Matthew over at Soho the Dog has a great post about irony and nerdiness that picks up on on my own thing about Mixmaster Mike from the other day. Matthew, like me, is a Beastie Boys fan, and busts mad geeky rhymes from Paul’s Boutique. But let’s not forget this one from Hello Nasty:

I’m the king of Boggle, there is none higher

I gets eleven points off the word “quagmire”

Matthew’s great contribution here is to have formulated Guerrieri’s Law of True Musicianship, which states, “real musicians can be identified by their temperamental inability to keep their guilty pleasures to themselves. In fact, they’re not even
all that guilty about it.” Very true. The concept of a “guilty pleasure,” like the desire to read irony into everything that musicians do, is a reception thing, not a creation thing. Or, put another way: “camp,” “so bad it’s good,” “guilty pleasures,” “ironic distance,” etc., are less often artifacts of musical practice than artifacts of hipster anxiety — something rockcrit snobs do to define their musical tastes against The Masses. (That being said, some musicians, like Frank Zappa, do get into this bag.) Jim Kakalios, whose book The Physics of Superheroes looks like a dumb gimmick but is in fact a work of geek genius, writes a line I would have engraved in the lintel of every door of every humanities building in the nation:

Over the years I have continued to enjoy reading and collecting comic books. This is not a “guilty pleasure” of mine, simply because I don’t believe in “guilty” pleasures. Snobbery is just the public face of insecurity. (You like what you like, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about your interests and hobbies. Unless, of course, you golf.)

Now irony is an essential part of any artist’s expressive toolkit. After 9/11 some pundits were talking about the “death of irony,” which even in my dumbstruck state at the time I thought was stupid. That’s like talking about “the death of metaphor” or the “death of E-flat or “the death of red paint.” Maybe they just meant that now we’re all going to start relating to emotional experiences (in art, in life) in a deeper, more involved, less distanced way.

Nope, that didn’t happen either. The Sunday Times had a big arts section story on the “Starbucks Aesthetic,” which dealt with all the ways Starbucks is becoming a purveyor of cultural experiences intended to complement the beverages.* For example, they had Aimee Mann put on a concert:


Notice the two people IN THE FRONT who saw fit to treat this event the same way you’d treat any other aspect of the Starbucks experience, as a kind of sensory wallpaper that seeps around the edges of your consciousness** while you TALK ON YOUR DAMN CELL PHONE.

I think I’ll let the Red Robot speak for me here:


Rock musicians can expect all kinds of insane things to happen during a show — beer bottles flying at their heads, fans spitting at them, people yelling “you suck!” — but somehow talking on a cell phone is worse than any of that. Someone who tries to stub his cigarette out on your ankle is at least, you know, engaged in your performance. He might be moved to some obscure fanatical act of hate, but at least he’s letting you know that you’re at the center of his attention. Those girls talking on their cells aren’t even giving Aimee Mann that much respect. Not that I’m a staunch defender of Aimee Mann per se. But no musician deserves to be treated like she’s wearing a paper hat and a nametag that says “Hi! My name is Aimee!”

*Herbie Hancock is quoted as saying “Going to Starbucks, you feel kind of hip. I feel kind of hip when I go to Starbucks; that’s how I know!” NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Say it ain’t so, Herbie.

** Can wallpaper seep? It made sense when I wrote it.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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2 Responses to STFU

  1. Today I attended a recital in which no one spoke on cell phones, but the students were text-messaging in the very front row. If I’d been a performer on stage, it would have been very distracting.

  2. mwanji says:

    I think Herbie’s last album was on the Starbucks label.

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