by carl wilson

'Well, Wake Up, Rip Van Torn!'


Cat and Girl has a snappy answer to the question, "Why did the indie rocker listen to Justin Timberlake?" and then a snappier answer to its own reply. Oh, how I love Cat and Girl, the strip that in recent days has provided us with Strummer's Law and the necessary adage, "Indie rock is a dead language," among much more.

In the exact opposite way, I was pleasantly surprised to find Sasha Frere Jones writing about the Arcade Fire. The first half of that piece is remarkably stilted, as if he's being forced to do something against his will, and when it loosens up in the second half, we realize what it is: His genuine liking of the band requires him to pass up making mock of indie for once - well, except for that one move, which has become very, very tired, of quoting an overenthusiastic fan from an MP3 blog as if that person were legitimately representative of the foolishness of the listenership of the artists in question. The bogusness of the trick is obvious when you consider how condescending and snotty it would be to do the same in writing about, say, Justin Timberlake - how easy it would be to pull a few grammatically tenuous lines of over-the-top gushing from some teenager on a message board, and how cheap and irrelevant to the music. It is the kind of thing rockist critics do all the time - quoting something idiotic a fan says in line in an attempt to prove the shallowness of celebrity x, y or z. Let the record show that this method is no less wack when it's applied to the Arcade Fire and the Shins. (The Arcade Fire play Massey Hall May 15 & 16, by the way - tickets go on sale Feb 23, at noon, via Massey Hall box office and Ticketmaster, for about eight minutes.)

In Winnipeg on the weekend at the New Music Network conference, composer and critic Kyle Gann gave a talk about "intellectual climate change" and its effect on the art and business of criticism. I haven't had time to take it all in yet but may discuss more later.

Finally, I found my colleague Robert Everett-Green's piece on the Dixie Chicks this morning disappointingly cynical. Robert seems to underestimate what happened to the band as a result of their off-hand comment in London - a virtual blackout of their music on American country radio, record burnings, the works. No, it wasn't a pointed political remark. But isn't free speech chilled even more effectively when your casual comments are policed as intensely as your statements of position? The Dixie Chicks were at the time the most popular act in country music, selling millions upon millions of albums, and now for most purposes they are no longer members of the genre, and their sales are about half what they were. Yes, of course they and their management have applied spin and damage control, and they've been rehabilitated as a pop act (but no longer a country one), but mainly because GW Bush has fallen from favour. But what happened four years ago was much more than "laughably skimpy." It was very much in the Patriot Act spirit, which is why someone like Barbara Kopple might think it has a significance that goes beyond the "loveable performing moms." (As one might know if one watches the movie rather than "a trailer.") Robert's piece also underestimates their work's substance - he notes Goodbye Earl as a semi-political (but "playful") song but overlooks the fact that at the time of the scandal their hit was a subtle protest song, Travellin' Soldier. There's a general dismissiveness (of country, for one thing) in the piece, including the unfavourable comparison to Neil Young. While Young's protest songs may be more outspoken - and, yes, not so welcome on the Grammys - in most ways they're an entirely expected and safe thing for the guy who wrote Ohio, for freak's sake, to do. Whereas the Chicks were breaking expectations. It was sad to read this piece and feel they're still being punished for it.

(Later: A New York Times' editorial, surprisingly, gets closer to nailing what was galling about the Grammys' DixChix celebrations.)

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 13 at 2:38 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)



Wow, Carl, I didn't know you were such a sloppy reader.
Your closing insinuation that I'm a tool of the Patriot Act is vile.
I'm at least as disappointed as you were.

Posted by Robert EG on February 22, 2007 10:32 AM



Just got my New Yorker in the mail and opened up to SFJ's write-up of the Arcade Fire, and . . . the diss of the blogger has a MAJOR TYPO!!! He puts the quote in parens, but there's no close paren.

Beware, dear SFJ, beware the Curse of the New Yorker; beware going in search of the drolleries of the proles, BEWARE.

Posted by john on February 17, 2007 11:23 PM



I had the same reaction you did about SF Jones' dig at the blogger. It just seems so old and lame now, like a comedian making jokes about Michael Jackson. And, considering that Jones has his own blog, a little hypocritical.

Posted by Robin Hall on February 14, 2007 11:52 AM



I found it telling that E-G quotes Rick Groen's Globe review of the movie, which struck me when I read it as patronizing on an eye-rolling level. Today's article takes that quality and deepens the dismissiveness, if that's even possible. One wonders what either of these guys would have done, in their shoes.

The review of 'Shut Up & Sing' I would most like to read would be by Salman Rushdie. Of course I could be wrong, but I imagine he would be sympathetic to their dilemma, - even if it wasn't life-threatening - and, more importantly, respectful of the evolution in their views.

That Times piece is a beautiful piece of writing. And yours is sharp too, and great to see.

Posted by Dixon on February 13, 2007 9:21 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson