by carl wilson

So Sinsurr

paltrow.jpg
The ecstasy of knowing Gwyneth Paltrow: If they could just bottle her essence, Prozac would go out of business. Or so Hua Hsu seems to think.

Here we go again. Aaron points to Hua Hsu's piece in Slate today as another case of a critic calling Coldplay insincere: "There is something suspicious about overdramatizing the terms of those emotions... But it's almost stranger for him to offer a collection of songs infected with the same low spirits as 2000. The State of Coldplay has never been stronger and Martin, with his celebrity wife and new child, has cobbled together a pretty good life. If it's not the sadness of worldly affairs that gnaw at the aching heart of Coldplay's songs—and the lyrics suggest not—it can't possibly be his own life, either. Maybe it's those bastard shareholders. Worse yet: Maybe it's nothing at all."

Arrrrgh! Aaron's saying that if all these smart critics use "sincerity," that proves there's something to it. I'm saying that the conceit of sincerity leads smart critics to say stupid things, and this is the worst case yet. How the hell does Hua Hsu know whether Chris Martin has anything to be unhappy about? Maybe Gwyneth cheats on him. Maybe he was an abused child. Maybe he's clinically depressed. (You could have written almost this same passage about Kurt Cobain at one time.) Maybe Martin's just a compassionate, sensitive person, interested in sadness more than happiness, the way many artists are. As Townes Van Zandt said, "There are only two kinds of music - the blues and zipadeedoodah." I like some zipadeedoodah, too, but I wouldn't fault Chris Martin for, like Townes, preferring the blues. (I do blame him for being not especially good at it.) The totally unwarranted presumption to know and be able to sit in judgment on the heart and soul of the human being behind the art is exactly what using sincerity as a criterion leads to, and exactly why it's not worth wiping your critical ass with.

Hua is so much stronger when he says "X&Y; is a record that defers, tragically, to the singer. Many of the songs open with a spotlighted Martin unfurling his lyrical sadness before the band even has a chance to get into a rhythm, play a note or unpack their equipment." What makes a song "overwrought," as he later calls the title track, is not that it's out of proportion to the known facts about the singer's life. It's that it's out of balance for its own internal coherence.

It all has to do with how this out-of-control celebrity culture gums up our ears. It's not that the extra-musical trappings of artists' public presence - clothes, politics, manner, use of teleprinter code - are not fair game for semiotic interpretation, but making up imaginary private lives for them should be left for slash fiction.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 14 at 1:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)

 

COMMENTS

Carl,

You never chicken out or duck questions, and you're always up for talking turkey. Sometimes, what's fair is fowl.

Townes's line evokes much, but superficially it's more provocative than evocative. The thing about "provocative" is, sometimes it provokes people. To switch barnyard metaphors, I gotta learn to hang onto my goat, and not let people get it so easily.

Posted by John S. on June 15, 2005 9:09 PM

 

 

but listening to the coldplay album twice (once?) is above and beyond the call.

Posted by vfw on June 15, 2005 8:22 PM

 

 

John: No harm no foul. (I always think "no fowl." Like, nobody hurt the chickens.) Erudite points on Townes' quip, but his strength was poetry not accuracy. I still feel it gets at something - and in fact if you think of it as "there's only the blues and second-hand faux minstrelsy," in an American musical context that's got some mad depth too.

Bruce: Someday I might not be making a living blabbing about the culture (and in a mainstream rag), and might not need to know what is found there, and I might unplug too. But I actually love it as much as or maybe more than I hate it. For instance I can't wait for tomorrow night's Veronica Mars.


Posted by zoilus on June 15, 2005 4:43 PM

 

 

CW,
Re: "this out-of-control celebrity culture gums up our ears." & "the extra-musical trappings of artists' public presence - clothes, politics, manner, use of teleprinter code ...

You know, you can always turn OFF or tune OUT the TV/radio set. You don't HAVE to read those bits of the paper. And there are a million OTHER channels on the Internet.
Still, if yr THAT mad, be Elvis-like and shoot the damn tube.
Look at me - I have no car, computer, cell phone (used to have one - got rid of it when I got the land line..) or TV set, but I'm happy. Well relatively happy, anyway.

Posted by Bruce Mowat on June 15, 2005 2:06 PM

 

 

I apologize for the sexist adjective "ballsy," meaning in my usage both "brave" and "obnoxious." Males have no monopoly on either trait; I seem to be proving my fitness for the latter of the 2.

Posted by John S. on June 15, 2005 12:46 PM

 

 

Carl,

Good line about binary pairs.

Annoyed at that Townes line, not at you personally.

Calming down. Digging into the Townes line, recall that Zipadeedoodah is a Disney song from a show called "Songs of the South," which I've never seen. Is it a Disneyfication of the Uncle Remus stories? Which I've never read. The song recalls the faux-minstrelsy of (that racist) Stephen Foster, much of whose music I like. Literal or not, Townes's line is mega-loaded. Literally, dividing music into "blues" and "twice-removed faux minstrelsy" is pretty ballsy.

Albert Murray is an aesthetic conservative about a lot of things. He despises country music for its whininess. He's scornful of country blues too. But he's brilliant on Count Basie, and his book "Stomping the Blues" is all about black pride and the dignity of stomping depression through blues (really, swing & jazz) music. (I know you know this, Carl, but a reader might not: Murray is African American. I've never read his novels, but reviews remark that they generally contain no white characters.)

So a quip by Townes Van Zandt -- there's a lot in there.

Posted by John S. on June 15, 2005 12:16 PM

 

 

Are you annoyed with me for some reason? I think you're taking that line quite excessively literally, John. Obviously there's lots of music that does both. Probably most music of any worth.

Just to put it on the permanent record, there's two kinds of people - people who believe in binary pairs and people who don't. I'm the third kind.

Posted by zoilus on June 15, 2005 11:40 AM

 

 

That Townes Van Zandt quote is spectacularly ignorant.

Is Charles Ives blues, or zipadeedoodah? How about John Oswald?

Equating "blues" with melancholy -- tell it to Count Basie. Tell it to Jimmy Rushing.

I'm not sure that Townes would equate "blues" with "melancholy," but your post goes some distance toward doing that. A lot of blues does exactly what commenter "vfw" says -- presents joy and pain simultaneously. Same with a lot of Tin Pan Alley.

Posted by John S. on June 15, 2005 11:19 AM

 

 

sincerity is a non-starter as a way to discuss any work of art. the coldplay album is sappy sentimentality, whether they mean it or not. as my grade 10 english teacher drilled into our mostly uncaring skulls, the artist's intention is irrelevant. all that matters is what's said and how well. as for the blues and zippitydoodah, there's plenty of examples, the current teenage fanclub being a current case in point, of songs that give you a bit of both at the same time. chris martin should live long enough to write a song like "cells."

Posted by vfw on June 14, 2005 2:09 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson