by carl wilson

Your Backlash Was Right (Where I Wanted You)

And so it begins. (See second review.) The Torontoist is already trying to turn it into a bunfight, but Miss Spitz is a friend of ours. She's got every right to hear it as she hears it. She just happens to be wrong. "Do you think he does this as a joke?" Actually, yes I do, partly. This shit has always been funny. As for "nothing without heart": You know, frankly, I think that indie rock in general suffers at the moment from a surfeit of heart, too much sensitivity and an overabundance of feelings. In short, too many records by former Belle & Sebastian fanclubbers. There are songs on this album that have plenty of emotion and tenderness, and others that are arrogantly full of slash'n'burn scorn, and I think that's fantastic and invigorating. But the intertextuality is little more than an amusing distraction, and folks shouldn't get too caught up in it, which I think not only Helen's slam but Sarah's praise both do. (You can't introduce anybody to an artist by saying, "Hey, their music is full of allusions!" They need to hear what the intrinsic appeal is first.) For the record, my previewing essay had nothing to do with "annotating lyrics," and everything to do with the "humanity" Spitz thinks has gone missing here. On that level we couldn't disagree more. Anyway, there's more of this on its way - I got a peek at my colleague Robert Everett-Green's review, appearing in the Globe tomorrow. It's impossible to talk something up these days without simultaneously setting it up for a fall, but, foolhardy, we soldier on.

Oh, and PS: "If Destroyer were a book..."? It might be this book.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, February 16 at 04:17 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (34)

 

COMMENTS

My problem with Bangs isn't Bangs: It's all the people since Bangs who try to write like him.

Being stupid in a smart way is much harder than it looks.

Skilled people understand the craft rules and then break them for a reason. Lazy people use the idea of "freedom" as an excuse to avoid learning the craft rules. Why do the work if you can just skip to the freedom part?

Sometimes that's cool. Usually it isn't.

Posted by j-lon on February 21, 2006 02:08 AM

 

 

As a writer, Lester Bangs had his highs and lows (he could be as sappy and pathetic as it gets - see his short story based on "Maggie May"), but his best pieces are thrilling and inspiring. Clearly, his cult-like appeal is based partly on his early death, but Anthony DeCurtis does Lester a real disservice in his piece. He makes some unfair generalizations that are most unfortunate, given that many who'll see his article have never read Bangs' work. Seems to me that DeCurtis is mostly jealous because, even in death, Bangs is more cool and more popular than DeCurtis has any hope of ever being.

Posted by David on February 20, 2006 02:32 PM

 

 

From Pitchfork:

Destroyer
Destroyer's Rubies
8.5

Seventh album from Dan Bejar encapsulates and elevates the best of his back catalog, serving as a potent reminder that the intelligence of his songs has never obfuscated their emotional weight.
[Best New Music]

(I was .3 off on my high vote :( )

Posted by Greg on February 20, 2006 02:28 PM

 

 

Hey Ben, i still got the gift of the cack eh?
nice to hear from you too. Swish BTW was larkin's fave porn magazine.

I am with the Wilson on Lester. Good flawed writer, rocked my world when i was 19, not a genius. At least he was fucking ENTERTAINING.

Which is also true for "Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics" which is why id rather have lunch with him (if I can fit in the room next to his ego). The conversation might be less crisp than with Marcus but christ, id be well amused (and ill probably learn something cool about african music at the same time)

PS
BEN
come hang with me in london in parties. You will meet cocained out shitheads who don't have and will never have anything interesting to say, ever (even if they live forever). You will ask them what their job is and the reply will be "I work in media" with no elaboration. These ultra rich crpyto theatcherites are guardian readers (worse these are the people who write for the Guardian). Real lefties have the fucking balls to read the Independent.

Posted by guy tanentzapf on February 18, 2006 07:40 AM

 

 

Trying to think of funny jazz writing . . . Martin Williams has a few amusing, droll parodies of other jazz critics . . . Duke Ellington's memoir has some funny stories . . . Louis Armstrong's writings can be funny . . . and that's all that comes to mind. Never read Larkin's jazzcrit.

