Saturday, November 26, 2005


Went on a medium-sized celebrate-the-new-job shopping spree Wednesday night. Picked up the following:

Beck Bogert Appice, s/t
Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
The Bravery, s/t
Cream, Gold
Depeche Mode, Playing The Angel
Grateful Dead, Fillmore West 1969
Rammstein, Herzelied
Rush, The Spirit Of Radio: Greatest Hits 1974-1987
Stray Cats, Greatest Hits
The Muppet Show: Season One 4-DVD set
William Vollmann, Rising Up And Rising Down (single-volume abridged version)
Paul Johnson, The Papacy

New in the Village Voice - my review of Natalia y la Forquetina's Casa.

A fellow writer said my response to Slate’s death-of-the-boomers piece was “dumb and mechanical. Slate had a good idea for a piece, but that wasn't it. Your approval makes it seem like your anti-boomer bit is a ritual. You gave it a thumbs-up because it was anti-boomer, end of story. But I've been looking at your remarks about boomers for years and ... it's always seemed intellectually shallow. I was really excited when you were hot and steaming and wanted to denounce the Beatles. Bring it on! But the most concrete objection you offered (correct me if I'm wrong), is that, really, your parents and your parents' generation liked them to distraction. Sorry. It's not enough to just be giving the finger to the folks. You have to be denouncing what they stand for.

And that part remains unclear, to me.”

This is something of a fair point. I’ve been knee-jerk in my responses to my parents’ generation, and their stranglehold on pop culture, in the past. But I wasn't effusively praising the piece, mostly just pointing it out. I agree, it's largely dumb (hence the dumbness of my post-title), but what I did say is that I see an increased willingness on the part of elite media institutions (all largely run by boomers or, in a few cases, surviving pre-boomers) to acknowledge post-60s pop culture. Which is a good thing. Who knows, one day Rolling Stone may forgo their annual Beatles cover(s).

And w/r/t them, I said this to someone else recently, in another context:

To go with only the most obvious example, I really don't get the Beatles. I'm not being snarky; I genuinely don't. I can only think of three songs by them - "Helter Skelter," "A Day In The Life," "Get Back" - that I actually like, and one song - "Across The Universe" that I like Laibach's version of, but don't like the original. So I know it's probably challenging, but could someone please unpack the virtues of the Beatles without resorting to tautological hammering home of their cultural hugeness? Talk about 'em like they're some tiny indie band you're trying to sell a Martian on.

I got some reasonable answers to that request, but none that sold me on the records. Listened to simply as music, the Beatles don't trip my trigger. Elvis sure does, and the Stones do, and Dylan does, and shit, I've just discovered there's even a Grateful Dead product I like (or am currently liking - who knows what its staying power will be). But the Beatles' actual music leaves me unmoved. What they do, I don't need to hear. And more importantly, I've gotten far enough (as a writer, as a listener) that I no longer think I do need to hear them. With every passing day, I head deeper down the tunnel of my own tastes, and farther away from any kind of pop-cultural "public square" where even knowing about the Beatles carries any real weight. A literal truth: at this point in my professional life, it's more important that I know the ins and outs of the Darkthrone catalog than the Beatles catalog. For that reason, I'm not particularly interested in denouncing boomers anymore. Mostly because it's not a battle worth fighting. The crucial battle now is to defend my own patch of ground against younger writers and the young bands they're gonna make their names documenting. Forget the Beatles, I've gotta worry about the Dillinger Escape Plan and all the screamo/metalcore acts trailing in their wake, none of whom I much like but who seem to be selling shitloads of magazines lately. So if I wanna be a 35-year-old man getting paid to tell 15-year-old boys what’s cool (which is the job of a rock critic, when you strip it to the bone), I have to feign interest…or step out of the way and let someone genuinely enthused do my job for me, while I try and find an outlet for discussion of what actually does shift my ass in my chair.

I think what remains interesting about boomer culture is the idea of a pop monoculture, a common language. There isn't one anymore, and that's an obvious point but one that deserves reiteration from this angle - now is the age of the specialist, critically speaking. Time was, if you didn't like the Beatles, you'd be pretty much out in the cold, it seems to me, because the culture as a whole liked the Beatles. (Or Elvis, or whoever.) But now, there's no consensus candidate. Everyone has as many haters as devotees, and nobody's trying to reach across the barricades into the cult compound next door. Which is why I'm able to specialize in free jazz and death metal, and why I never have to listen to the radio if I don't want to. If I was a "pop critic," I'd have to listen to the radio so I would know the relative standing of the acts I was required to write about. But I'm not, so I don't. I live in my bubble. All my readers live in their bubbles. It's all good.

Fellow writer responds:

"[D]oesn't this suggest you're fighting a losing, even pointless, battle or at best preaching to the converted?"

Yes. Yes, it does. And a lot of the time, I feel an almost Beckettian sense of futility about writing. But I keep doing it because I enjoy doing it. I suspect sometimes that it's genetic, that I'm somehow hard-wired to be a critic, because when I'm listening to a record, even for the first time, it's very rare that I'll just listen to it for itself without attempting to figure out how I'm going to describe or contextualize or explain it to some reader, somewhere.

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