Was Creem a Bastion of Anti-intellectualism? Pt. II

This trashiness was linked to Detroit. In their March 1970 editorial “The Michigan Scene Today,” Barry Kramer, “Deday” LaRene, and Dave Marsh wrote: “It was rock and roll music which first drew us out of our intellectual covens and suburban shells” because “life in Detroit is profoundly anti-intellectual” since its “institutions are industrial and businesslike.” This setting, according to the editorial, gave birth to a youth culture defined not by visions of gentle harmony, but by a more tough-minded, realistic sensibility.

Marsh felt that Detroit was an especially potent site for this powerful force. In Detroit, the music “had to be hard and high energy, too, because the very nature of the city was, and is, dead-set against the Rockicrucian Spirit, and all its implications.” For Marsh, the Motor City “was as anti-metaphysical as the cars that are so aptly its symbol,” but because of this gritty setting, it produced a powerful sensibility that moved between realism and idealism in the search for both countercultural and commercial success

Both quotes taken from Michael J. Kramer’s “Can’t Forget the Motor City” – Creem Magazine, Rock Music, Detroit Identity, Mass Consumerism, and the Counterculture (which was reprinted in rockcritics back in 2003, and will eventually show up back here on the main site as well). I note that Kramer’s piece is cited in Devon Powers’s book, which may be the source of her referring to Creem‘s “anti-intellectual” approach?

Cf. Richard Riegel’s illuminating comment in part 1 of this topic.

2 thoughts on “Was Creem a Bastion of Anti-intellectualism? Pt. II

  1. Hi Scott — See my comment on Pt. 1. For what it’s worth and just to be clear, my goal in that essay, which I think you get but I want to put it on record, was to try to illuminate (and honor) the intriguing use of anti-intellectual stances in quite intellectual ways at Creem and to do so not to wield irony as a defense against feeling but rather to feel the world more powerfully, meaningfully, and, well, feelingfully. It’s a really different kind of use of irony and so-called “anti-intellectualism” than the cynicism and despair now commonly invoked (or dismissed). Lester Bangs had many flaws, but he always rallied himself away from cynicism and despair in his writing, often precisely by using his close listening to rock to face them square in the eye (or better said, the ear) and to find his way out from cynicism and despair through his typewriter (precisely why he once played it on stage with the band I think). Marsh was fiercer, more ornery, more defensive than Bangs. But the same insistence on not giving in to despair and cynicism is in his writing from that period too, I think. Same for many of the other writers in Creem from that time. — All best, Michael

  2. Yes, Michael, thanks for the good words about Lester. He was definitely an existentialist about music, and I think about life itself, right up until the day he died. Something that’s occurred to me in recent years is that for me, in Lester’s critiques, there was always kind of an unspoken implication, “Maybe you shouldn’t be listening to music at all,” which somehow made the records he was writing about seem even more important. I think some of us in that generation saw rockwriting as our cohort’s continuation of Beat literature, which could lead to us writing fiction and other more Kerouacian expressions down the line. Nick Tosches has really made that transition over the years, with Richard Meltzer not far behind, but Lester died too soon to accomplish his plan to write a novel. Maybe he wouldn’t have been able to do that anyway, even if he’d lived a lot longer, but still there would be music to write about, even if that wasn’t the ultimate prize.

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