by carl wilson

Slated and (Soon to Be) Berated

The promised/threatened Slate piece is now up. It is a disagreement with but not an attack upon SFJ, and it will make certain people one degree more annoyed. Please eviscerate me cleanly, with your finest-honed silver knives.

Additions, outtakes, discussions and clarifications follow. Here's one to start with: I thought The Arcade Fire was kind of a bad example for Sasha to choose for his piece (as I mention) and I'm not particularly thinking of them in mine, despite the picture. Also, like Sasha, just because I think there are social dynamics and problematics to be analyzed in a sub-sub-genre does not mean that I dislike all the music it makes. Okay, enough, out.

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, October 18 at 5:23 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (23)

 

COMMENTS

eh...

...deal much WITH, was what I was trying to write.

Posted by Chris on October 22, 2007 8:33 AM

 

 

Re: TV on the Radio. They may not be such a singular case, though they are certainly the best known, how shall I put it, black indie band, which probably makes them a special case after all.

On Saturday I tried to post a link to an article that appeared in NY Times in February, I think, but because of the link it had to be approved by Carl and I suspect it got lost in the meantime.

Anyway, the article was called "Truly Indie Fans" (you can google it). It dealt with black musicians, such as two fourths of This Moment in Black History and the rhythm section in Earl Greyhound, working in what may be termed "indie" rock and some of their thoughts and experiences around playing that kind of music. They may not make indie not white-as-hell either, but it was interresting to get their point of view, though the article didn't deal much about the music as such.

Posted by Chris on October 22, 2007 8:31 AM

 

 

Speaking of atrocious editing . . .

Sorry I went on so ramblingly long and digressively on and so on.

Posted by john on October 21, 2007 10:47 PM

 

 

I enjoyed SFJ's piece but was utterly persuaded by yours.

My *favorite* bit was the dig at SFJ's seeming impulsiveness, his lack of editing & rewriting . . . very funny riposte to the generally accurate but overly dismissive and ultimately irrelevant slur that blogging is under-edited. And reading his piece (before I knew of yours), I came across a bit of atrocious editing: "'Twist and Shout,' a song that will forever be associated with the Beatles, is in fact a fairly faithful rendition of a 1962 R. & B. cover by the Isley Brothers." Forget the mannered New Yorker stylization of the periods in "R&B;"; the problem is, "cover" is anachronistic and under-informative. I had thought that the Isley Brothers originated the song, but Wikipedia tells me that SFJ is right, a band few people have heard of (certainly not me) called the Topnotes originated it, and the Isleys recorded it next. The problem is, "cover" wasn't, to my knowledge, in the pop music vocabulary in 1963, and without putting the Topnotes into the story the word "cover" is just confusing and unnecessary -- "a 1962 recording by the Isley Brothers" would have done the job. Bad editing!

But SFJ never strikes me as under-written; he's as mannered as just about anybody in the New Yorker.

What I liked about his piece: the personal touch, talking about his own experience playing and trying to sing funky -- interesting, compelling, persuasive, touching. Also his argument that the court's assault on sampling radically slowed the rate of musical miscegenation strikes me as historically accurate and pertinent (and unrefuted by you).

While I'm glad you brought in the class discussion, your slur against classical is stereotyped and maybe not accurate: "World" and post-Coltrane free jazz are at least as class bound (in N. American reception, anyway) as classical -- probably moreso. (I shook Roscoe Mitchell's hand on an airplane this morning and thanked him for his music -- he smiled and and said thanks -- a true thrill for me!)

Also, Springsteen is a problematic figure to discuss in regards to class. Remember -- he's the Boss! You call him that! But he dropped that moniker when he decided to front as the Working Man. Nothing wrong with that -- it's complicated, that's all.

As is the wild popularity of black-separatist gangsta rap among white suburbanites. You let the paradox lie without exploring its ramifications, which seem to me worth discussing. Quite blog-like, actually. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

I loved your masculinity riff -- and -- funny coincidence -- Now Playing on the computer: black R&B; early '60s obscure dude Gene McDaniels sobbing his way through the ultra-wimp satirical tune "Tower of Strength" written by Bacharach & David.

Speaking of Bacharach & David, LeRoi Jones dug Dionne Warwick.

Race, class, music -- once you bite, coming to the end of chewing is impossible. There's always more there. Thanks to SFJ for taking a chomp, and thank you too.

Posted by john on October 21, 2007 10:05 PM

 

 

Dammit. I keep forgetting HTML doesn't work here. That first graf should be in italics or quotes or whatever. And sorry about the double-post.

Posted by DJA on October 21, 2007 10:26 AM

 

 

On the oft-raised TV on the Radio question - I suspect that both Sasha and I felt like TVOTR is such a singular case that there's not much further to be said about them & there's something tokenistic about pointing them out as The Answer. TVOTR don't make indie not white-as-hell just as Bad Brains didn't make hardcore not white-as-hell, and people too often go "look look!" with such cases to let themselves slip off the hook.

I think it's certainly possible to involve TVOTR in this discussion without attempting to let anyone slip off the hook. If nothing else, their critical and popular profile is such that it's kind of weird to *not* talk about them in this context. It would be like writing piece asking "Where are all the psychologically complex black characters on TV?" and not mentioning The Wire. Obviously, nobody thinks one show or one band invalidates the larger question. But when you've got an obvious, notable exception staring you in the face, it seems worthwhile to actually take a closer look at the how and why of them, rather than punting.

Also, you know, if SF-J is going to talk about white rappers, couldn't he have found a parallel graf for black rock musicians?

Posted by DJA on October 21, 2007 10:24 AM

 

 

Why isn't Carl Wilson the New Yorker's pop music critic? Oh yeah, because the New Yorker's an increasingly dull, irrelevant and unreadable publication.

Thanks for the excellent rebuttal.

Posted by Jason on October 20, 2007 8:36 AM

 

 

Carl -

This is definitely the best piece on today's music I've read in a long, long time. Also, it echoed most of my reactions to Frere-Jones's piece. I can't wait for your book.

The one thing neither Frere-Jones nor you discuss is how metal fits into all this. Any thoughts?

- Yuval

Posted by Yuval Taylor on October 20, 2007 7:52 AM

 

 

Nice job Carl. For me, the key sentence is about how the piece "could have used a draft or two more." So true... of his New Yorker work in general, in my opinion. It's as it his editors, not being familiar with the subject, just let him say whatever he wants... which is great for him, but he should at least make coherent arguments.

Who is his intended audience? Is there really a segment of the New Yorker (or general) readership that doesn't already know the historical facts he's marshalling, but that is curious to hear this kind of argument?

But I digress. Nice work... always good to remind people of the not-discussed-enough class issue(s)...

Posted by malstain on October 19, 2007 2:14 PM

 

 

If the issue is experimentation, I'm not sure putting it in terms of obligatory backbeat and swing would be the way to do it - though I agree the impulse is there in SFJ's piece.

But one answer might be "music's not where that energy is right now, particularly" - maybe rather than looking to other music, the creative jolt will come in looking to other media, from whatever demographic p.o.v.

On the oft-raised TV on the Radio question - I suspect that both Sasha and I felt like TVOTR is such a singular case that there's not much further to be said about them & there's something tokenistic about pointing them out as The Answer. TVOTR don't make indie not white-as-hell just as Bad Brains didn't make hardcore not white-as-hell, and people too often go "look look!" with such cases to let themselves slip off the hook.

Drive By Truckers with Bettye Lavette, and Amy Winehouse with the Dap-Kings, on the other hand, are examples people can actually look to and emulate on a more pragmatic level...

Posted by zoilus on October 19, 2007 1:04 PM

 

 

Carl:

Thought you'd be interested to know that your Slate piece is being recommended by Brijit.

Best,
Jeremy

Posted by Jeremy Brosowsky on October 19, 2007 12:22 PM

 

 

Is the reluctance to experiment maybe due to it being much easier (and often more commercially rewarding) to stick to what you know, to stick to a musical template that's already loved by the fans of that genre? One classic UK example of trying to inject indie pop/rock with a bit of funk/swing (the Madchester movement) resulted in a few successes - the odd Happy Mondays track, the unabashed glory that is "Perfume" by the Paris Angels - but most of it was utter bollocks. Because it's actually a tricky thing to pull off. This is hardly riveting, but it does seem like one reason for the lack of experimentation in current indie rock, and it's one that SFJ touches on in his original article. (Although he tries to make it sound far more interesting than the mundane truth of it: many people are quite happy with the same old thing...)

Posted by David on October 19, 2007 12:16 PM

 

 

Carl -- I sent this as an e-mail and subsequently realized that this may be a more appropriate place for it.

As one of the many footsoldiers in the ever-growing legion of indie-rock listeners, I would like to say thank you for writing an insightful article responding to Sasha Frere-Jones' arguably intentional myopia. The brilliant thing about the rise of "independent" music is the variety of alternatives now available to the (with occasional exceptions) bland, recycled, songs appealing to the lowest common denominator that the major labels pay to have played on MTV/Clearchannel. As you adeptly note in your piece, there is clearly a subset of indie music that tends to appeal to those of us who appreciate bookish lyrics, but that doesn't mean we don't spend a proportionate amount of time listening to the exciting acts performing other genre's of music. The rise in DIY music technology now allows anyone with an idea and a laptop to create music and the internet provides a wide-open medium for distribution and publicity that's not controlled by men in suits. Not that it matters, but here are just a few of my personal favorites from the year, none of which sound the same: LCD Soundsystem, Justice, Les Savy Fav, MIA, !!!, Spoon, Okkervil River, Liars, Sunset Rubdown, and of course, Arcade Fire. Anyways, on behalf of those who don't have the time or, more likely, are just too lazy to say it: thanks again for articulating the public excoriation that is Frere-Jones' just desert.

Posted by jake derenthal on October 19, 2007 11:59 AM

 

 

Carl -- I sent this as an e-mail and subsequently realized that this may be a more appropriate place for it.

As one of the many footsoldiers in the ever-growing legion of indie-rock listeners, I would like to say thank you for writing an insightful article responding to Sasha Frere-Jones' arguably intentional myopia. The brilliant thing about the rise of "independent" music is the variety of alternatives now available to the (with occasional exceptions) bland, recycled, songs appealing to the lowest common denominator that the major labels pay to have played on MTV/Clearchannel. As you adeptly note in your piece, there is clearly a subset of indie music that tends to appeal to those of us who appreciate bookish lyrics, but that doesn't mean we don't spend a proportionate amount of time listening to the exciting acts performing other genre's of music. The rise in DIY music technology now allows anyone with an idea and a laptop to create music and the internet provides a wide-open medium for distribution and publicity that's not controlled by men in suits. Not that it matters, but here are just a few of my personal favorites from the year, none of which sound the same: LCD Soundsystem, Justice, Les Savy Fav, MIA, !!!, Spoon, Okkervil River, Liars, Sunset Rubdown, and of course, Arcade Fire. Anyways, on behalf of those who don't have the time or, more likely, are just too lazy to say it: thanks again for articulating the public excoriation that is Frere-Jones' just desert.

Posted by jake derenthal on October 19, 2007 11:59 AM

 

 

Carl,

I'm still digesting both the SFJ piece and your Slate response so I'll return with more insight later. Off the bat though, Sasha seems to be lamenting the lack of experimentation as much as the lack of swing in the indie white boy rock music arena.
Your examples that you say SFJ overlooked are quite telling - "While it's possible to cherry-pick exceptions ever since, Frere-Jones does so selectively, overlooking the likes of Royal Trux or the Afghan Whigs in the 1990s, or more recently, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Spoon, Battles and the dance-punks LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, and Junior Senior," - Other than Spoon who add the "swing" to their music, none of the above mentioned bands are anymore than four to the floor merchants in my mind. Battles' math-rock workouts are quite intriguing at times.