Posted by john on February 18, 2006 12:27 AM

 

 

Larkin's collected jazz criticism was recently reissued by Continuum in their swish new uniform edition format. It's disappointingly dry and predictably myopic. The original title, "All What Jazz", is still a winner. Also: Guy, your capacity for talking blustery, incendiary cack is no less prodigious than I remember and your incredibly misguided and reactionary allegiance to certain British newspapers explains so much. Still.

Posted by benstimpson on February 17, 2006 09:25 PM

 

 

"I will say good-bye to you" -- Bangs's elegiac finale of his Death of Elvis piece -- rings false because by the time he writes this he's been spending his career violently kicking me out the door because I'm not as cool/rockin'/ripped/intense as he is and I actually like some James Taylor songs.

Good, memorable line, but spare me the phony "death of consensus" tears, ya snivveling whiny drug-addled hero-worshipping punk. (Aw, c'mon, I only talk this way becuz I love ya.)

Posted by john on February 17, 2006 06:21 PM

 

 

I can see the Fitzgerald/Bangs comparison in that particular passage, but Bangs tastes so much sourer to me, always, than Fitzgerald.

Meltzer tastes bitter, rather than sour, and I like bitter.

Most of Bangs's music-style interventions were already done by the much-more-fun-to-read Nik Cohn in "Rock from the Beginning", and all of Bangs's writing-style innovations were already being done by Meltzer (though many people prefer Bangs's "flow").

But, Nik Cohn was never seen as a founder of rockcrit like I wish he had been, and his interventions were for naught.

Posted by john on February 17, 2006 05:14 PM

 

 

I love the Beats & their stacking of adjectives & nouns is a solecistic prose technique that I find useful & lively and try to rip off all the time; but Lester usually strikes me as dully unpleasant. Some exceptions -- the Death of Elvis piece has some real nice moments. I like a lot of the maybe-even-more-unpleasant R. Meltzer; can't say exactly why; maybe I find his freak-out more convincing/congenial.

Funniest critic ever: Constant Lambert, English classical composer who wrote one book, "Music Ho!" in the '30s. Laugh-out-loud funny, extremely insightful, and occasionally painfully racist. Also the father of Kit Lambert, of Who management fame.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constant_Lambert

Still hoping for a defense of Marcus from someone who actually likes him.

Posted by john on February 17, 2006 05:02 PM

 

 

Homework assignment! Somebody write a review of Rubies in Lester-speak.

Posted by stuber on February 17, 2006 02:13 PM

 

 

Very well said, Carl. Voice of reason chimes in. (Still curious to know what you make of Marcus, though. Talk about a dude with zero sense of humor to redeem the self-importance!)

Very interesting and telling point about jazz critics. Was Philip Larkin's jazz criticism funny? I violently disagree with his perspective on bop, Coltrane, etc., but can imagine that he might have been witty about it. His poems sure have their funny moments.

Posted by Jody on February 17, 2006 12:40 PM

 

 

My eyebrows raise at the way DeCurtis twice rips Bangs' "cheesy" choices of drugs.

Surely DeCurtis doesn't mean to suggest that Bangs would have been a more valid writer if he was all smack and blow instead of cough syrup and inhaler filters.

Lester was no genius, but deserves credit for expanding the possibilities of his field; and you can't rip him for the sub-Bangs hackery that's emerged in his wake.

When he was at his best, he was very good. I'll happily take Lester's death-of-Elvis piece over most other rock writing I've read. That last paragraph is like the end of The Great Gatsby.

Posted by Jordan on February 17, 2006 12:39 PM

 

 

I agree with most of what Jody has to say about Bangs - except his conclusion that Bangs therefore sucked. He certainly wasn't a genius, but like Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thomson in the same era (both of whom are also overrated) he cracked open the form he was working in, added possibilities to it. I think it comes down to this: People say, "Sure, he was funny." To me, funny is huge, funny works wonders, and it was a bold step in music criticism (was there a funny jazz critic? ... I guess Virgil Thomson was kind of funny). And finally, it's easy now not to remember that Bangs' noise-garage-etc primitivism was a corrective to the pomp-rock tendencies of most rock crit to that point. Dissing the Beatles was a necessary balance to excessive reverence. Some things needed to be kicked off pedestals, and jokes are a good way to do that.

