Monday, November 29, 2004

Could someone please start informing folks that rockism has fuckall to do with musical taste and everything to do with letting the perception of how it's made, and who makes it, and "authenticity" so-called, guide whether you'll allow yourself to like it or not? Could we also have a moratorium on deciding that once you dislike an album that K. Sanneh must automatically like it because he is against all that is Good and True about Art*? (I like how before the article Kelefa was frequently automatically dismissed because the Times is institutionally stodgy and now he's become a strawman for wanton irreverence. My hunch is that he's enjoying all of this thoroughly.) Please? K thx bye.

Addendum: I wrote that in a tired, pissy mood, and it is to Rex's eternal credit that he responded via email very cogently and with good humor:

The best thing about Sanneh's piece is that everyone tries to keep telling each other what is was really about, often in contradictory ways. But his argument is surely more about just production values and critiquing authenticity. There's implicit and explicit references to actual taste.

Rex's examples, from Sanneh: "When did we all agree that Nirvana's neo-punk was more respectable than Ms. Carey's neo-disco?" and "You can argue that the shape-shifting feminist hip hop of Christina Aguilera is every bit as radical as the punk rock of the 1970s [and it is].")

Rex goes on:

In this case, there's not a bone of irreverence in me. I read and love The Times more than any human being you know. In fact, every single rock critic I know adores some aspect of Sanneh's diatribe. . . . If Sanneh's point is simply 'you can't judge a book by its cover' (substance over style, or whatever), that's fine. But he really does more than that -- he has to take it one step further into praxis, and that's where he stumbles.

My response, in part:

I'd vote for it too if I hadn't already been arguing about the same shit for the past three years, usually on ILM. which means I should leave it alone completely, except I can't . . . anyway, I'm not trying to explain what Kelefa means, I'm trying to explain what *I* mean.


People who support this whole rockism meme typically say something like this: "Just give Gwen Stefani a fair shake, that's all I ask." I find that so silly -- that ethos has already been completely ingrained in music criticism (and music appreciation) for at least 10 years! Like you think that I'm predisposed not to like pop, or something? It's an absolute given you have to view music as a societal consequence, as a form of entertainment, as a part of the cultcha machine. Of course everything has potential value. Absolutely. Who would argue that?

My only point is that this rockism concept is such a straw man. The rockists are long, long gone. Every one of my music crit friends (Melissa, Chuck, Dolan, Laura, Keith) is more populist than me -- or probably even the average rock music fan. The major magazines -- Blender, EW -- are 100% anti-rockists. (Spin has maybe one rockist left; Rolling Stone has a few.)

To which I respond: In a way, popism-not-rockism is anathema to the ingrained auteurism of most arts criticism. People who love pop music are looking for kicks and aren't necessarily worried about the lasting value/impact of what they're listening to--it's what attracts us to the music to begin with. It goes against academic ideas of the canon and the auteur, though those things often intersect; I prefer the early Beatles to the later Beatles because the songs kick harder, feel freer and less self-conscious, are more fun and frisky--and anyone can tell you the Beatles are the very model of the rockist ideal.

To me, the examples aren't even things like Rolling Stone's top 500 songs--it's silly and boring, yes (not because it's a list--this is ME talking here--but because it is So Fucking Deadly Predictable and Not-Fun), but it's an easy distraction. It's things like Joe Queenan reviewing According to the Rolling Stones in the Times Book Review with all the preening know-nothing-ism he can muster, talking about how the Stones never went disco (except you know for four-five albums plus getting Armand Van Helden to remix them a few years back, cough cough). It's Alex Ross doubting whether Justin Timberlake owns a pen. It's New Order fans making fun of post-rave dance music even though the major difference between them are BPM (sometimes), guitars (sometimes), and the fact that Bernard Sumner is a lousier singer than most sampled divas.

Anyway, it's only fair to let Rex have the last, best word: "I've had more conversations about this article than I've had about any album this year. It gets my vote for Album of the Year."