Showing posts with label Rock and Pop Aphorisms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rock and Pop Aphorisms. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pop Aphorisms: XI

1. Keith Richards drinks and smokes, Madonna works out—while the display of the body is central to rock culture, their bodies reveal distinct obsessions: one with the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, the other with money and power.

2. Spandex is to flannel what Arena Rock is to grunge: each reveals the impact of commercial budget on musical form, but more importantly, how musical taste determines fashion.

3. There would have been no such thing as “Art Rock” or “Progressive Rock” had not the vinyl “Long Play” record—the LP—been embraced as the basic material artifact of rock ‘n’ roll.

4. Rock ‘n’ roll privileges the record, while jazz privileges the live performance: the unstated reason why rock music’s most successful acts always sound, in concert, like their records.

5. Mixing is to recording what editing is to the cinema: the assemblage of fragments into a simulacrum of live performance.

6. Alternative: Punk Rock that makes money.

7. Silver Threads and Golden Needles—poetic expression for an aging rock star with a drug habit.

8. The greatest recordings in rock history were a consequence of making all the right decisions about technical problems.

9. Cult Album: record made by an artist or artists who understood that high-minded political correctness equaled artistic death.

10. Rock stars, like movie stars, seldom grant interviews: the secret of their success is to make it impossible to determine the fictive from the real.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pop Aphorisms: X

1. The fact that rock ‘n’ roll is about a whole lot more than the music is rock culture’s equivalent of the elephant in the living room.

2. It is a common occurrence to find two fans who like the same band and the same music to have absolutely nothing whatsoever to say to one another—because their reasons for liking the music are so completely different.

3. Only in an age of commerce can a record be considered classic when it’s been reissued more than once.

4. Rule #9: No one has sold an LP or CD who hasn’t later regretted doing so, for the simple reason that one realized only too late that there is someone, somewhere for whom the designation OOP—out of print—has no meaning.

5. The iTunes Music Store is simply the digital equivalent of a superstore—meaning the larger it is, the more indistinguishable and homogeneous the product.

6. Rule #10: The larger the record collection, the larger the number of insignificant records one owns; the reason these records are held on to—but remain unplayed—is explained by Rule #9.

7. The Collector’s Dilemma: the greater the number of records, the greater the number of worthless records, but to purge the worthless ones is to contradict the principle of collecting—therefore, for the collector, there is no such thing as separating the wheat from the chaff: the collection is beyond Good and Evil.

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.

Pop Aphorisms: 8

1. Concerts once were performed for the purpose of being recorded, but now concerts occur for the purpose of promoting a record.

2. There’s a very good reason why lists comprised of “the best rock (or pop) records (singles, etc.) ever made” are frequently published while “the worst rock (or pop) records ever made” never are: the latter requires one to put forth artistically defensible reasons for the choices made.

3. No music critic should be allowed to use the word “brilliant” in a review or article for the next 15 years, thereby allowing words such as “good,” “ordinary,” and perhaps even “banal” to regain their rightful place in the critical vocabulary.

4. No band or artist in the history of popular music has ever been able to overcome one daunting, fundamental ambiguity: is it art, or is it commerce? Of course, neither have the movies.

5. The fact that studios, and studio technology, are utterly essential to rock music is openly acknowledged by the elevation of the recording engineer to the status of a band member—as true for Elvis in the ‘50s as it is now.

6. The reason albums contain credits attributing a specific instrument to a specific individual is simply an acknowledgment of the specialization and division of labor that has been a feature of the industrial revolution since its inception.

7. Psychedelic rock—the aural equivalent of a hallucinogenic trip—is not simply the result of distorted amplification, but also of the first rock generation growing up spending Saturdays at the movie theater, with its astonishing array of cinematic genres, styles, periods, and budgetary quality.

8. A rock song that “says something” is the aural equivalent of a 1950s “problem picture,” explaining why both the songs and the movies are now largely forgotten.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pop Aphorisms: 7

1. An old adage advises not to judge a book by its cover; it is therefore the height of folly to judge an album’s greatness by the album cover. As always, the exception proves the rule.

2. The emergence of Rolling Stone magazine in the late 60s is historic only in the sense that its publication openly acknowledged the dependency rock and pop had on the institution of criticism that validated—attributed importance to—the music.

3. The reason why most rock critics are so uncomfortable with the “one-hit wonder” is that it contradicts one of the sustaining myths of rock criticism: the concept of a career, that is, of a musician’s so-called “artistic development.”

4. It is a profound distortion of history to say that Punk rock was music written and played by amateurs.

5. The best lyricists in popular music intuitively understood Sartre’s dictum that one’s brilliance is not a result of having said certain things, “but for having chosen to say them in a certain way”—too bad most critics haven’t understood it.

6. One would very much like to say the difference between a fan and a critic is that the former has an uncritical identification with a particular band’s music.

7. Fanzine: same thing as a slick magazine on the newsstand, except it is printed on the photocopy machine, the writing is even more unpolished, and the vocabulary isn’t as impressive.

8. Ambrose Bierce observed about “destiny” that it allowed a tyrant to defend his crimes, while it gave a fool an excuse for failure: within the institution of entertainment, the concept is referred to as either “producer interference” or, occasionally, “lack of publicity.”

9. The surest guarantee a band has of having made a classic record is that it fails commercially when first released: initial failure is a guarantee of greatness.

10. Desert Island Discs: a game music critics invented when up against the deadline for an expected article. As an indulgence, it is possible only when having way too many albums to listen to within a single lifetime.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pop Aphorisms: 6

1. “The Top 500 Albums of All Time”—another name for the outcome of a questionnaire, a device derived from a nineteenth-century parlor game.

2. Certain records—such as Led Zeppelin’s first album—are worth purchasing simply because of the album art; listening to the record is the buyer's choice.

3. Bubblegum is to psychedelic music what fat free Half and Half is to whole milk: the musical equivalent of non-alcoholic beer.

4. Writing rock criticism is both unfulfilling and self-defeating: no matter how much one says or does, the criticism can never be as fun or interesting as the record itself.

5. The Sixties phenomenon of the “Supergroup”: an example of a marketing ploy that is able to flourish exclusively in an age of commerce—and the Age of Warhol.

6. Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is crap, except in the case of rock and pop music—then it’s 95%.

7. CD bonus tracks are the aural equivalent of the cinematic sequel: another way of scraping the last bit of cream from the side of the jar.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pop Aphorisms: 5

1. Marx revised Hegel by averring all great historic personages appear twice, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. When applied to rock culture, this adage means, for instance, the first time as Elvis, the second time as an Elvis impersonator; or, the first time as Otis Redding, the second as Michael Bolton.

2. Derrida observed that the field of anthropology was born out of remorse and regret; when this insight is applied to American popular music, it is called rock ‘n’ roll, or, the white colonization of black music.

3. To lift a phrase from T. S. Eliot, the weakest musicians imitate, the strongest musicians steal—just look at the Rolling Stones.

4. You don’t have to give up your sense of humor to play avant-garde rock ‘n’ roll—just look at Pere Ubu: David Thomas is the Baby Huey of rock.

5. It is a popular misconception to think that the “cover” song is analogous to the cinematic “remake”: the term “cover” at least implies a benchmark, carrying with it the sanction of a standard—any artist worth his salt must successfully record it—while the designation “remake” is the artistic equivalent of a county fair bake-off.

6. Freud explained that the reason men were good at batting a baseball is because they had lots of practice growing up playing extensively with their penises; for the same reason, that’s why all the great guitarists have been men.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pop Aphorisms: 4

1. To lift a phrase from Brecht, it is the special dignity of rock—entertainment—that makes it so very difficult to be a rock critic: the fun of the music leads to uncritical identification.

2. The Beatles’ career illustrates how a rock band improved with time; Led Zeppelin’s career an illustration of how a rock band became worse.

3. Popularized by Elvis, rock music was reinvented twice: first by the Beatles in the early 1960s, the second by the Punks in the late 1970s. It will be reinvented again only when audiences and musicians both have completely forgotten rock’s past.

4. To say that this band or that band is the greatest in the history of rock music is the same as saying that this band or that band is the worst: both claims reflect extreme, and therefore highly dubious, reactions, and, therefore, are not to be trusted.

5. When at their worst, Bob Dylan’s lyrics ring like the hollow maxims of Polonius, which is why the many who have tried to imitate him are so unredemptively dull and boring.

6. The Who’s lyric, “I hope I die before I get old,” and Neil Young’s later, figurative revision of it, “It’s better to burn out than it is to rust,” are memorable lyrics primarily because they acknowledge the rock star’s real enemy—time—and his inevitable maturation—death.

7. The problem with choosing “Top 100,” “Top 200,” or even “Top 500” rock song and album lists is, by analogy, the same one a major corporation faces when reviewing an overwhelming number of applications for a single job: the search committee ends up looking for applications to get rid of, not ones to keep.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pop Aphorisms: III

1. The Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie,” not Bob Dylan, taught rock musicians a fundamental lesson in writing lyrics: the best are highly ambiguous, and therefore have the allure of a deep mystery.

2.The fundamental problem that an “oldies” radio station cannot surmount is that what was bad then is bad now.

3. The photocopied poster was to Punk rock what television was to Elvis—consider the cover art of the Sex Pistols’ first (and only) record.

4. Dylan going electric was merely the technological equivalent of a painter embracing photography.

5. Jacques Lacan observed that his seminar on “The Purloined Letter” was successful primarily because very few of his students had actually read Poe’s story; his insight explains why bands such as Joy Division are so revered, because few have actually ever listened to their music.

6. The worst fate of a rock band is to earn what Susan McClary names “terminal prestige,” to take yourself so seriously, to be so self-conscious in your artistic pretensions, that you lose your audience—look what happened to the Velvet Underground.

7. Rock music critics today have absolutely no sense of outrage; if they really said what they believed about the albums they must write about, they’d be out of a job.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pop Aphorisms: I

1. Tennyson might say that the special agony of the “Baby Boom” generation is that it must watch its rock gods grow old and gray and beyond desire

2. Elton John is the Liberace of pop, while Keith Emerson is the Liberace of rock

3. The Grammy Awards are to the pop music industry what the Academy Awards are to the film industry: the attempt to resolve the irreconcilable tension between art and commerce on the side of art, and thereby assuage its guilt

4. To lift a phrase from Voltaire, “if Neil Young did not exist, it would be necessary for rock culture to invent him”

5. It is impossible to determine whether the Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It),” is an unironic revision, addressed to the rock culture, of Marx’s insight, “religion is the opiate of the masses”

6. The special genius behind the invention of Top 40 radio was to employ the 7”, 45 rpm single as the means to fill the space between commercials

7. Elvis in ’56 was the cultural equivalent of a tsunami: the many who have followed are fellaheen—those who live off the ruins of a dead civilization