Isn't it possible by now to put Bangs in his middling place, without either heroizing or demonizing him? The latter, after all, is nearly as romantic a move.

Posted by zoilus on February 17, 2006 11:50 AM

 

 

(Well I like you too!) :)

Posted by Sean on February 17, 2006 10:58 AM

 

 

You're welcome. I'm sure I'd find stuff to like in Bangs if I dug in a bit more.

(One thing I do like, Sean, is your blog!)

Posted by Jody on February 17, 2006 10:27 AM

 

 

Hmm. You make fair points. I still think that the bulk of that essay is spent criticisng the Cult of Bangs without addressing Bangs himself. The bit that might most interest me - a critique of the man's writing style, - is basically contained only in the "spew" passage you quote, and some synonymous phrases. There's no analysis or examples. (He does a better job of criticising DeRogatis' work than Bangs'!) And DeCurtis doesn't say any of the other stuff that you say in your point #1.

As for the "knee-jerk", I dunno. All I see DeCurtis citing is that "every passably interesting, one-hit-wonder garage band is praised to the skies", which is certainly not true, and seems a knee-jerk response to Bangs' own taste. It's easy to look back from today and find Bangs' dismissal of the Beatles or hip-hop as totally off-base, but that's - as you say - an indictment of Bangs' own lack of historical perspective, and not necessarily of his *writing*.

This is all totally a derail, but I guess all I was fishing for was a more articulate representation of what you (Jody) disliked in Bangs' prose, and your follow-up comment provided that in a way I found much more satisfying than the Rolling Stone article! So thank-you.

Posted by Sean on February 17, 2006 09:48 AM

 

 

Sean, I don't think your summary of Decurtis is quite fair. The bits that resonated with me are:

1.) The part about Bangs' "Beat-derived spew of words." I don't like that kind of writing -- don't like any of the attempts I've read to, you know, capture the abandon of rock in prose, which I think was part of Bangs' project. (Rock criticism-as-rock.) It's an aesthetic that, like Decurtis, I find ugly and vaguely adolescent.

2.) Decurtis doesn't fault Bangs for "not liking some music [Decurtis] likes." He faults him for knee-jerk rejection of pop ambition, knee-jerk aggrandizement of noise/nihlism/etc. -- for swallowing whole all that rebel-rock romantic mythology. And for not having historical perspective. And for calling the Beatles "superficial." And for dismissing rap wholesale. For me, all these things call into question his aptitude as a critic.

Posted by Jody on February 17, 2006 08:32 AM

 

 

Jody, I'm not well schooled on Bangs - basically what I know best are his Astral Weeks and Death of John Lennon pieces, - and it's not news to me that lots of people think he's crap, but the criticisms in that Decurtist piece are totally useless.

1) He was kinda a racist.

2) He didn't like some music Decurtis likes.

3) His social commentary was simplistic.

4) He was a sleazoid in person.

How does this in any way undermine the flair and punch of his prose? If that "sums up" why you think he sucks, it seems like a pretty weak summation.

Posted by Sean on February 17, 2006 07:53 AM

 

 

I guess this is the week where I vent all my frustrations about overrated rock crit legends...

I know nothing about Destroyer or "Destroyer discourse" but I do have a question for Guy: do you really think Lester Bangs is, like, the ideal critical model? I'm for one am pretty sure I wouldn't want to have lunch with that blowhard -- just because he struck an anti-intellectual pose didn't mean he wasn't pretentious. His whole debauched rawk persona strikes me as completely pretentious, and I sure don't think he was an insightful critic. I could go on, but Anthony Decurtis said it better than I ever could. Here:

http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/5925755/busting_the_cult_of_lester_bangs

Posted by Jody on February 17, 2006 06:24 AM

 

 

Carl,

Of course you dont dance on command, but i would buy "painter in your pocket" based on your write up. Generally Destroyer reviews annoy me because they smack of people trying to claim whatever bejar is doing as an academic excercise ("I could have done my thesis on Lecan but wrote this album instead"). This is a bit like U of T claiming they are "harvard of the North", no one believes it really and it just makes you look silly and provincial. It would be better to just say U of T is in the 24th best school in the entire world (which is true) or Rubies is a wonderful and complex album that challanges the brain as well as the ears (which is true too by the way. There you go I own it i confess).

