Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Less seems to be on the line

Carl Wilson has two blog posts--sort of a series of footnotes, if you will--following up on his excellent Slate article from last week, which was a response to Sasha Frere-Jones' New Yorker piece about indie rock, "A Paler Shade of White" (see my earlier posts on this topic, here, here, and here). The following comes from the second, and addresses the common "so what?" refrain:
Finally, what is the problem with the upper-class-ization of indie rock, if that's true? It might mirror some social trends I find troubling but what is the musical issue? It's not an objection to any one or several groups' practice, but to an accumulated tendency, and some of the answers are similar to what Sasha named as the consequences of a lack of African-American influence. The main one I think is the profile of ambition that comes across in the music: Because the privileged musicians don't have the same survival issues at stake that pop musicians historically often have had (which are comparable to what motivates a lot of people who become star athletes), the aspirations are more modest and the stakes often seem much lower. Less seems to be on the line. The art of performance often suffers (that "show-biz" put-it-all-out-there fire). With the most gifted musicians, this doesn't matter so much, because they find something else to be ambitious about, something to stretch their capacities. But with others it can indeed produce a dullish, good-enough music, which was the core of Sasha's complaint.
Focusing on "survival issues" could easily lead us into the rather iffy area of insisting that "real" artists must materially suffer for their art. But maybe "survival" could be read metaphorically as "artistic need". Does all of this nice enough music need to exist? I mean, for the artists. Does the mountain of professional-quality, good enough fiction need to exist? Do the writers have any felt need to write, other than an abstract desire to be a writer, to have written, to publish? Impossible to really answer, of course, but it often seems as if not much is on the line artistically (as opposed to, say, the creator's very existence) in much of the fiction or music that is produced.

I'm writing through a fog of headaches and sleepiness, otherwise I'd be better able to flesh out my thinking (or make it minimally coherent?). I may have to return to this idea later.

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