clap clap blog: we have moved
Saturday, April 05, 2003
...and then you hear about a 23-year-old author like this and then all your noble sentiments (see below) get thrown out the window.
He surrounds himself with a hipster claque. He keeps a public account of his life at livejournal.com. He attributes many of his breaks to what he describes as bacchanals. He cuts his own hair, and wears $60 secondhand pinstripe suits from Alexander's. And he has a philosophy, or at least an aperçu. "You've got to have some sort of faith in people," he said Monday night. "At least in your ability to manipulate them."
Perhaps it would be fairer to say that I hope his book is reviewed fairly, but I am printing out his picture so the next time I see him in a bar I can beat him until he bleeds from his eyes.
posted by Mike B. at 3:44 PM 0 comments
Friday, April 04, 2003
Mountain...Goats...cover...of...Ace of Base's..."The Sign"...
posted by Mike B. at 5:52 PM 0 comments
There is, of course, not a thing funny about mental illness. Except when it happens to celebrities. In this case, it's the ODB, who, after being released from jail, is spending some time in a mental hospital after giving off a few warning signs of schizophrenia.
"He would look up at the sky and say, 'Yes, I will do what you say.' He also said the voices had told him to rename himself 'Big Baby Jesus.'"
As opposed to, say, "Big Daddy Kane" or "Master P" or "Grand Master Flash" or something slightly less self-aggrandizing, eh? Heh.
Anyway, I think I will make an album as "Big Baby Jesus" now. Maybe I can get ODB to do a guest-shot. "Two diseases never before combined--schizophrenia and Tourette's!"
posted by Mike B. at 5:46 PM 0 comments
How to be Elastic-Brow
a wee little guide by me to you
In the lead essay in the new McSweeney's offshoot The Believer--a very, very important essay, by the by--Heidi Julavits writes in the concluding section of what she believes about book reviews:
As Orwell says, "and that means, probably, neither highbrows now lowbrows, but elastic-brows." I also believe (perhaps naively) that there is a way to insist on rigorous standards from reviewer-writers without those reviewer-writers fearing they'll never get a Guggenheim, or an NEA, or a fellowship at the MacDowell Colony, or another decent blurb for the rest of their lives. They will not "have it coming." If a book is treated respectfully, if thoroughly, it should not follow that there should be implicit shame or punishment for the reviewer; and perhaps, in the service of our 'profession,' we all need to grow up a bit, writers and reviewers alike.
Thus, I would like to present how I believe this could work, and I'll call it "A Guide to being Elastic-brow." It's kind of an extension of what I was trying to tell that Pitchfork reviewer below, I think.
First off, you have to ask yourself two questions.
- The first is, "Am I powerless?" This can be more specifically stated as, "Am I powerless in the face of 'the hype machine'?" (Ignoring for the moment, of course, that the reviewer is inextricably part of 'the hype machine.')
If the answer is no, then you can, of course, place yourself on a holy quest to root out and destroy those books that are bad and might otherwise be hyped into widespread acceptance and degrade the standards of art, etc. However, you also have to realize that you may, in fact, be wrong in your judgment and that if you change your mind later, after you've effectively killed a book, you can't take it back. You have to be a lot more responsible in your judgments. So it may be useful to be more judicious in your opinion and, as Julavits suggests (elsewhere in the essay), at the very least recognize what the book was trying to do and work that in a positive way, to try to make literature better by suggesting progressions rather than simply stop it from being bad by complaining about what is negative.
If the answer is yes, then you are therefore free to not care too much about what you say. You can make stupid little jokes and quips and snark at will. On the other hand, it seems kind of silly in this case to write any of the holy-war screeds, because what good are they going to do? It'll just make you seem petulant and grumpy, and will probably not help the "had it coming" phenomenon Julavits chronicles. Maybe it would be better if you simply ignored the hype machine and raging against it and concentrated on finding those books that are good but overlooked, and which those readers who are less susceptible to hype might respond to, and then praise them in terms that doesn't place the book in opposition to "all those other crappy books written by X" but just encourages people to read it based on its own merits.
- The second question is: "Do books have any power?" This power can either be over "literature" or the world at large.
