Chuck Eddy interview, Oct 2017 (link)

But at the same time, you told me when we talked last week that this is yet another clichéd sentiment, that music was at one time the center of the culture and that the internet has ruined that. You said that things like The Beatles and Michael Jackson and Nirvana were huge exceptions.
I just think — when you mention those names, I think what you’re referring to is how people talk about how there was this monoculture where everybody was in tune to the same music at the same time. I mean, I’ve been hearing about fragmentation ever since I started hearing about music. I cared more about baseball than music through high school. I’m kind of a weirdo in that way, where I didn’t really start buying records, like, constantly, until my freshman year in college. That’s basically when I started reading music criticism and stuff like that.
     But ever since I started, I’ve heard people talk about how the music world is becoming more fragmented. Again, that’s something — and I’ve seen criticism from long before then, probably to the late ’60s, that would talk that way.
    But, it’s like, if you think about it, in the early ’60s, the same people who bought Kingston Trio albums probably weren’t necessarily buying girl-group albums. You know? I mean, what I really wonder is whether the same people who bought Kingston Trio albums bought early Beach Boys albums because they kinda dressed the same.
    They both covered “Sloop John B.” I get the idea that it was two different audiences. That you had a college audience buying the folk revival bands, and suntan high-school frat-boy audience — these are clichés — buying Beach Boy albums, early on. Pre-Pet Sounds or whatever. I’d have to check but I feel like I read once that the biggest selling album of the ’60s was The Sound of Music soundtrack. Lots of people in the wider culture hated The Beatles. They hated their long hair. And it was like news when Leonard Bernstein embraced [them]. And I’m no Beatles expert.
    A lot of people hated Michael Jackson! I mean, it wasn’t long after the whole ‘disco sucks’ thing, which I lived through in the late ’70s. I remember when those disco records were set on fire by rock bands [fans?] at the Tigers-White Sox game…
A sprawling interview (is there any other kind?) with Chuck Eddy at No Don’t Die, a site devoted to video games.

13 thoughts on “Chuck Eddy interview, Oct 2017 (link)

  1. My impression, from working in music retail and receiving innumerable press releases, is that fragmentation can be something like divide and conquer, marketing-wise (which can include some reviews): “You don’t want to be like those people, do you? So listen to this instead, they hate it.” Even better—appropriation! “Here’s what they like, but improved—you’re not really one of them, of course.” Narrowcasting didn’t start with the Web (how far back? Maybe check the Centuries of Sound site).

  2. One thing is: there really used to be a Top 40 – even a Top 100. There really used to be regional hits. Radio stations were not all owned by a few “people”, so there were wild cards among commercial stations, idiosyncracies of individual DJs that had not been ruthlessly mowed down. There was no national “KISS-FM” playing a handful of hits again and again. (I’ve heard a lot of KISS this decade because some of my kids want it on during car trips, and it gave us a lot to talk about too).

    On twitter last month a guy who worked in retail said he was glad to have Christmas music back again, because it did not all have the exact same sonic palette. As tiresome as Xmas music could be, at least it spanned the decades and was not all produced in precisely the same way. It was really weird a few years ago when KISS was playing a Mumford Sons hit because it came off like a rabbit in a dog show: it stood out that much, with a bizarre sonic imprint in that context.

    Christgau’s “semi-pop” notion used to be about Radio City reaching critics but few others. Now our whole pop economy resembles our messed up oligarchy: a few big name movers with outsized power and influence at the top; the rest is semi-popular music reaching various genuinely fragmented audiences, with little hope of widespread impact.

  3. Right, lots of advantages to “fragmentation”, I didn’t mean that all marketing does what I was talking about, just that some of it can and does and has.

  4. Totally makes sense, I didn’t see my post as disagreeing with you in any way Don, just to be clear.

    I can’t distinguish any more between genuine consensus moments in pop music love and consolidation of power at the top. I know that people genuinely love these mega stars but there is something also very top-down about the way all the media writes about the same few people on cue and we are all supposed to care at exactly the same time.

    I slept on the Nirvana boom, oddly enough; but just two years earlier I caught a real one: in summer 1989 in San Francisco, the amazing radio-less ascent of NWA was audible throughout the city, among blacks and whites, I heard it blasting out of Victorian flats, boomboxes, and tinnily out of walkman headphones from my seatmates on the buses. It was just like the way Langdon Winner described the week Sgt. Pepper came out, but instead of getting high with a little help from our friends, it was Fuck the Police – a sentiment we could all get behind.

  5. 1. “Lots of people in the wider culture hated The Beatles. They hated their long hair. And it was like news when Leonard Bernstein embraced [them]. And I’m no Beatles expert.
    “A lot of people hated Michael Jackson!”
    Yes, but I think the larger point (and I’m wearing a hat here I don’t necessarily agree with) is that these two moments exemplify monoculture because they provided a centre around which everything else in the culture revolved, and the specifics of the dialogue (whether one adored or hated Michael Jackson) was irrelevant, what was relevant was that you and a gazillion other people occupied the same space and were, in some shape or form (not necessarily verbally) having a conversation about him. (This is also how I interpret Lester Bangs’s “we will never agree on anyone as we agreed on Elvis” line, which implicitly includes all the people who despised Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll, etc., whether Bangs meant it that way or not.)

