by carl wilson

Outtakes from the Auto Da Fe

A few worthwhile entries in the annals of the Merritt/rockism/critics-suck/no-you-suck kerfuffle that I missed earlier can be found at Jeff Chang's and Jason Gross's and Mike Powell's places. They're mostly a week or two old now, but they all share a frustration with how much these conversations alienate non-music-geeks, including the non-geek parts of ourselves. Partly terminology is to blame: I've come to realize I feel pretty much humiliated any time someone says the word "rockism" out loud to me - like on the CBC last week - the word serves more as a barrier than a doorway to an idea that would be more coherently expressed as "anti-pop bias," for example. (Which avoids those awkward explanations of how rap fans or jazz fans or classical fans can be "rockist.") These phenomena are worth noting, but I'd maintain that if you and your friends enjoy talking about something, then it's worth talking about - just don't expect anyone to get it if you start going on about the same thing at dinner at your auntie's. But then there's the other part, where a critical interrogation of our own tastes messes with our ability to be passionate fans, unequivocal proclaimers, etc. We could say, sure, it's uncomfortable to realize your own embeddedness in ideology and social dysfunction, but suck it up. But in fact that question of where, once your gut reactions are shown to be trained reflexes, you find any grounding to argue for what you love - that is the one that keeps me up at night. Jeff and Josh say you should follow a taste and a critical practice that vibrate with making a better world, but that smacks of "it's good because it's good for you," a confounding of moral good and aesthetic good that would just make us the lefty equivalent of the PMRC. Mike and Jason sense that and back away hard, but into what corner? (Later: And of course I missed Simon going at exactly that question ten days ago, too. Battle fatigue, friends.) To be perpetually continued.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, May 29 at 1:52 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)



I don't think the critic's role is to vibrate the Zeitgeist on some representative level. I read particular critics because I have come to understand their very personal biases in relation to my buying habits and on balance find their worldview of interest to me. The only reason to expand your focus, as a critic, is to gather a larger audience. At the same time though, explaining something without emotionally connecting with it can lead to a severe case of "talking shit".

Posted by Half on May 31, 2006 9:31 AM



Funny -- I don't know what "programmed" me to misread your phrase "trained reflexes" as "programming." I still think "trained reflexes" is too deterministic, but not as deterministic as "programming"!

I'm obviously programmed for rhetorical excess. But gross mis-statement of what someone else said -- that's embarrassing!

Posted by john on May 30, 2006 7:02 PM



You and Franklin Bruno have been on the "let's find a word other than 'rockism'" tip for longer than anyone I'm aware of. "Anti-pop bias" gets at it -- except that rock is a big and lively chapter in the history of pop music. "Rock exceptionalism" is a phrase I like -- as an American, it rhymes for me with the equally false (and hugely more historically consequential) notion of "American exceptionalism." The "rock exceptionalists" believe that Rock is an exception from all the ideological contradictions of pop music. "Rock fundamentalist" may be better, because it leaves room for parallel constructions of jazz, classical, and folk fundamentalists. Am I right to feel that a disdain for the sentimental unites rock, jazz, folk, and classical fundamentalists?

"Programming" is too deterministic a metaphor, for me. My mom loves Streisand. I'm the oldest of 3 siblings, and I love Streisand. The youngest, my sister, loves Streisand. The middle child, my brother, can't stand Streisand. How "programming" works is still too mysterious.

If music gives you a passionately desirable experience, please enjoy it! And, you know, if you feel like telling other people about it, go right ahead!

Loving music is the baby. How each of us came to love any particular piece of music is interesting, intriguing, mysterious bathwater. Nothing wrong with examining the bathwater -- you know, that shampoo may have some nasty chemicals in it. Just try not to throw out the baby!

Posted by john on May 29, 2006 3:42 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson