Friday, May 15, 2009

A bit more on Sonic Youth

Of course, even as I was writing, numerous arguments contra k-punk's attacks on Sonic Youth came to mind (several of which are better articulated here and here). I could have gone on and on, but I soon realized it wasn't Sonic Youth that was the issue. I am suspicious of the narrative of progress, in art as much as in society generally, so there's no particular need to worry about innovation, as such. Though the question of the need for a work to exist is something else entirely.

But now for a little defense of Sonic Youth of my own. In the context of commercial music under capitalism, with its institutional disdain for the things people care about, for families and communities, with co-optation ongoing and inevitable--given this context, isn't much of what Sonic Youth does exactly the kind of thing we need? For one thing, of course, they actually play music. They are not just spectators, as so many of us are (myself especially). And they are a cohesive unit and a family. They pay due respect to a certain tradition, one that matters to them, and are generous with younger musicians and artists. Isn't the Left supposed to value such common efforts and communal activity? Isn't expecting "culture" to somehow transcend itself and deliver the future a bit much to ask of it, on its own? Though I maintain, contrary to the dismissals of the recent discussion, that the band has been on a remarkable late career run, it's nevertheless true that it can easily be charged that the world does not need another Sonic Youth record. But, frankly, we don't need any more records of any kind. But the world does need music. If recording music became a technological impossibility (as it seems to me it eventually will, optimist that I am), I feel confident that Sonic Youth would find some way to make a worthy racket and continue to enable others to do the same. I say good for them.

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