I see your point about the blog being a discussion between Bejar loving friends. But I wasnt refering to the blog but the reviews and the reaction to them. My favourite art critic is Waldemar Januszcsak (from the Times of London) he writes reviews that discuss the theory of the art and art theory without ever ever sounding pretentious or selling out to the slobering masses showing me that indeed you can do both. It all comes down to the basic question, who would you rather have lunch with: Grail Marcus, David Fricke, bob christgau, or the Lester?.

Posted by guy tanentzapf on February 17, 2006 05:39 AM

 

 

"It's impossible to talk something up these days without simultaneously setting it up for a fall, but, foolhardy, we soldier on."

seriously, Carl, you know why? cuz we (amateurs as well as pros) arent saying anything...just a bunch of (overly) ideological and theoretcial academic crud

seriously

came to this conclusion over a drunken convo tonight (the best and worst kind, ill admit)...talking for c-theory nerds and profs at this point...my wordage dick is bigger than yours

remember Pemnan? and Marcello Carlin ( for all his personal-interpersonal faults)???...those guys wrote about music in a way that made ya ferget you wuz reading about music...beyond it fits into this genre slot...gotta good beat, you can/cannot dance to it

disagreements???????????

well of course!!! isnt that what academia is founded upon????


and isnt that why they call it academia???


almost done at this point, and that isnt any tragedy, for sure :)

Posted by Rob on February 17, 2006 03:17 AM

 

 

One of the most damning things Pitchfork can do is give an album an average or slightly below average score. At least if the review is polarized it'll generate a certain amount of interest.

Anyway, I'll call 7.6-8.2 on this one. Pitchfork may be cool, but they aren't stupid (I mean, look at that AIDS Wolf review.)

Posted by Greg on February 17, 2006 02:05 AM

 

 

Well, I'm sure most of us expected this line to be drawn for D's Rubies; haters on the one side, us on the other. All the pre-release hype and chatter that's been generated on the interweb means now that the "coolest of the cool" (quotation marks intentional) will just *have to* hate D's Rubies, on principle. Thus, I'm now predicting that in order for Pitchfork to appear cooler than even the "coolest of the cool" (as well as cooler than the rest of us), they'll go straight middle-of-the-road, and give D's Rubies a solid 6.8.

Posted by Ryan on February 17, 2006 01:29 AM

 

 

Argh, there I go being an ass again. I am pretty sure the Magneta Lane album will do just fine on image alone. I hear they are nice girls, but, you know...

Posted by Greg on February 17, 2006 12:23 AM

 

 

Greg, I was going to say that, but didn't want to be mean.

Posted by zoilus on February 16, 2006 10:56 PM

 

 

The most disturbing part of the whole thing - to me - was the **** rating given to Magneta Lane's latest in the same issue. Maybe they got those mixed up.

Posted by Greg on February 16, 2006 10:52 PM

 

 

Well, I take for granted that the discussion on the blog is a chat among friends, not formal publication, Guy, so you can run along with your accusations of bullshit. It's perfectly legit for people who do know particular artwork to discuss them among themselves. (This is known as criticism.) But as I said before, printed reviews for a general audience should do something different.

I'm not particularly interested in taking up your challenge because I don't dance on command, but here's what I said about one Destroyer song this week on the CBC. It doesn't actually describe the music per se, because the listeners were just about to hear it for themselves, but I tried to set up the appeal:

"PAINTER IN YOUR POCKET
Destroyer is led by songwriter Dan Bejar, whom music fans may know from the Vancouver indie ‘supergroup’ The New Pornographers. But Destroyer is up to something far more rich and strange, in the grand Canadian visionary tradition that includes Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. Here it comes bent by a 21st-century sense of humour, cultural politics and romantic disillusionment with the myths of rock and roll itself. His approach can seem eccentric, but with his sixth album Destroyer’s Rubies, due next week, Bejar has hit on a more potent voice that makes his highs higher, darks darker, punchlines more pungent, and on this track, the ache of human connection more raw and lean. Out of a nakedly awkward intro, Painter in Your Pocket becomes the nearest thing to a pop single he’s ever made. A hooky, seductive melody slips and slides along while a spontaneous stream of regrets, defenses and longings erupts in honour of a lost lover/rival. It’s a memorable introduction to a vital Canadian artist who demands a much deeper acquaintance."

Here's a good attempt by someone else:
http://www.dustedmagazine.com/reviews/2687

Posted by zoilus on February 16, 2006 10:38 PM

 

 

Holy shit do you people realize how friggin pretentious you sound? My BS detector is way way way beyond the red.

Whats next 100 page essays about whether Destroyer are "really" poststructuralist? 200 word rock reviwes discussing if destroyer are intertextual in the Roland Barth sense of the word or the Julia Kristeva sense of the word?

The Spitzer review is utter shit because if if someone who isnt on the destroyer private joke picked up Eye they would not know anything about destroyer. Like for example what they sound like. This is music we are dealing with right? Imagine a review of an art show that never tells you anything about what art is being shown. I dont understand why she didnt just email that that review to her destroyer loving friends instead of putting it in the mag.

If anyone is interested in turning rock criticism into a sterile excercise in pretend academia they can go right ahead knowing somewhere in hell Lester Bangs is pulling all his hairs out.

Here is an excercise for you carl. Write a spitzer sized review telling a neutral party that never heard destroyer (lets call this party "guy") what destroyer IS and why i should buy it. I thought the liss review was a good attempt. I bet you could do better.

If this comment was a book it would be:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691122946/104-9463602-3119108?v=glance&n;=283155

Posted by guy tanentzapf on February 16, 2006 09:43 PM

 

 

"But the intertextuality is little more than an amusing distraction, and folks shouldn't get too caught up in it"

on the mark. i created the destroyer wiki because i thought it would be a interesting exercise in metadata, and well, because i'm a geek. Geeks aren't one to explain the humanity of songs, let the music do that.

Posted by pinder on February 16, 2006 08:15 PM

 

 

Although in the past I've claimed that if Destroyer were a movie, it would be Godard's Les Carabiniers. See http://www.evalu8.org/staticpage?page=review&siteid;=3142. (Huh, it just for the first time occurred to me to wonder whether I can take credit for Dan's use of the word "carabinieri" on the new album...)

Posted by zoilus on February 16, 2006 06:45 PM

 

 

Totally right, Kelly. I actually had that thought myself when I saw the cover of Eye.

Posted by zoilus on February 16, 2006 06:43 PM

 

 

If it was a movie, would it be Tristram Shandy?

Posted by JKelly on February 16, 2006 05:41 PM

 

 

so when *I* deflate sacred cows i get a lyrical beatdown, but helen has "every right to hear it as she hears it" que sera ser-muhfuggin-a?!?!??! we are SO OVER.

(i'm totally kidding.)

Posted by Dave M. on February 16, 2006 05:40 PM

 

 

Yeah, Spitz's review seems pretty fair (if altogether wrong). I agree that it's strange she sees a lack of "humanity" - to me these tracks overflow with a generosity of spirit and the desire to be shared. I don't even feel the same ego that was present in some earlier works. Bejar's certainly into his own idiosyncracies, but listening to _DR_ I feel like he keeps saying "Ya dig?" - musically if not lyrically.

Is "the internet" -really- head over heels about this record? Like is there -actual- hype? Isn't it just the handful of musicblogs (with a combined [distinct] readership of probably less than 15,000 people) plus ILM?

Posted by Sean on February 16, 2006 04:47 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson