Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Axes of Judgment

At Fact Magazine, k-punk has a great interview with Simon Reynolds, on the occasion of his upcoming book, Bring the Noise: Twenty Years of writing about Hip Rock and Hip Hop. I've written some about my own approaches to pop and rock. I've wanted to open myself up to the possibilities of finding pleasure in different kinds of music previously unknown to me, but in thinking about it I've managed to confuse myself. Plenty of music I like I can only listen to as a complete outsider, unless I invest a lot of time and money into obsessing about each and every scene. Some of the anxiety I've felt about music has stemmed from the insane realization that I cannot do this (as if I should want to!). So the music comes to me as pop, and must come to me as pop, in a sense, or divorced from the scene from which it comes (unless it exists purely as pop, i.e., music to meant to chart, as something like Kelly Clarkson is). And I cherry-pick various styles of music, getting enjoyment across the board. But my main mode of association with music, I sometimes forget, is in delving deep. If I find something I dig, my tendency is to want to hear everything I can by that artist, and all related offshoots and bands. (Incidentally, I think of these questions as being related to certain literary questions I've been asking, particularly into "genre".)

Anyway, I'll be reading this book when it appears. Here's an excerpt from the interview.
Fact: Let’s turn now to your rehabilitation of 'rockism'. You situate the book as picking up the story where Rip it Up left off, but the attack on 'rockism' originated with post-punk. Is the reclaiming of 'rockism' an unlearning of post-punk orthodoxy, or can your take on rockism be seen as in some ways continuous with post-punk?

SR: A complicated area. Obviously, the idea of rockism as a bad thing, a blinkered mindset, was a really useful initiative when first mooted in post-punk days, and it carried on being salient and productive for some time after that. There are many aspects of rockism that remain worth attacking - privileging of the electric guitar; any approach that fixates on the song and sees rock as form of surrogate literature, the songwriter as story teller; limiting notions of authenticity, et al. I would agree with those who argue that rockism actually limits one’s understanding of rock music itself, of where its power lies. And those died-in-the-wool rockists still lurking out there who dismiss disco/rap/techno/etc aren’t “real” music are reactionary fools who deserve our scorn.

That said, the anti-rockist polemic that resurged this decade seems to have developed a kind of runaway momentum, a malign logic that some people followed through to absurd places. You started getting people arguing that singling out a figure like Timbaland as an auteur and an innovator, that is rockist. Or that if you allowed your sense of the artist’s personality - their intent and integrity - to interfere with your enjoyment of a record, that meant your mind was still shackled by rockist hang-ups. There seems to be a drive towards eliminating all axes of judgement beyond pure pleasure, the supposed purity of the consumer’s unmediated experience of the pop commodity. The distinction between “urgent” and “trivial” is obviously a no-no for these heroic anti-rockists, but you even get people seriously debating whether distinctions based on quality - good/bad - are rockist and should be jettisoned. The most recent test case figure for this lunatic fringe of anti-rockism is Paris Hilton. When you’re developing elaborate validating analyses of Paris Hilton, that ought to be a sign that you’re gone too far!


pgwp said...

You've got my mind turning... I'd love to hear you elaborate. Some of what you're saying sounds like I'm reading myself! If you'd launched into an obsession with Graham Greene I'd swear I was reading my own blog. Perhaps you'll appreciate some of the similar territory I've tried mining lately (this post, for instance).

Great blog. I found you last week and have been checking back regularly.

Richard said...

Thanks for the compliment, pgwp!

I have elaborated on some of this stuff in previous posts.... I guess if you haven't already done so, clicking on the music label will show some of those posts. I expect I will be saying more about it in the future, too.