SFJ is asking why bands no longer borrow from say reggae like the all-female outfits The Slits (and, cough..even my own band Gang of Four.) The Pop Group (produced by dub merchant Dennis Bovell) managed to mix Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman into a fiery jazz-punk mash up in the early 80's and before Arcade Fire there was of course the extremely funky white outfit, Talking Heads.

These days I too lament the lack of experimentation and the, as SFJ calls it, miscegenation of rock music.

Dave Allen - www.pampelmoose.com

Posted by Dave Allen on October 19, 2007 11:48 AM

 

 

Can I just add another "fuck yeah, awesome piece" to this? Thanks.

Posted by krucoff on October 19, 2007 11:22 AM

 

 

That last sentence got software-garbled. it was meant to be:
I know your important points will be useful and provocative as I finish up looking into 80 years of Jimmie Rodgers' cross-cultural, cross-genre influence--where a it is to be found ,and when, and where and when NOT.

Posted by Barry Mazor on October 19, 2007 11:05 AM

 

 

Very good and well-targeted, suh. I'm glad you tossed in the "Nashville" reference though--because the black-white (and sometimes etcetera) conversation still goes on in pop country, in one form or another. That may just be the country music time lag--in which case it will eventually head to the same less connected place, or maybe not.
The class aspect, I suspect, has something to do with the more knee-jerk dismissive recations to many in the white male country neighborhood where the "conversation" continues, and the "dance line" and "lyric and meolidc" line are not necessarily separated.
Someone on Slate also well-referenced the Drive By Trucker-Betty Lavette collaboration as an examaple of ongoing musical integration in a more indie context with positive effect--which raises a regional aspect there, too: Has this disconnect from black-infulenced or made music been less pronounced in the American South? (very possibly.)
But your basic point is importantl: The thumbs up/down question is not whether a piece of music has a certain cultural thread ( whether that be cache, baggage or influence) within it or not--but whether, in any case, it works.
If it does not, does it have something that WORKS as well to propel it as the element (say, a black-white conversation) that was strong enough to spark a culture. Maybe that pharsing raises the bar too high, and eflects my own biases, but we can ask it this way: Does the music have, in short plain English, then, it's own power from somewhere and something else? issih up looking into 80 years of Jimmie Rodgers' cross-cultural, cross-genre influence--where it is to be found and when, and where and when NOT.

Posted by Barry Mazor on October 19, 2007 11:02 AM

 

 

Your piece has many valid arguments, infact most of it is right on, however, what i don't understand is how you can run on this topic without the disection, or example, or even the least mention (though anything short of a golden pedestal, particularly related to this topic, is blasphemous) of Tv On the Radio... They've got white and black, they are high brow lyricists who (like rappers as mentioned) don't congratulate themselves for it, they are so very rhythm oriented, sexual without obssesion, and lack the major wallowy issue. thanks.

Posted by Greg on October 19, 2007 11:01 AM

 

 

Brilliant piece, Carl. Really well argued, I thought. (You even briefly made me reconsider why I recoil at Ninja High School.)

Posted by Kelly Nestruck on October 19, 2007 5:47 AM

 

 

Excellent article, Carl. Think you pretty much nailed the issue there. Whats more, I think you nailed me too:

"The profile of this university demographic often includes a sojourn in extended adolescence, comprising graduate degrees, internships, foreign jaunts, and so on, which easily can last until their early 30s."

Hehe.

Posted by Chris on October 19, 2007 3:28 AM

 

 

That Slate article was great. Like a breath of fresh air. Thanks, bro.

Posted by danica on October 19, 2007 12:02 AM

 

 

Hey Carl,

You got the last SFJ flair up right and once again you've nailed the issue on the head. Thank you for availing me of the need to respond to that piece.

Posted by Danish on October 18, 2007 6:44 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson