Ties That Bind: Rockists v. Poptimists

My new "Ties That Bind" column is up at PopMatters today, so as the Tom Tom Club said, check it out y'all. The subject this month is the fabled "rockist v. poptimist" debate, which I generally think impoverishes the way we talk about music despite the major benefit of more inclusivity brought about by the... Continue Reading →

Extended Thoughts on Scenes of Love and Theft

I said I'd post some extended thoughts on Elijah Wald's Dylan Goes Electric! and Stephen Witt's How Music Got Free and by God I'm going to do it. But, if you haven't read my review of those books in the Los Angeles Review of Books, do that first, otherwise none of what follows will be in context. And hey, show LARB some love. I enjoyed working with my editor Michael Goetzman on what became a long review essay of something like 3700 words. Usually, as I work, I keep a "notes and outtakes" document running; that document for this essay was nearly 12000 words. There's a lot to discuss, but some of it I'll hold off on because it may show up in the chapter on Dylan I'm writing for Nothing Has Been Done Before.

When I decided to review the two books together using the theme of transgression with Great White Wonder as the link between them, I underestimated just how much I was tackling. So I had to make some hard decisions about what made the cut and what didn't. With both books, some of the more typical "book review" elements got cut. That's not uncommon with review essays, which function in a different way, but I've included a lot of those below.

Go Read Ellen Willis

I'm reacquainting myself with Ellen Willis, the preeminent, vital rock critic and feminist who died in 2006. I've read a smattering of her work here and there, but for the first time I'm reading Out of the Vinyl Deeps, which collected her writings before last year's The Essential Ellen Willis. She's too often overlooked (and... Continue Reading →

Tiny Sandwich

Here's a picture of our dining room table, which is rarely used for dinner. Instead, it's a work table where Jamie fixes up some of the clothes she sells on Etsy and where I type a bunch of words. The tiny sandwich is what I had for lunch the other day: ham and provolone on... Continue Reading →

Super Bowl Halftime Isn’t For Old People?

Or so says USA Today in responding with its typical seventh-grade reading level to tonight's Katy Perry performance at the halftime show of the Super Bowl:"Perry is the world’s most followed Twitter user (64.3 million and counting) and a popular, energetic female pop star who sings songs with catchy hooks. She’s someone in the prime of... Continue Reading →

Extended Thoughts on Music as Event and Construction

My review essay about Greil Marcus' The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs is up at Public Books. Go there, read around; it's a great site with excellent contributors, and I'm pleased to have my work published there.

In the course of editing the original essay, which was 3600 words (ie. too long) when I first submitted it back in August, Stephen Twilley suggested the deletion of a major argument, one that drifted too far from the needs of the review. And he was right; the resulting review is stronger for the cut. I'm grateful to Stephen and also to Ed Winstead for their wise input.

But what good is having a blog if you can't wax poetic about outtakes?

The deleted argument centers on a question that's still important to me: Is music best understood as an event or a construction? Of course music is both a made thing, a constructed song of chords and words, and a performance that constitutes an event (including a boring event, like the time my friend Eric Nassau and I excitedly went to see Prisonshake, took heart that they seemed to be getting drunk before their set, and were shocked when they played too quietly…the only time I've ever experienced that: a rock band playing too quietly because they were thoroughly soused, but anyway….) So music is both, but do we get more out of music criticism that approaches music one way or another? One of the arguments I'm making in "Nothing Has Been Done Before" is that Marcus' book, and his entire viewpoint as a critic and cultural historian, emphasizes music-as-event while the majority viewpoint sees music as primarily a construction, which serves a consumerist culture incredibly well and strips away the humanity, the surprise, and the threat of music.

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