Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

Prog-ress

One reason you're seeing more back-and-forth in the body of this blog is that the bloggers have concluded that the comments are a kind of limbo--that few who come here go so far as to click on them. So for starters this is to urge everyone with any interest in "Call for Papers," the plea for an overview of what I'll call the new prog that I posted a month ago, to take a look at the comments it elicited--five in all, every one first-rate. In addition I got personal email from Joe Levy and Jody Rosen, who alerted me to a Sgt. Pepper piece he wrote in 2007 that is now in my NYU syllabus. So is the Jon Pareles Mars Volta piece I mentioned.

There is a problem with these comments, however, that comes with the blogosphere. The commenters, insightful and intelligent chaps that they are, basically share my feelings about this stuff. None of them trust the pretensions of the songwriting they cite. The suggestion that (NAJP Fellow) Sasha Frere-Jones's unnecessarily notorious "A Paler Shade of White" deals with this question is of course true. But like all of us--even though he very much admires Battles, Spoon, the Deftones, No Age, and no doubt more--Frere-Jones too doesn't trust it. That's why he wrote the piece. What I'm looking for is a ringing, systematic, polemical defense in which the perceived shortcomings of danceable rhythms, blues changes, and foursquare structures are articulated. Not just that they're old hat, but that their old hatness signifies in substantively undesirable ways. That way everybody understands more clearly what's at stake.

In that respect, the most interesting comment was also the shortest: the suggestion that I check out Scott Miller's year-by-year song roundups: As leader of the Loud Family, always one of those bands I felt I should like more than I actually did, Miller was an early exemplar of some of the trends that interest me. The way he describes the songs he loves--some very indie, some anything but--is tremendously suggestive. If only he or some acolyte could spin a worldview around those observations we might really have something to go on.

5 Comments

By Adam on November 29, 2008 6:17 AM

Robert's link to Scott Miller's page doesn't seem to work. Here's the link that was in the response to "Call for Papers", for those who've chosen to read these comments (I suppose I should use the singular, comment, at this point), but not those directed towards the original post:

http://www.125records.com/loudfamily/mwh/index.html

I guess a new question now would be how to go about rounding up roundups? How can the assessment of a song list indicate a worldview, at least a manageable one, and not just suggest whether or not we agree to like or dislike something.

I know that, technically, we're supposed to suspect that "the center has no center", but perhaps Robert could pinpoint artists or songs (preferably songs, I think) that we could discuss, that might represent, at least for him, where the stakes lie, more specifically. We could begin with why that song was chosen, and what we feel it identifies--which trends, which musicological or ideological trappings--and I'm sure we'll have plenty to differ on in those respects, as a starting point. Perhaps that discussion, if recorded, say, via NAJP comments, could lead us in a direction towards establishing "worldviews." I'd like to think that some progsters read these blog entries in addition to the rocksters. Or, do they have to be invited?

We need not wait for someone to slam down a tome of an overview on us. What say we pick away at this question?

Do you have a song for us to start with, Robert? Or, perhaps, two? Or, perhaps . . .

By Alex V. Cook on December 4, 2008 7:50 AM

I'll take a shot at it http://alexvcook.blogspot.com/2008/12/resounding-yes.html

By Hugh on December 5, 2008 9:50 PM

I agree; we can't really get much further without having divergent views expressed in relation to ours--ideally from people who have read these discussions.

Nevertheless, as someone who, in his bedroom dabblings, experienced a phase in which his output was (dis)coloured by a perceived need to subvert simple verse-chorus forms, I feel I am enough in the ballpark to understand at least some of forces behind this impulse. In particular, I think there is a great extent to which the proponents of this style feel that they are actively limited by conforming to traditional forms. Whether they resent these forms or appreciate them, I'm sure many would feel that moving away from them is merely a reflection of their desire to offer something new to the world, to not simply repeat that which has been done before--even, perhaps, to 'challenge' an audience accustomed to a familiar way of doing things.

I think many want to believe that pop, in the general sense, should and can be anything, that it's about possibilities, that nothing is off-limits. In that sense, a somewhat romantic defence from the vantage of 'pure creativity' is conceivable. To some, sticking to traditional forms and structures would betray their restless desires to explore, subvert and create. Moving from blues-based music to something altogether more European seems quite a natural progression for people who feel this way; you can imagine one saying that, if the impulse (or training) is there, why should the music be dumbed down? And an opposing argument might conclude, Isn't the world richer for having both?

By Brian Block on January 16, 2009 9:53 PM

Now that I have two very young kids, I've stopped being the person to answer Calls for Papers, but in simpler times I wrote music review/essays. A few may have edged towards full-throated enough defenses of ludicrous musical ambition that I may as well call them to Christgau's attention here:

http://www99.epinions.com/review/Illinois_by_Sufjan_Stevens_656605892610_1/content_220970585732

is directly argumentative.

http://www99.epinions.com/review/musc_mu-482698/content_127315971716

and

http://www99.epinions.com/review/musc_mu-588244/content_185975541380

sidle up to their defenses of ambition, but are not in any way apologetic. So maybe that works. Thanks for the Pareles link; I already knew Scott Miller was awesome.

By Brandon Green on June 29, 2009 11:34 AM

Nothing wrong with having people agree with you!

Articles, Nov. 28, 2008


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