Monday, September 30, 2019

About music criticism

Two people writing about music, one brilliantly perceptive, the other magnificently wrong. First, Dave Marsh in 1989 discussing the influence of the Delta blues, as expressed by Bo Diddley’s ‘I’m a Man’:
...functioned like an art virus, inhabiting as ghosts the music of men and women who worshipped them (the Yardbirds) or never heard of them (the Sex Pistols) or preferred to imagine they were doing something else (Steely Dan). As an influence, this makes Bo the Typhoid Mary of the genre. Or maybe the Faust.
And, in November 1962 (the date is significant), the promoter Bunny Lewis:
I don’t believe that the Americans could give a hoot for any of our singing artists... they just don’t want to know about any of our talent, and if our singers make more determined efforts to get in, the Americans will do all they can to keep them out.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

About Greta Thunberg

Two thoughts. First (prompted by a Facebook exchange), what would Roland Barthes have made of this photograph? And then, Paul Morley’s analysis of a famously ill-tempered edition of Juke Box Jury: “How Johnny Rotten looks at Noel Edmonds is eventually how an entire nation would look at Noel Edmonds.”

About self-Googling (again)

I wrote a few months ago about the perils of looking for yourself on the magical interwebnets. And now I find a site which has not only replicated the previous “fact” (that I died in 2007) but also wants to retitle my books for me.

Friday, September 20, 2019

About Mad

I never really got swept up in the general enthusiasm about Mad magazine, which has suffered the fate of so many print titles. But I was impressed with this 1978 edition; apparently they pre-empted the whole Adbusters/culture jamming thing by several years, even if the main objection was aesthetic rather than political.

Monday, September 16, 2019

About Trump

Re-reading Mystery Train, in which Marcus dared to reframe the mythology of American popular music – and wider culture – in explicitly literary terms, the careers of musicians and politicians alike compared to Huckleberry Finn and Captain Ahab and Jay Gatsby. He’s particularly cutting about a man who was, at that time, the personification of political venality and vulgarity, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

But even LBJ might have had a vague idea who Huck and Ahab and Jay were, what they meant. What, asks New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik, of a man who hasn’t even read the books he pretended to write, a veritable President for a post-literate age?
Mr. Trump has been playing himself instinctually as a character since the 1980s; it’s allowed him to maintain a profile even through bankruptcies and humiliations. But it’s also why, on the rare occasions he’s had to publicly attempt a role contrary to his nature — calling for healing from a script after a mass shooting, for instance — he sounds as stagey and inauthentic as an unrehearsed amateur doing a sitcom cameo.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

About books, again

Following on from the Thatcher Wine horrorshow, I was in Waterstones in Gower Street yesterday and saw, on a tabletop laden with books as slim and pretty as a posse of wannabe fashion models, this sign:

Which annoyed me a bit. Of course, it could be justified as a bit of stealth marketing, selling books to non-bookish people on an aesthetic basis, and, hey, maybe a few of them may absent-mindedly pick them up and read them. But would such people be in a bookshop – specifically a bookshop in the heart of the University of London – in the first place?

I calmed down a little when I turned 90 degrees to face the delectable wall of orange and cream below, all the Evelyn Waughs and Angus Wilsons you can eat at a fiver a pop. (The pale blue Pelicans were round the corner.) But then I noticed that these are being marketed not as second-hand books, but as “Vintage” Penguins and I’ve got a horrible feeling they’re also being shifted as design accessories first, books second. And yes, I accept that anything that helps to keep proper walk-in bookshops viable has to be a good thing. And yes, I’ve lost count of the books I own that I’ll probably never get round to reading. (The Japanese word for this is “tsundoku”) And yes, by taking a photo of the old Penguins like a bloody tourist, I’m further enabling the fetishisation of design and appearance over content.

But it’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want to. And now my degree’s over I can get back to reading what I bloody well want, so I bought a remaindered copy of the most recent edition of Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train, the book proper of which is just 168 pages long, but has enough notes and discographies and indexes and similar geeky stuff to take the whole package well past the 400 mark. Will it make my bookshelf look good though?

Monday, September 09, 2019

About mobility

An excellent radio documentary by Byron Vincent about how social mobility isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Two snippets:
So off you pop to uni and you do your degree but it’s not just accountancy you learn, you learn to eat quinoa and feign an interest in Murakami; you learn about passive aggression and that you’re not allowed to punch middle-class people, even if they’re being proper knobheads...
These strange hybrids, no longer proper working-class but not middle-class either, anomalies, sat around mashing Frazzles into our avocados and apportioning Jungian archetypes to the contestants on Love Island.
And on the same lines, look at this lovely interview with a very young Dennis Potter.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

About the dissertation

For the past couple of years I have been studying for an MA in Cultural and Critical Studies, which is essentially a slightly more coherent version of this blog. And now, having completed my dissertation, I am not. What have I learned? That Foucault is far funnier than I ever gave him credit for, that Adorno definitely isn’t, that nobody except me loves Baudrillard any more and that ultimately the human race as we know it is doomed and we’ll all be reduced to a small pile of ones and zeros by the year 2100.