1. The 1975
“One and the same civilization produces simultaneously two such different things as a poem by T.S. Eliot and a Tin Pan Alley song, or a painting by Braque and a Saturday Evening Post cover… [W]hat perspective of culture is large enough to enable us to situate them in an enlightening relation to each other?”
—Clement Greenberg, “Avant Garde & Kitsch”
When I was nine or ten I heard “We Didn’t Start The Fire” in my grade-school music class and was assigned to write a poem in similar cadence. The bulk is lost but I remember clearly couplets like “George Bush/ brain mush” (it was 2004). Sentimental, then, to hear The 1975’s “Love It If We Made It”: “Consultation/ Degradation/ Fossil fuelling/ Masturbation/ Immigration/ Liberal kitsch/ Kneeling on a pitch.” This is Dombal’s “Anthem for Our Time,” a “mirror up to our collective faces.” Zoladz over at The Ringer calls it “one for the time capsule” right after mentioning the quoted lyrics took two years for Healy to write. Both Dombal and Zoladz seem the type who’d think the climate change scenes in Schrader’s First Reformed were its finest moments (and who couldn’t accept its ending in redemptive if wholly a-contemporary grace), where relating to the present and the political are inherently valuable as ends, aside from quality, nuance, or integratedness of commentary.
Continue reading “The 1975’s Brief Inquiry”
Spilled Reality, “One more on The 1975?”:
The 1975 bloomed late in pop critics’ multi-decade questioning of masculine-rockist values like authenticity and edginess. In the new pop(ul)ist paradigm, entertainment value and its near heuristic, melodic propulsion, are strong arguments for aesthetic quality in themselves. Authenticity is redefined, less a matter of sheer aesthetic originality (anxiety of influence) or economic identity (working class fetish) but of emotional confession or appearance thereof. The boolean fact of politicization, and the polarity of sympathy, matter more than the sophistication of approach. Continue reading “Flowers in a Pop(ul)ist Paradigm”
As I understand it, the idea in Benjamin Hoffman’s “Poets are intelligence assets” is that there’s all this ambient information about specific cultural moments which is packed into a text unintentionally. My impression is past theorists have called this, loosely, “ideology,” though the word carries deep-politic connotations. “Worldview” may be a better term, but I’m not as familiar with the theory as I should be. Continue reading “Poets are Intelligence Assets”
I’ve been set free and I’ve been bound
To the memories of yesterday’s clouds
I’ve been set free and I’ve been bound
And now I’m set free
I’m set free to find a new illusion
— “I’m Set Free,” The Velvet Underground
“As time goes on… the universe becomes more and more what experience has revealed, less and less what imagination has created, and hence, since it was not designed to suit man’s needs, less and less what he would have it be. With increasing knowledge his power to manipulate his physical environment increases, but in gaining the knowledge which enables him to do so he surrenders insensibly the power which in his ignorance he had to mold the universe.”
— Joseph Wood Krutch
Continue reading “Text, Telos, and Ritual”
One of my favorite pieces of Mark Richardson’s writing is his 2012 essay “I Wanna Live: Two Songs About Freedom” for the now-dead column Resonant Frequency. In it, he waxes eloquent on the two-chord song, especially Bowie’s “Heroes,” Cat Power’s “Nothin But Time,” and LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”:
[There] is something especially powerful about music with this harmonic structure. In my mind, when I’m listening — and especially if it’s a song that wants to comment on something about “life” — the two chords seem to say, “Sometimes it’s like this, and then other times it’s like this.” Day and night, love and fear, yin and yang, life and death.
Continue reading “Memory of Lovers”
“This makes the pop song an indispensable mirror: The way in which a listener imposes himself upon the text, or transforms the text from generic to specific, shows that listener something about himself. He learns his yearnings, his sadnesses, his loves; he recognizes an emotional life which is otherwise elusive, and solidifies in time an emotional state which is otherwise ephemeral.”
Continue reading “Generic Fit”
One of the critical ideas I’ve found most interesting of late is a seeming contradiction: Just because it sounds like bad music doesn’t mean it is bad music. “Just because it reads like a bad novel doesn’t mean it’s a bad novel” is also sort of true, but a bit more complicated.
The tenability of the first statement, of course, is the result of specific parameters for what it means to sound bad versus be bad. Specifically, the phrasing of “sounding like bad music” is key: it opens the possibility, when X track sounds like bad music Y, that the sonic trappings and features which X shares with Y music are not in themselves bad; that the “bad music” in question is ineffective or unpleasant for reasons separate from its overlap with track X.
Continue reading ““If It Sounds Bad It Is Bad””
I filled in a long-standing gap in my cultural knowledge recently and watched Lynch’s 2001 noir masterpiece Mulholland Drive. That’s the sensation, right? Where listening to records or watching films in an era of unprecedented access begins to feel a bit like doing homework.
Except Mulholland Drive is, itself, an almost unprecedently interesting film, one capable of arousing sensations in the viewer which he was previously unaware existed.”Uncanny” is used frequently to describe a Lynchean landscape, a place where things are simultaneously banal and extraordinary, both incredibly familiar and unnervingly off.
There’s a scene in the film during which one of its central protagonists, a successful Hollywood director, auditions lead actresses for his screenplay. Shadowy organizations are pulling strings behind the scenes so that the casting decision is essentially out of his hands, but he cycles through the motions regardless, asking several of the actresses to perform different 50s pop hits in a mock-up recording studio. One of these (diegetically) auditioned actresses is played by (real life) Melissa George, singing the rendition of “I’ve Told Every Little Star” shown in the footage below.
Continue reading “Every Little Star”