    2. If I were to consider monoculture a useful way to think of this stuff, I’d be closer to insisting that it’s more true now than ever. The smart phone is monoculture. The corporatization of culture in general has produced a monoculture-like effect, something you notice now when, if you live in Canada, you travel down to the U.S. When my wife and I went to Texas ten years ago, I couldn’t help remark on how, driving out of the Austin airport (and for some distance), everything we could see from the highway looked “exactly like Toronto” (it did change the further south we got, true), whereas 30 years earlier you could drive no further than to Buffalo from Toronto and feel like you had entered—well, a different country.

    3. That NWA story is terrific. I guess it makes Straight Outta Compton, after Sgt. Pepper, the second closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

  6. Perfect, Vic… everything pushed to its extreme flips into its reverse.

    This article might be worth reading, but full disclosure: I haven’t read it and I don’t know if I will (which should preclude me from linking to it but I guess I’m feeling wild or irresponsible today). Anyway, it begins thusly:

    “Two apparently contradictory truisms seem to persist at the heart of the great North American cultural debate. The first the mirror of F.S. Michael’s thesis in her provocative new book, Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything (Red Clover, 2011) is that the story of market capitalism (economism, some call it) is now touching and changing everything. Society is increasingly run on an economic logic that speaks, reasons, and assigns value in terms of productivity, cost, and return. In other words, market capitalism now is the thing that unites us.

    “The second, and a favourite sticking point for generations of political pundits, is that the consensus at the heart of American and Canadian democracy is eroding that our once-united societies are spinning off into more and more clusters of people who are united by private delights, but not by a project of public meaning.”

  7. He draws on a narrow spectrum of dissent, but if that were corrected for, it would only help his overall thesis that there are lots of competing stories. There’s nothing like a level concourse for everybody to get those stories out into the biggest media places, but this condition might have improved rather than gotten worse. Plus the boomers surely can’t live forever, and they might have been the last generation to truly imbibe the grand national narrative uncritically.

  8. Don’t know if this is relevant to the discussion: but Elvis and the Beatles changed the world not just for their fans but for a lot of people who didn’t like them and didn’t listen to them, whereas Nirvana didn’t, at least not to nearly the extent; ditto for Michael Jackson and NWA.

    Elvis and the Beatles were divisive figures. First, they benefited from divisions that were already there. As relative cultural outsiders, they were able to become big, defining forces on radio because the mainstream was watching TV and had ceded the ground. Second, of course, they deepened divisions and created more divisions. But also they were part of a contrary motion that helped undo some divisions: e.g., because of them, a lot more white kids were listening to r&b and soul.

    But I do think focusing on figures like the Beatles and Elvis and Michael Jackson skews the discussion, and skews your thinking, at least in the way you’re focusing . Sure, “everyone” had heard of the Beatles, but an even larger everyone had heard of Pope Paul, and so what? Everyone had heard of the Vietnam War, too. Americans had heard of the Vietnam War! The Viet Cong had heard of the Vietnam War! (I think they called it something different, though; the American Invasion, maybe?) Even your mother had heard of the Vietnam War! WE WILL NEVER AGAIN AGREE ON ANYTHING AS WE AGREED ON VIETNAM. –Which is actually not a stupid statement, though I don’t think I agree with it. But the reason it’s not stupid is that the “we” isn’t remotely everyone, any more than Lester’s “we” was remotely everyone.

    No definition of either of those “we’s” will be adequate; it’d simultaneously include some people who don’t belong in the “we” and exclude some who do. But let’s say the Vietnam “we” is people who think of the war and of Jim Crow as demonstrating something definingly wrong with America. This is a large range of people who have strong and destructive disagreements as to what the war and Jim Crow are much less about just what the war etc. tell us needs to be done. Nonetheless, there is this sense of common dilemma if not always common cause, and this “we” throws us in with and gives us connection to people we might not have been with before; but it also obviously tears us away from friends etc. who are not part of that “we,” at least creates a rip in our life that wasn’t there prior to Vietnam. (Notice how I shorten the war to “Vietnam” in that sentence. I wonder what a Vietnamese would think reading it.) When the war goes away, a lot of the “we” disperses, though the social landscape doesn’t revert to what it had been, either. As for Lester’s “we,” I’d guess that Elvis had reordered Lester’s childhood landscape and thrown him into a “we” that hadn’t existed before to nearly such an extent, and which would not have included most of his teachers, for instance; and that “we” among other things eventually created a space for rock criticism and rockcrit readers, so includes the people he’s speaking most to when he writes – but still beyond that he can go back to a sense that some beatniks and greasers and college students are in cultural connection and conversation in a way that they would not have been if there hadn’t been an Elvis and a rock ‘n’ roll to draw them in. They don’t have to all like or comprehend Elvis similarly to feel that there’s a common mattering around the “we” that Elvis helped create (helped create both the “we” and the mattering). –As I said, I don’t think I agree with what I just wrote, that Vietnam and Elvis were all that unifying for those relevant quasisubgroups and that the end of Elvis’s centrality (with Elvis it ended way before he died) and the end of the Vietnam War’s centrality caused such a big dispersal. I’m working the playdough into an awful lot of shapes trying to conceptualize Lester’s “we.” Nonetheless, I think he’s got a right to it and that (1) these are good nonstupid arguments, and (2) they walk us away from ridiculous vaporfarts that surround claims about “monoculture” and “everyone listened to Top 40” and so forth. (Remember, we all were humming “Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band). And they should help you not feel you have to crowbar in “all the people who despised Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll, etc.,” which is impossibly, uselessly overbroad. E.g., my parents would’ve had vague opinions about Elvis – in 1975 or so I played the Sun Sessions for my mother, who was genuinely surprised and pleased by them: she had never or barely heard Elvis, thought of him as a Liberace type figure – but my parents were not meaningfully in conversation with him or about him. They just weren’t, and their world didn’t insist that they be.

    But also, in the final paragraph of that Elvis piece, Lester was conflating two different thoughts that don’t go together: (i) the “we” that in some manner “agreed” on Elvis has now dispersed and no figure is again going to create such a “we” that would include Lester, and (ii) people really suck at effectively getting to know and care about each other. He runs those two ideas together by claiming – while already half taking it back, but then his final sentence confirms the claim (it’s a very strangely constructed paragraph) – that we create a contemptuous indifference to each other’s “objects of reverence.” “I thought it was Iggy Stooge, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation’s many pains and few ecstasies.” Running these two thoughts together gives his closing sentence an emotional kick. –No one ever quotes that sentence, though, and I’m not going to either. Typing the end of each of the first seven issues of Why Music Sucks I wanted to quote that line, but forbade myself to; I knew I’d be saying it out of anger, not because I really believed it. –But thought ii above, people’s difficulty in getting to know and care about each other, is pretty much a constant through history. At least, it doesn’t depend on whether or not we all happen to have the same icons glaring down at us. Getting to know and care about each other and our separate “objects of reverence” isn’t so much a feeling as it’s a skill, but it requires not just practice and effort but that we be surrounded by communities that value our getting to know one another and that teach us how to, and that hold us accountable for how well or poorly we do it. Whatever Elvis’s impact and achievements, he didn’t give us that sort of community. Rockwrite and musicwrite aren’t entirely worthless and hapless in this regard – most other intellectual communities are even worse, despite their being better funded – but rockwrite and musicwrite are still obviously, wretchedly bad at it, at this communication-and-understanding thing, and I don’t see why you don’t see this.

  9. “ditto for Michael Jackson and NWA.” –That is, neither Michael Jackson or NWA changed the world much for those who didn’t care about them, unlike Elvis and the Beatles. Also, my apologies to Chuck for writing about Lester rather than him but I haven’t gotten to the interview yet.

  10. Thanks, Frank. Great point about your (and for sure my) parents, for whom the Beatles were mostly just this thing they’d heard of and which their oldest son (not me) was interested in. Indeed, when charged with the duty to get said son a Beatles record, my dad purchased a knockoff by the Buggs; why on earth WOULD he have gotten it right (I’m guessing this might have been ’65 or ’66 too, and not right at the start of it all, but I don’t know that I can confirm either way). Much else to chew on also but I need some time. I honestly have no idea what argument I’m committed to making here, though, so your last sentence confuses me a little–don’t see why I don’t see WHAT? You needn’t respond, I probably just need to re-read.

  11. Last sentence was just referring back to your puzzlement several years ago about my Dead Lester posts on my LiveJournal, which posts you referred to the last time we talked here about “monoculture.” (That reference will be cryptic enough to anyone reading this thread. I’m too hurried to provide links at the moment. Heading off to the women’s march.)

    But yeah, I don’t see you committing yourself to any particular argument in your comment. You may be hinting at something that I myself think of as a potentially good procedure for thinking comparatively about how one culture differs from another, and for exploring what each is like by using one to highlight the other: one thing to look at is what people in that culture frequently disagree about; then compare this to what people in the other culture frequently disagree about, to notice the world where one disagreement seems to be a big deal and another what that type of disagreement hardly exists. The same if you want to compare different times in history. But the way to do this is to focus not so much on whom they disagree about – e.g., talking about Trump or Beatles or Leonard Cohen – but on what words they use to praise or disparage. That is, to me it seems that what struck me as “honest” about the Sex Pistols back in the day is what strikes a lot of Donald Trump’s supporters as honest about him, the way each goes for what sounds impolite and unacceptable to stable, polite society, behavior that could potentially get one in trouble in one’s own daily life. Of course, Trump is dishonest with every breath; but I think he profits politically by feeling honest to people who let the feeling of unacceptability act as a shorthand for honesty. It’s more complicated than that, of course: The Sex Pistols were being unacceptable to at least some of their fans’ ears, while Trump plays and kowtows to his supporters, while appearing not to. I don’t have much respect for his supporters. I still think my “Autobiography of Bob Dylan” is a useful primer. A useful step is to look at people and places where our – uneasy – acceptability of unacceptability makes sense versus people and places where it doesn’t.

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