Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pop Aphorisms: 9

I went ahead and posted nine more aphorisms today, so as to make the number I’ve posted on this blog at this point total an even 70. Several readers have written to me encouraging me to collect my aphorisms into book form, and I thank them very much for the vote of confidence. I’m currently pursuing the possibility of a book of aphorisms, but for such a book to be feasible (with an accompanying “Aphorism-A-Day” tear-off calendar as a possible product tie-in), I’ll need to write 365 of them (and one for leap year), meaning that after this particular posting I’ll have only 295 to go (plus another for leap year). They have been very popular, and I thank everyone for checking in from time to time for new additions, but whether I can write (well) about 300 more aphorisms to make a book remains to be seen. Ars longa vita brevis.

1. John Wayne was a great movie star because no matter the part, he was always John Wayne; his lesson was not lost on those pop singers who also became movie stars—Elvis, for instance—because they knew always to play themselves.

2. MTV Cribs—a show based on a fundamental contradiction, that one can present as ordinary the lives of individuals whose lives are extraordinary; the television equivalent of the Hollywood fan magazine.

3. The massive success of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” is demonstrable proof that the most successful pop songs always have been sentimental.

4. When popularizing rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis faced the problem of being perceived as lowbrow; what is known as “art rock” or “prog rock” at least succeeded in making rock music middlebrow.

5. The Beatles did collectively what they could not have done—did not do—individually, revealing that collaboration gives artists a better shot a success than artists working alone: Dylan, for instance, found The Band; outsiders such as Scott Walker weren’t as fortunate, explaining why his career has been so fraught with frustrations.

6. The musical career of Elvis Costello is an illustration of what happens to a generalist lost in a world of specialization.

7. The best rock bands understood the value of the name: imagine if the Rolling Stones were known as the Bongo Beatniks, or Black Sabbath as the Yellow Rosaries: bands that chose names such as The Chocolate Watchband or The Peanut Butter Conspiracy were far too fatuous ever to be taken seriously.

8. One need look no further for the politics of pop than in the so-called “answer song”: neither sequel nor remake, the answer song is an attempt to impinge upon and then supersede the discursive force of the target song.

9. To lift a phrase from Harold Bloom, popular music is, and always has been, a hopelessly overcrowded field, which explains why the “one-hit wonder” ought to be considered the rule rather than the exception.

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