and who, by the way, is “we”?*) were a “monoculture”? You mean as opposed to the zillions of citizens buying disco records, listening to disco songs on the radio, and dancing to disco in roller rinks and whatnot (across a rather large portion of the the entire planet, no less)? Colour me extremely confused, if not downright skeptical.
* Um, I realized after posting this, that I employed that godawful royal “we” right in my first sentence here! But just to be clear, I am referring to a fairly specific if nonetheless ridiculously diverse species: people who are in some shape or form pop music writers (or “rock critics,” same thing in my book).
Posted in Blabbin' | 1 Comment »
Posted by s woods on September 5, 2011
Alexa Weinstein puts the “i” in music writing:
When I’m reading rock criticism, I am always looking for this — the personal take, the individual passionate reaction — and it’s very hard to find. But I think this is because the assumed audience of rock criticism is the rock & roll version of my dad. The reader who just wants to know what happened in the game and not what I was thinking when I was watching it is the same as the reader who just wants the facts about a band: where they’re from, what their basic biographies are, how to categorize them according to various genres, what the critical consensus is on their quality, and how many albums they are selling. I feel much less embattled about this than I used to. Some people care more about getting information, which is legitimate, and other people care more about interior reactions to information, which is equally legitimate (but, I would argue, less valued in our culture). Each of us falls somewhere on this spectrum, and we bounce all around it, depending on the context and the subject. I may be unusual in my strong and wide-ranging preference for interior reactions to information over the information itself, but I’m not entirely alone in the world, and I don’t even think I’m all that weird.
The entire piece is well worth reading.
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Posted by s woods on August 12, 2011
I’ll be sitting out all of next week and possibly for days or even weeks afterward, due to what promises to be the least fun move ever (do they ever get any easier?). Hopefully, as August winds down, I’ll be able to pop in every so often to play a bit of catch-up, but don’t hold your breath. The rest of the month could be a washout.
Thanks for tuning in, and — we’ll see you when we see you.
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Posted by s woods on August 9, 2011
In response to a question posed on Tom Ewing’s (?) Tumblr — “why didn’t rock critics go harder for MCR?” (a.k.a. My Chemical Romance) — Maura Johnston (?)* writes:
Teen girl adoration, as Matthew noted, is deadly for any band that wants to be taken seriously by males above the age of, say, 13. You’re not serious, you’re too emotional/heart-on-sleeve, your looks are too much of a predictor of your talent, etc., etc. It’s a big reason why Justin Bieber’s people went to such great pains to have him collaborate with older, more established hip-hop artists — “if Ludacris likes him he can’t be that much of a pussy,” etc. (Well I guess that hypothesis falls apart w/r/t his collab w/Drake, COUGH.) See also Nick Jonas working with the NPG.
See, I find this all really interesting, but what’s a little odd about it, at least from my perspective — and note that I’m barely familiar with any of the actual people being discussed here, Bieber excepted (“Baby” being one of the better radio hits of 2010) — is that the rock critics I grew up
worshipping reading, the ones who essentially shaped my intellectual engagement with the world — Marcus, Marsh, Meltzer, Bangs, Christgau, Willis — the key writers in Stranded and in the Jim Miller-edited Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, not to mention pretty much the entire Creem crew — took for granted, mostly, not just that “teen girl adoration” was acceptable but that in many ways it was a crucial part of the story, with some critics going so far at times to even suggest that rock lost something when the Beatles “progressed” from screaming-girlism to capital-A you-know-what. I realize even while writing this that I am quite possibly engaging in some serious romanticizing b.s., in that it’s ridiculous to assume that the aforementioned golden agers a) spoke for all of rock criticism, ca. 1967-1980 (there are suggestions in some of these critics own words from the time that they too were engaged in similar battles with their critical counterparts), and b) formed as neat a consensus even amongst each other in regards to this stuff as I seem perilously close to suggesting here. Still something about that Tumblr conversation struck me. If it’s not exactly a not-in-Kansas-anymore thunderbolt of new awareness, I’m nonetheless intrigued by what appears to be a marked generational shift (a generational shift I am smack dab in the middle of) re: rock critics and teen pop/bubblegum/etc.
* The reason for all these bracketed question marks is I still have difficulty now and again following the who-what-where of Tumblr. I think it makes more sense when you’re inside the thing itself.
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Posted by s woods on August 9, 2011
I’ve been starting to wonder if our tag line, “rock critics talking to, about, and with each other” is ready for retirement. It’s a statement less of purpose, I think, than of dreams unfulfilled (and maybe I’m just a little sick of it). Here’s a few I’ve been toying with lately:
Rockcritics.com: Where Rock Criticism Comes to Die
Rockcritics.com: More Than a Decade of Pretending That Any of This Stuff Still Matters
Rockcritics.com: Never Agreeing on Anything the Way We Agreed on Elvis
Rockcritics.com: Still Trying to Figure Out, What is this Shit?
Got any other suggestions?
Posted in Blabbin' | 7 Comments »
Posted by s woods on July 28, 2011
I’m not usually one to play the ponies, but just try and guess who I’m placing odds on in the Galway Races, happening now.
Apparently, I’m not alone.
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Posted by s woods on July 22, 2011
You know, if I’d taken more time to think of better questions when I interviewed Richard Meltzer back in 2000, I’d almost certainly have asked him, “Why did you open The Aesthetics of Rock with the lyrics of ‘Surfin’ Bird’?” I’ve since, and often, hypothesized about this very thing:
1) he liked the song
2) it came on the radio one evening while he was stoned out of his gourd and working on the text, and — hey, why the hell not?
3) it was his way of insisting on the relevance-equivalence of crudity-profundity (i.e., you’ll understand Bob Dylan much better if you also understand the Trashmen, and vice versa) (though I think what Meltzer does is take it further than Trashmen-Dylan, he goes Trashmen-Plato)
4) it’s a (p)review of what follows, “Well-a everybody’s heard” suggesting the already past-tenseness of the moment Meltzer’s trying to summon forth, and providing a nice setup for his own first self-penned sentence in the book, “This is a sequel…”
Today, I can add a fifth “what-if” to the pile. In “Along Comes Maybe,” his editorial in the fourth (1966, month unknown) issue of Crawdaddy!*, Paul Williams writes: “Nobody used to take rock ‘n’ roll very seriously. The newsmagazines would get a kick out of printing the lyrics to ‘Surfin’ Bird,’ the fans would debate over who was greater, Elvis or Fabian (who?), the deejays would play any record that was backed up by the old payola, and the listeners would be only too happy to run out and buy it…” Hmm, was RM’s printing of the lyrics to “Surfin’ Bird” perhaps his way of turning the tables on Williams’s words, to begin to collapse altogether the distinctions Williams is (implicitly) insisting on (i.e., setting up a serious vs. trivial divide rather than collusion)? In other words, to set up a counter-argument with Williams (his first publisher) by suggesting that those “newsmagazines” were pointing to something worth taking seriously — inadvertently, of course, maybe even counter-intuitively, which makes it no less true — by splashing Trashmen lyrics across their pages? Maybe, maybe not. Coming across that sentence, though, in the very least, it struck me as a highly interesting coincidence (and my instincts tell me it wasn’t one, hence my reason for this babble in the first place).
* Highly recommended: The Crawdaddy! Book, a compendium of the earliest issues of that ‘zine.
Posted in Blabbin', Richard Meltzer | 1 Comment »
Posted by s woods on July 14, 2011
I don’t subscribe to MOJO or read it with any regularity whatsoever anymore — I did for a few years when I worked at the record store — in part because of the daunting price tag (I think it runs around $13 here) and in part because I’m just not that compelled by its contents very often (though whenever I do look at an issue, I’m usually pretty impressed and think I should spend more time with it), but in any case I confess to being very much in awe of its success. I have no idea about the actual success of MOJO, in terms of sales and advertising revenues, but the fact that it’s still going and still has a readership outside the UK… must mean something. I’ve never understood why an American company didn’t try to capitalize on that success — to produce, in effect, an American version. One that would:
1) appeal largely to an older (i.e., my age and up) demographic;
2) appeal primarily to a demographic that wants 3,000-word articles, sometimes about icons of rock, sometimes about lesser-knowns, like, I dunno, the bassist in Budgie or something;
3) excite the senses with great layout and design;
4) convince readers that they are holding something worth preserving (see #2 and #3 above);
5) convince readers that they are getting in many ways “definitive” accounts of whoever/whatever it is they’re reading about (and in many cases, they just might be).
Why am I thinking all this? Because of the stuff I’m coming across right now about a revived Creem. Purely from a business (never mind a critical) perspective, a revived Creem (at least as it’s being touted at the moment) seems like such a non-starter right out of the gate. The key concept would seem to be “irreverence.” To which I ask: for whom? Irreverence is cheap right now; indeed, it’s free, because it’s everywhere. I’m guessing that the only kind of music magazine that could actually sell right now would be the complete opposite of that, something highly reverent of its subject matter (which does not necessarily preclude a sense of fun or mischief, though it might preclude to some degree having writers with personalities on board), a publication with a “coffee table” sort of aesthetic, a ‘zine that actually comes close to approximating a book. Not saying I would necessarily buy such a thing. Just a hunch that it could be done and might be done with a modicum of success.
Posted in Blabbin', Zines | 6 Comments »
Posted by s woods on June 8, 2011
I’ve been harping on a fair bit lately about Ellen Willis and Paul Nelson, thanks to the terrific recent books (Kevin Avery‘s Nelson bio/compilation comes out in the fall) which have revitalized, in particular, my interest in the period of time in which I first discovered rock criticism — the late ’70s and early ’80s. (Well, sort of. My brother Paul subscribed to Creem from about ’73 onward, and I was more than a little aware of who Lester Bangs was, but the truth is, Bangs mostly reached me back then as a kind of rock star in his own right. It was his reputation and his public shenanigans the ten-year-old me clung to, not the writing itself. I’m not even sure I actually read entire articles by the guy, I just had this vague sense that he was interesting and funny and very, very rock and roll.) I could, and someday may, write an entire book about the years 1979-1982, the years in which entire musical worlds seemed to open before my eyes, and rock criticism was as integral to this self-education as the music itself. And though Willis and Nelson were not the writers I followed most voraciously — maybe, now that I think about it, because they were leaving rock criticism behind right about the time I was becoming a fan of the stuff — they were nevertheless part of a larger framework that intrigued the hell out of me, and that I simply couldn’t get enough of. By “larger framework” I mean something like, folks who waxed serious about rock’s meaning. And by “serious” I mean all sorts of things, not merely serious, dig?
But one of the questions I’m still left with after devouring both books is, what the hell happened in rock criticism as the seventies turned into the eighties? Why did so many of the great early critics decide to get off the boat at that particular juncture? I’m thinking about Marcus’s great Sgt. Pepper riff in his Stranded discography, wherein he calls that much-vaunted masterpiece “a Day-Glo tombstone for its time.” In retrospect, Stranded itself is something of a tombstone, in that more than half its contributors jumped ship at or around that time. Or maybe, to stretch this strained metaphor a bit further, the Janet Maslins and John Rockwells and Langdon Winners actually found their way back to civilization, leaving the Christgaus and Friths and Marcus’s “stranded”? (I don’t know the precise years that rock ceased to be a major public concern for Rockwell, et al.; I’m generalizing here just a tad.) Obviously, Willis and Nelson each had their own ways of dealing with what appears to be their disillusionment with the entire operation: Willis delved deeper into politics and feminism (things which, according to Willis herself, powered her rock writing in the first place), Nelson took a much wobblier course, with fits and starts of various projects (including an endlessly-worked-on and never-completed movie script) leading, ultimately, into near-total retreat from society itself. (Reading the last half of Avery’s bio, I couldn’t help but dredge up some rather uncomfortable visions of Charles Crumb.) But how each of them, and so many of their peers — it’s not an isolated thing I’m talking about here — chose to live out their post-rock critical lives isn’t what I’m thinking about this second. What I’m thinking about is, what made them leave in the first place? Was it simply a function of age? An after-effect of the corporatization of rock journalism? (Marsh has a terrific quote in the Nelson book. In response to Jann Wenner’s installing ratings to Rolling Stone reviews, he says “That’s the death of rock criticism right there.”) Nothing more than a public playing out of the “big chill” effect? (What is the big chill effect? Someone care to remind me?)
Posted in Blabbin', Book (P)reviews, Ellen Willis, Paul Nelson | 2 Comments »
Posted by s woods on June 1, 2011
“The whole analysis-of-music bit sort of calls for the use of a pack of words to tack onto a pack of sounds juxtaposed with another pack of words. Every creep who has ever bothered with that has to groove on how silly, in the good sense, the whole operation has to be. How do you talk about music, anyway, particularly when…”
- Richard Meltzer, The Aesthetics of Rock, 1970 (more here)
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Posted by s woods on May 25, 2011
Two people have e-mailed me recently, saying, in effect, “what about Lillian Roxon”? Clearly, this is in response to all the stuff I’ve been posting about Ellen Willis, and I guess there is a kind of meme floating about that Willis is the first (or let’s say the first significant) “female rock critic.” Weird that people are mentioning this to me, given that I’ve avoided that particular angle altogether (not that it isn’t an interesting and important angle to explore — it is, I just don’t know what to say about it myself). Anyway… yeah, Lillian Roxon, for sure, very important and excellent critic. In fact, I just purchased a used copy of her Rock Encyclopedia on eBay a month or so ago (after years of being told by my friend Phil just how great it is), and some of the entries I’ve read are as good as I’ve been led to believe, though I need much more time with it to comment further (it’s been crowded out of my consciousness by all the new books that have come my way). For the time being, I direct you back to this earlier post for a look and listen on YouTube, from 1973.
(I should also note that it would be equally foolish to give the impression that Roxon and Willis were the only early female rock critics, though one thing that separates Willis from the others is her relative longevity in the field. Christgau mentions a bunch of other names in this piece he wrote on Meltzer in 1970, including Lorraine Alterman and Ellen Sander.)
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Posted by s woods on November 27, 2009
I am suddenly and irrationally obsessed with “wordles.”
See the post below (from Nov. 11) called “Architectonic.” Now see the “wordle” version.
Posted in Art & Photography, Blabbin' | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on November 25, 2009
Is anyone else already as sick of decade-end lists as I am? Everyday on Twitter and elsewhere I bump into (or am inundated by — there’s stuff coming in through e-mail as well) with best this-that-&-the-other-thing lists: albums (the most common list, by far), songs, metal bands, metal anthems, videos, movies, movie trailers, movie quotes, magazine covers, TV shows, fiction titles, non-fiction titles, book covers, music blogs, political blogs, video games, comics, comic characters… it goes on. I don’t know what tree I’m barking up here, I’m as implicated in the problem (wait — is it a problem?) as the stuff I’m pointing to (the only thing more clichéd than terminal listmaking is complaining about terminal listmaking). And yeah, I ask all this: a) smack dab in the middle of continuing with my list of “favourite reads” right here on this site (TBH, my own progress has slowed purely from fatigue with the concept itself); b) knowing damn well I’ll be putting together my own Top 10 songs list in a couple weeks or so (and engaging in a podcast/conversation about it, no less); and c) fully aware that I am shutting myself off from reading some interesting thoughts on the ’00s as a result of my fatigue.
So — not sure what I’m asking here exactly. Any general thoughts on the matter? Do you care about any of it at this point?
Posted in 2000s Roundup, Blabbin' | 3 Comments »
Posted by s woods on October 22, 2009
Some of you may recall “The Rock Critical List,” a xeroxed (read: actually photocopied, on paper) screed about the state of rock criticism that made the rounds ten years ago via various record stores in North America and the U.S. postal service (for a short time, it was also available on SPIN‘s website — it was in fact one of the first things on the web I ever linked to). Thing set off a brief firestorm, resulting in a three part Village Voice feature [1, 2, 3] and much sniping among insiders about the true identity of the list’s anonymous author, “JoJo Dancer aka The Gay Rapper.”
In Same as it Ever Was, Daniel Nester marks the tenth anniversary of JoJo’s rant with a lengthy recap of the story along with interviews with some of the key players involved.
What follows (after the jump) are some comments I sent to Nester about the “RCL” after being asked for my two cents on the matter (I’ll spare you the jokes about the value of two cents CDN when placed up against the mighty U.S. penny). Unfortunately, the “RCL” itself is nowhere to be found online, though a badly formatted version of the list section (which is only one portion of the entire piece) can be found here.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Blabbin', Links | 2 Comments »