Saturday, June 13, 2009


Somebody I follow on Twitter pointed in the direction of this K-Punk tirade, which I would have gotten around to soon enough (he's one of my regular stops as a reader). As always, he's got a few very good points in general, but my first and most visceral response is "Gee, sorry you live in England."

I say with total confidence that the decade we've just lived through will be recognised - and not in the far distant future, but very soon - as the worst period for (popular) culture since the 1950s: a decadent, despondent dead zone in which conformity was rebranded - in the media's lickspittle jester prattle - as 'light, upbeat, irreverent'.
The key to that statement is the parenthetically shielded word "popular," an endlessly mobile goalpost; any given eruption of awesomeness can be rejected as insufficiently omnipresent, thus leaving his despondent thesis intact. So if I point out, for example, the terrific and genuinely adventurous and forward-looking metal and jazz records I've been listening to lately (Steve Lehman's Travail, Transformation and Flow, Dodsferd's Suicide and the Rest of Your Kind Will Follow), well obviously neither of those is likely to sell more than 5000 copies worldwide, so what kind of cultural impact can they be expected to make? But of course the other important part is the whole "worst...since the 1950s" bit, a statement which no American could ever make with a straight face. The mind-crushing brilliance of American popular culture in the 1950s is not even open for debate: Elvis, Jerry Lee, Little Richard, Miles, Ornette, Monk...I'll stop there and let you keep the list going on your own. Unfortunately (for the English, not me), I say without exaggeration that I cannot name one British musician of the 1950s.

I spend a lot of time listening to music recorded, if not before I was born, certainly before I started listening to music in any kind of conscious way. I was born at the very end of 1971, but the vast majority of the rock records I listen to for pleasure (this is separate from the floods of new stuff I listen to because I'm being paid to do so, a sizable percentage of which I wind up liking and returning to) were recorded between 1968 and 1977. I believe that rock music peaked between 1969 and 1975, that it's been all downhill since then, and yes that includes punk.

AC/DC, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, the Allman Brothers Band (nothing post-Duane), Bad Company, Beck Bogert & Appice, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath, Black Widow, Blue Cheer, Buffalo, Cactus, Captain Beyond, Cream, Deep Purple, the Doors, Emerson Lake & Palmer, the Faces, Foghat, Free, Funkadelic (Westbound era only), Rory Gallagher, Genesis, Grand Funk Railroad, Granicus, Groundhogs, Hawkwind, Jimi Hendrix, Randy Holden, Humble Pie, James Gang, Josefus, King Crimson (1972-74 only), Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, MC5, Molly Hatchet, Montrose, Mott the Hoople, Mountain, November, Ted Nugent, Pink Floyd (Meddle through Animals), Elvis Presley (his '70s albums are great), Radio Birdman, Savoy Brown, Bob Seger, Sir Lord Baltimore, the Stooges, Styx (first four albums only), Ten Years After, Thin Lizzy, George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Toe Fat, Robin Trower, UFO, Uriah Heep, Van der Graaf Generator, West Bruce & Laing, Wishbone Ash, Yes (The Yes Album through Going for the One), Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and ZZ Top...this is what I listen to, this is music I believe has no contemporary equal (don't even get me started on modern-day so-called "stoner rock" bands). Do I consider myself a nostalgist? Well, maybe...when K-Punk writes this:

In this present which is so given over to pastiche, pointing to previous historical moments can act as a resistance to pervasive, normalised nostalgia. The present is not necessarily the modern; that is the postmodern condition reduced to a formula. The correct perspective on the past in this respect can only be got at by considering it as a rival (to the) present. Imagine the two moments as competing presents, as it were laid out side by side: which one would you choose?

I find myself nodding in agreement. I would choose, indeed have chosen, from a purely musical standpoint, to live in an imaginary 1974 rather than a real 2009, however much pleasure I may derive from Amon Amarth or Lady Gaga. Would I actually wish to be an adult, aware and functioning in society, in 1974 America? I doubt it; technological advancements circa 2009 play a disproportionate role in the shaping of my daily life (work, leisure, even companionship to a degree). But more importantly, because it returns us to the point I made in my first paragraph: would I like to live in England circa 1974? I think the answer to that would be "Fuck no." There are other countries besides America in which I could quite happily live: Sweden, for one. But the UK is pretty thoroughly unappealing even today, and the so-called "culture" it produces is frankly horrifying. The half-decade or so window I delineated above was the last time England produced a large quantity of music worth hearing; even the bands they offered in the 1980s (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, the Police) had mostly gotten their start in the 1970s, with Napalm Death, Fudge Tunnel and Godflesh being the exceptions, and the 1990s and beyond have been a near-total wash (exceptions: Coldplay, Muse, the Music, Radiohead, a couple of retro thrash bands on Earache Records). So yeah, if K-Punk is extremely dissatisfied with the state of the culture, it's not surprising. He should fly over here for awhile. Maybe it'll perk him up a bit. I mean, when you're reduced to grasping onto the Marks (Smith and Stewart) as heroes, you're in more trouble than you realize.

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