La-Z-Blog

Phil Ford

<phord says goodbye to student advisee>
<phord doesn’t feel like doing all that photocopying>
<phord doesn’t have any fun new email messages>
<phord clicks to the Dial M settings page>

Do I Blog? Not feelin’ it. Do I go do my photocopying? No. OK, there are two ways to handle this situation:

1. Write a blog post about how I don’t have time to write a blog post. This is known as “the Teachout method.”

2. Wait for someone to email you the link to a good article and quote the best bits.

I’m going with no. 2 today.

Lee Konstantinou, a Ph.D. candidate in English at Stanford who took a seminar from me a few years ago, emailed me this review of a new book about the Velvet Underground. Here’s the best bit, which (handily enough for the lazy blogger) is the first paragraph:

Equinox is publishing a series of books called ‘Icons of Pop Music’. The volumes will be designed for ‘undergraduates and the general reader’. Ordinarily, I couldn’t think of anything less auspicious. Everyone likes the autobiographies of even the most inarticulate musicians; at least they can explain how they make the songs. But pop criticism can’t seem to escape the thrall of these biographies, and rarely has much to add. It won’t forsake the impulse to praise figures who no longer need to be praised. Historical pop figures are remembered as either too good or too bad to need defending; it’s guaranteed that anyone willing to read a volume on King Crimson, say, or Crosby, Stills and Nash, is already on board. Then there is the curse of Dylanology, such a blight on pop criticism: worship of lyrics as ‘poetry’, modelled on pop’s least representative major figure. This sort of writing fails the reality of pop: its special alchemy of lyrics that look like junk on the page, and music that seems underdeveloped when transcribed to a musical staff. Then there is the curse of arid musicology; and of Rolling Stone-ism, the gonzo rock journalist who thinks he is a rock star. Perhaps worst of all, there is the curse of the rhetoric of social action and ‘revolution’, a faith-based illusion that pop songs clearly manifest social history, or an exaggerated sense of what pop achieves in the world. In truth, most critics aren’t verbally equipped to describe any band’s vivid effects on its main audience: the listener at home, alone in his room.

Now, I’m too lazy to read the rest of the article, and I’m way too lazy to write anything much about what I just quoted, but you should all feel grateful to me for having posted it and saved you the effort of finding it yourselves. This paragraph is the single best summary I’ve ever read of what’s wrong with all writing about popular music.* I especially like the concluding sentence. I’ve always felt that the real audience for an album is the lone listener at home, and I’m happy to see someone acknowledging it. Most popular music writing assumes that the individual, insofar as s/he exists, is merely a cell in that blobby amorphous entity, “the audience,” and that his/her thoughts and feelings can be divined by virtue of the  race/gender/class/subcultural/whatever characteristics s/he is supposed to hold in  common with it. That last sentence was really badly written, wasn’t it? Well, I’m too lazy to fix it.

*Except for mine, natch.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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One Response to La-Z-Blog

  1. ECG says:

    Dude! Ripping on T.T.’s all-too-frequently-lackadaisical approach to blogposting — edgy. I heart it. Seems often (perhaps for reasons felt more than seen) in the artsy-criticismy blogosphere that T.T. gets tip-toed around like the proverbial sleeping gorilla — the WSJ affiliation, maybe? — but not here at Dial M!

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