Monday, October 16, 2006

Some characteristicly fabulous and tricky points from Ireland’s Most Promising Young Poet Billy* in the comments box (I’m just relieved to get any kind of message from him frankly, the mysterious blighter) and Bad Zero’s Tom.

First of all, re: the complexity/simplicity of the music thing as opposed to other art forms, well, I would guess that there is no literary equivalent of “Ace of Spades” for example, in other words that certain effects are only attainable through sound, volume, rhythm etc. That huge surge of adrenalin is pretty inaccessible in other medium (I don’t think cinema can hit the same kind of peaks either, it’s just a less direct assault upon the system) so I think any analogy between the pleasures to be had between music and literature is only useful up to a point. Also the pop world for example is a much more personality driven affair than the world of classical music, (its seductions are heavily bound up in identifications with style/attitude/standpoint etc.) So I think in several ways we’re talking about different beasts. I also think that the lines are pretty blurred re “elitist” movies for example. Quite what constitutes elitist movies these days is hard to know, I mean could you find any hip, self-styled intellectual who didn’t like “ Blade Runner” or “Aliens”, I’d say my two favourite movies were probably “ Le Jour Se Leve” and “Night of the Hunter”.. ok, so they’re old and one of them is French but, y’know…equally Tom’s love of totally obscure trash Cinema could easily be regarded as a storing-up of hip cultural capital and ergo elitist, though the films themselves wont be making any critical top tens in Sight and Sound.

Also I guess that “complex” Cinema is relatively accessible, in a way that “complex” music isn’t, you just need to read a couple of books of film theory to clue up on the grammar or the specific idiom of the films and that makes them relatively simple to relate to, ( cue hackles rising at audacity of this statement.) I do think that it’s the case for example that people who can play an instrument tend to like things that total non-musicians such as myself just can’t hear anything appealing in (check out the Technical Death Metal stuff, quite what’s happening with those guitars that’s so technical and awe-inspiring is lost on me for example, my judgement of whether it’s “good” is based on other, much less tangible factors. Why do I like Hendrix, but not Joe Satriani for example, it’s certainly not based on any ideas of who’s the better guitarist.) or they tend to like similar stuff but for rather different reasons. When we’re sitting there listening to it, I know they’re hearing all kinds of stuff I’m not. But of course if you subtract subjective factors from criticism/appreciation then we just end up arguing about who/which school is most technically accomplished/formally advanced. I dont think any of us (meaning me, Billy and Tom) are really advocates of that kind of dry, sentiment-purged theoretically-derived poetry.**

However I am a bit unsure what the drift of Billy’s argument is, as in, whether I ought to be less elitist re: Film/Lit given my position on Pop, or whether I ought to get my music knowledge up to the appropriate level. Naturally I plead that, being an elitist in terms of Literature and Cinema I just don’t have enough time to also be an elitist in terms of music.

I notice Familyhobgoblin is getting a bit huffy about this post over on his blog too, so I’m also wondering what’s so aggravating about it.

Can I also point out in my defence that I have never liked Yo La Tengo

*Get on a plane, lad!

** Actually this is why I’m not an "elitist", I’m basically a middlebrow, left-liberal humanist/sentimentalist who is/has been struggling to become an elitist and can’t resign himself to his failure of intellect/nerve/rigour... or an elitist who's intellect/nerve/rigour are rightly tempered by his middlebrow left-liberal humanism etc.. take your pick, either way you've got a halfway house (come on in, plenty of room!) I refer you to this bit of text (again):

He leaned in confidentially, long, maybe one-time handsome face drawing closer.
"Frankly there are only two adequate ethical responses to the world, suicide or terrorism, and we all fucking know it." His voice hardened to a sneer on the last six words and then he bared tobacco-streaked teeth at them in what passes with the lapsed writer for a smile. An ambiguous, triple or quadruple edged smile. Seems to be challenging but at the same time dismissive or resigned or, dunno, its tricky to pin this bastard down.
Faintly pathetic like, but faintly unsettling too. They didn't really want to get into all this stuff. But with the lapsed writer there's not much option.
Why did they decide to sit with him again? Moths to a flame, like.
"And which one would you be, like?" Billy asked "Suicide or terrorist?"
The lapsed writer settled back then, smoking a Ducados, peering at them through its eye-drying, black tobacco gauze. Pulling it away from his mouth and flicking the ash with a flourish. Partly knowing, maybe. Demonstrating a certain irony about the conventions of ironic gestural overstatement, like. A slippery customer, this one.
"Well now, boys. I have discovered that, despite the surface gloss I've tried to paint over my life in my wilder moments of self-delusion, I'm essentially a bourgeois liberal. The three humours, shall we say, that have dominated my life are: Guilt, Cowardice and Vanity." He re-drags on the fag.
"Hence, re suicide/terrorist I seem to have adopted a weakened form of both positions. I'm killing myself slowly by drinking too much and annoying as many people as possible on the way down."


steveM said...

A literary equivalent of Ace of Spades? Now there's a challenge I gots to rise to - are comics admissable, or is that cheating. Or will it just lead to more soul searching on the elitist vs. populist see-saw...?

How about rock/pop is journalism? I just re-read Hunter S's Generation of Swine and you can see it there - a formula, the same riffs ('cheap punk' 'mean bastard' 'like dogs' etc etc). A two page diatribe built to a standard on a production line, that's what the punters want... Boom! Lemmy cranks out another album, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

"...storing-up of hip cultural capital..." Yup, that sums up 18 years of listening to metal - shit's gotta be popular at some point, right? It worked for me and country music...

Billy said...

Interesting point about the 'vocabulary' of cinema. Once you've been told about a cinematic technique, for example 'jump cut' or 'tracking shot', its very easy to pick identify instances of same when they occur in a movie you're watching.

However, even if you understand a musical concept (for example key change/modulation, time signature, harmonic rhyhm) there's no gaurantee you'll be able to 'hear' these things in a piece of music you're listening to.

To do so requires an 'ear', (which presumably can be innate or cultivated or both).

That's why most music journalism is a waste of time. Most journalists lack a knowledge of the concepts or an 'ear' with which to idetnify them or both.

Music journalism, then, can be reduce to the following set of statemnets repeated ad nauseum:

1) I like/ don't like this song
2) This ong reminds of this other song.
3) The artists who play this song are/ are not well dressed and fashionable.

It's like trying to critique 'This side of Paradise' without knowing waht a senetnce is!