If the answer is yes, then you can try the holy war technique again, and root out all those books that could possibly have a "bad" influence. On the other hand, as any reviewer well knows, there are scores of books whose brilliance was not recognized in its own time, and it might be worth thinking on how the course of literature might have been effected if these books had been critically lauded, to say nothing of the course of the authors' lives. Also remember that many of the books that have had an influence on the world at large (and I'm thinking of Nietzsche here, although I'm sure you can add your own examples) were influential because they were willfully misinterpreted, and it might be more useful as a critic to counteract those misinterpretations, while simultaneously being cautious in your own interpretations so that they do not cause harm, whether to literature or to people.
If the answer is no, then you're freed to do a lot of things, and instead of simply using that freedom to give people a laugh (a noble impulse that I respect, but bear with me here), it might be worth it to explore that freedom and try and open up new avenues and ways of responding to books. Just a thought.
You also need to keep two things in mind while reviewing:
One is that no matter what the book is, no matter how dumb or bad or painful or unreadable it may seem to you, there is going to be someone out there who will like it and get pleasure from it, and you need to respect that. Too many reviews act as if a particular book (which book will sometimes go on to sell several thousand copies) could not possibly give anyone pleasure and is totally worthless. But, like people, we like books for weird reasons that other people might not see. Just as we're not going to critique our best friend's significant other as ugly simply because she doesn't look like what we want in a lover, so should we respect the effort that went into a book and the commensurate pleasure that can give people. You should also realize that people don't really like books to be trendy or pretentious, since it's hard to fit into social norms while lying alone in our bedroom, reading a book.
The other is that there is no such thing as morality in literature, and it's OK for someone to like a book. I can count the number of books that set out to produce an evil effect on my fingers, and the number of people that are evil for reading a book on my thumb. Books are important, but they're not so important that we have to treat a preference as a sin or an emotional reaction as a betrayal.
Above all, realize that if you really care about literature, if you really love literature, then you might help it more by encouraging it than by beating it down.
That's what I believe, anyway.
posted by Mike B. at 4:10 PM 0 comments
first bleary-eyed post of the day...
Just submitted a song to Thurston Moore's new Protest Records website. It bounced back, presumably because idiots keep sending full MP3's to that address, which they are not supposed to. Or they just haven't checked their e-mail, whatever. The song is here, if you're curious (right-click to download).
Sorry to keep stealing links from Fluxblog (and you gotta hit these quick or the links won't work), but in addition to the Kronos quartet cover yesterday I downloaded a song by a group called The Children's Hour, mainly because I recently sat down one weekend evening when my plans fell through and made an album of that name. (I think I'm going to credit it to McCormack McKenzie, though.) Anyway, I listened to it this morning and just loved it--it's really, really pretty, and the guitar sounds great. Then I did some research and found that they're opening for Zwan! Weird. Listen to the MP3 and tell me if you can hear those people playing the indie-rock stadiums Billy's new cock-block project is coming through.
Anybody got any "concepts" for the photo shoot we have to do soonish? Send 'em in. I kind of want to go to the record label I work at and have some pictures taken of us under the gold records, looking smug, but I think that's mostly only amusing to me. Think "noise-rock" and "funny" but don't think "all of us lined up wearing thrift-store t-shirts and looking kind of bored." Swear to God, you flip through Hits or Network and it's just like a cartoon of those kind of shots. Eek. Listen, all you fuckers that have defaced the once-innocent visage of pop-punk: we are not bored. We get to go around playing music that we love for people, and that's fucking exciting. I'm talking to you here, American Hi-Fi.
posted by Mike B. at 11:23 AM 0 comments
Thursday, April 03, 2003
Best news I've heard all day, perhaps: a collassal squid has been captured. "Colossal", I think, is one notch smaller than "giant" (which doesn't make much sense to me, as far as word power goes... but, hey, I'm not the one who makes such decisions). The article doesn't say if it's alive or dead; looks like it's on ice in the picture. "Fully grown, the colossal squid would be 'larger than any giant squid I have seen, and I’ve seen 105 of them,'" says scientist Steve O'Shea.
posted by Jesse at 7:28 PM 0 comments
This is pretty amazing: a three-hour parody of a conservative talk show, aired in place of "The Best Show" on WFMU. Well worth a listen.
posted by Mike B. at 6:27 PM 0 comments
Is Saddam gone already?
posted by Gilead at 6:00 PM 0 comments
That's Baghdad right now...
posted by Mike B. at 5:57 PM 0 comments
I am currently listening to the Kronos Quartet's version of perhaps the best song ever written (well, OK, the best song over 5 minutes long), Television's "Marquee Moon."
Other songs that sound good today: "Ana Ng" by TMBG, "Lovefool" by the Cardigans and "Blowjob Queen" by Liz Phair. Liz, honey, if you need someone to write songs for you, gimme a call, OK? I'm in the book. I think. Anyway, you can e-mail me and we'll talk. I'm thinking something electroclashy. You're the original Miss Kittin, babe!
posted by Mike B. at 5:52 PM 0 comments
The current American Idol season, much like Rumsfeld's super-futuristic air-driven Iraq campaign, is falling apart under its own overproduced bullshit. But that's just me, my friend Maria, and the former Central Commander talking. Fox can't even weed out guys that beat up their sisters before showing them off in front of 25 million people. Pretty tricky, that guy Corey, he got the cops to misspell his name before he got on the show.
posted by Gilead at 5:51 PM 0 comments
Re: Liz Smart. Fixated, schmixated. Shit is messed up. Her rich religious freak parents freak out when she's kidnapped by a slightly different, but poor religious freak. I can't wait for the trashy unauthorized account.
posted by Gilead at 5:48 PM 0 comments
Re: Bob Herbert on the budget. 84 cents for a meal? I can't get one chicken wing at Popeye's for 84 cents! Seriously.
An analysis of the House budget by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that its proposed cuts in child nutrition programs threaten to eliminate school lunches for 2.4 million low-income children.
Well, maybe if their parents stopped filing amicus briefs for University of Michigan at the Supreme Court all the time, they could all get fucking jobs and feed their kids!!!
posted by Gilead at 5:46 PM 0 comments
I think you're a little too fixated on that E. Smart thing. But I respect that. Embarassingly (and yes, this is embarassing for me), I haven't been following this season's American Idol. Your comment does remind me of the onion headline "Awards Handed Out Randomly To Skinny Blonde Women."
My forbidden thought for the day yesterday was, "Good thing they let women in the army, because now they can have damsels in distress to rescue." Oops.
posted by Mike B. at 5:39 PM 0 comments
I may be a little paranoid, but run with me on this. Don't you think it's a little weird that the press spends an inordinate amount of time talking about Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the American POW rescued in Iraq, gives oodles of attention to that kidnapped Mormon chick Elizabeth Smart, and (the clincher), the worst singer on American Idol, Carmen Rasmussen, was not eliminated last night, per Fox's very irregular decision not to cut any one this week? Notice that all these are all white blond chicks. To be fair, though, a wounded Private Lynch shot at Iraqi soldiers while Elizabeth Smart was totally brainwashed. And, yeah, Reuben will probably beat out Carmen. Even if she is from "Bountiful" Utah.
posted by Gilead at 5:36 PM 0 comments
Re: the WSJ survey
"Welfare has failed, say rich people! Poor people still seem to exist!"
So--what--is this like saying, "Well, I'm still racist, so..." Probably not, huh?
posted by Mike B. at 5:25 PM 0 comments
Bob Herbert declines to gloat about the victory for one of his pet causes, instead writing a very astute column about the administration's budget. This one's good:
The House plan offers the well-to-do $1.4 trillion in tax cuts, while demanding billions of dollars in cuts from programs that provide food stamps, school lunches, health care for the poor and the disabled, temporary assistance to needy families — even veterans' benefits and student loans.
¶"The cut in the food stamp program, if achieved by lowering the maximum benefit, would lead to a reduction in the average benefit from an already lean 91 cents per meal to 84 cents."
Yeah, 84 cents a meal. "Why are all those poor people so fat? Americans are so fat!" Idiots. You wanna tell the lady paying for a McDonald's hamburger with nickels that she should go across the street and buy half an apple from the yuppie farmer's market with her 84 cents? Sheesh.
posted by Mike B. at 5:20 PM 0 comments
Integration has evidently failed says the Wall Street Journal. Through a positively perverse interpretation of sociological survey data gathered by the legendary Seymour Lipset, the Journal's John Fund concludes that, "[d]espite massive efforts at propagandizing the benefits of diversity, it hasn't won over nearly as many adherents as the true believers like to think." Since when do whiny white people who get pissed that brown folks are taking up their spots in college get to decide whether integration works? Since forever, I guess. Fund does have an alternative, though. You guessed it -- private schools that suck the richest students and their money from public schools.
posted by Gilead at 5:18 PM 0 comments
On the one hand, the response some people have made to military and administrative complaints about Iraqis opening fire after trying to surrender, importing weapons, etc., is, "Well, god forbid they try to defend themselves!" And I dunno--I can kind of see the army's point of view on this, i.e. we'd really prefer to have as few of our people dying as possible, especially when we're going into some of these situations trying to kill as few of those other people as possible (at least in the suicide bomber / prisoners opening fire situations). On the other hand, perhaps people would respect that more if the response was to work to cut off imports and take further precautions in dangerous situations rather than have Rumsfeld get up and yell at Syria or the Iraqi soldiers or whatever. (Side note, though: scary as I do find the thought of us rolling on into Syria and Iran, I kind of want to slap Syria. Dude! What the fuck are you doing! It's like you're going up to the mean drunk in the bar who's already fucked up your friend and poked him with a stick!)
On the bright side, Blair has written an article for "the Arab press" admitting that we might kill a few of you guys there, sorry. In fairness, it is fairly well-written and certainly a better piece of diplomacy than Bush has attempted thus far.
posted by Mike B. at 5:14 PM 0 comments
I find this incredibly frightening. After we find out that Iraq never really imported uranium from Niger, because the evidence it was based on was forged, and that the British evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was plagiarized speculation, it now seems that Bush is ready to bomb countries with absolutely no provocation or evidence whatsoever. One must wonder why Blair is attempting to distance himself from our cowboy President in the midst of an invasion of Baghdad. I think they're fucking terrified that they'll be blamed for any unilateral US military action (excuse me, coalition action) against Syria and Iran. According to the Nation, The UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, announced that "his country would have 'nothing whatever' to do with military action against Syria," even while Rumsfeld continues to bitch about night-vision goggles and other weapons of mass destruction.
posted by Gilead at 5:06 PM 0 comments
According to a former British ambassador to Washington, the US president had come under intense pressure from some in his own military to attack Saddam Hussein in the days after the 2001 terrorist outrages in the US.
But, said Sir Christopher Meyer, when Mr Blair met the US president at his Camp David retreat a few days later he succesfully argued for al-Qaeda and the Taleban regime in Afghanistan to be confronted first.
This is simply mind-boggling--it's like getting hit by a snowball from an unseen source and then pegging Jimmy, standing in plain view, just because you saw him holding a snowball 10 years ago. Sucessfully convincing a majority of Americans that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11 a year and a half after the event, even though they're not, just to justify a war of choice and political calculation, is duplicitous and dishonest and pretty horrible in its own way, but to just lash out at Iraq immediately after a terrorist organization unconnected with that country commits a horrible atrocity is...christ, I can't think of a better term than fucking retarded. Shit, it's Tourettic, that's what it is, like there being a sudden blast of noise and you smack your forehead. It's like, I dunno, running around punching puppies because your ice cream melted. It's just amazingly stupid, and I would be even more scared if I heard that Blair had a hard time convincing him--i.e., if he had to say a single fucking word beyond "George, what the fuck is wrong with you?"
Well, OK, maybe a few more words.
posted by Mike B. at 4:54 PM 0 comments
A former British Ambassador to the United States claims, in a new Frontline documentary, that Tony Blair prevented George Bush from immediately attacking Iraq in the days after September 11th. Perhaps single-handedly, according to the BBC News report, the PM stopped the US from bombing a country that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11, instructing Mr Bush to, well, maybe go after Al-Qaeda first. It makes sense that Bush is confused, though, since 42 percent of Americans now think Mr Hussein "is directly responsible" for the attacks. My Aunt was telling me that she held up two pictures to her remedial 7th grade reading class, one of Osama Bin Laden and one of Saddam Hussein, and asked each student to identify them. Only one out of 15 was able to say with that they were, in fact, different people.
posted by Gilead at 4:49 PM 0 comments
Gawker (via a bunch of other sites I am too lazy to click through) has a list of personal ads placed by musician/celebrities like Casey Spooner and a bunch of "that guy from"s and "that girl from"s, including some I've seen around the office but one I don't think I'll be be seeing much of anymore, more's the pity.
From Stephen Malkmus' ad:
Favorite on-screen sex scene:
anything in todd solondz's "happiness"
That's fucking hot, Stephen.
Also, in case you haven't seen it: the new Madonna video that she pulled before it was aired in the US (better to download than to stream) with accompanying article by the Rabbit, aka Heather, who we all know and love from a certain old-skool webmag. It's interesting--I read the lyrics for the song and I thought they sucked, and then I heard the song and I thought it sucked (Mads, seriously, no rapping, girl), but now that I see the video I like it a lot more. It's got that whole ambiguity thing going for it that wasn't there before.
posted by Mike B. at 4:00 PM 0 comments
So last night I went to the Bowery Ballroom to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor (hope i Got the Punctu!ation right there, guys) with Black Dice opening. It was OK. Black Dice weren't as abrasively loud as they were last time I saw them (at the DFA party at Warsaw with Lighning Bolt--had to leave 10 minutes in due to my companions' sensitive ears) but they still got me going, and then the music during the set change was just as annoying although quieter, and by the time Godspeed came on, I just wasn't very into and left after two songs. It was pretty, but it wasn't as good as when I saw them at Oberlin in the little club there, and I couldn't help thinking about all the bands that do what they do, but better. Maybe I would've enjoyed it more with the Rachels opening or something, or if I was there with friends, but so it goes.
Anyway, I did get handed a nice little flyer from the band. They're know for being radicals, which is kind of weird since they play instrumental music, but it's peeked through on previous albums in vocal samples, and the new one is unsubtley called "Yanquee UXO." Usually I find it pretty annoying, but the flyer was very nice, so I'll post it here, retaining their formatting:
Often we feel a communication gap between us&you.
Playing the saddest rock&roll in these alienated
beerhalls, we're shy and clumsy w/the words mostly
but need to say this now finally or once&for all -
We live in rich countries- we got more kinds of kicks/
entertainment than we need. Also, we're gifted w/access
to so much information. "Facts" and knowledge...
If you don't already know or believe that millions of
innocents are maimed, starved, tortured, shot or exploded
in our name, by our own corrupt politicians, then nothing
we do or say'll ever convince you...
There are millions of us worldwide who don't want
any more blood on our hands.
There are millions of us who want to stop this
murderous nonsense forever.
Together we can tear their crummy monsters down...
It's not a naive daydream. (There are more of us than them...)
It could start happening tonight or tomorrow.
(It'll begin in the tiniest little ways...)
Please think on how to make it happen.
These are urgent times.
Find the faintest light there and run towards it slowly...
When the call goes out.
Please march w/other strangers/friends.
There's a sweetness in clumsy efforts.
Stubborn hope always trumps lazy greed.
&Gentle hears tear vulgar castles down.
Don't be afriad. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Obviously I don't agree with everything in there, but it was very sweet and hopeful, and I think there's some value in that.
posted by Mike B. at 1:26 PM 0 comments
Obligatory link of the day: the New York Times story about the "shadow Iraqi government" chilling its piece in Kuwait. The phrase might make you think they're, you know, exiled or ex-pat Iraqis, but nope: "The overall boss of this Iraqi government-in-waiting, an operation that has been endowed with the Washington-speak title "Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance," is retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner."
I'd heard rumors of this before, but I figured it could just be the brits blowing off steam. Then Tony Toni Tone said that Iraq should be run by Iraqis, and I thought, well, duh. Then this, not to mention this. There are other takes on the matter, of course, but they all seem like fond memories at this point. Hmm, I'm pretty slow on the uptake--good thing I'm not making national policy, eh?
It took me a reread or two to catch it, but check this:
A stocky 64-year-old, on leave from a top post at the defense contractor L-3 Communications...
Sheesh, guys. Couldn't you have found someone who wasn't working for a defense contractor? Like, I dunno, an aid worker or a diplomat or something? I'm just sayin'.
posted by Mike B. at 12:50 PM 0 comments
I won't subject you to the full text, but I'm fairly proud of this story and subsequent comment I wrote for Plastic about the whole Clear Channel sponsoring pro-war rallies thing.
Read and enjoy. And feel free to respond.
posted by Mike B. at 11:41 AM 0 comments
So I read Pitchfork a lot. Some people really dislike them, and I can see that, but I like those crazy kids, even if I think they're wrong sometimes. They seem to only get wackos mailing them, though, so a while back I started sending them more intelligent criticism, or at least criticism that doesn't sound like it was written by a seventh-grader. They seem to like this and publish it sometimes, and ignore it other times, and that's OK too.
Then came the White Stripes review, and I wrote in, and I got a letter back. Here's the saga--enjoy.
re: "You Suck! White Stripes Rock!" letter #3,381
At the end of his review of the White Stripes' "Elephant," Brent DiCresenzo writes:
"People who just want some fried chicken may drive-thru and get a quick fix, but
remember that underneath the spirits of the heroes are waiting for a true
It's a convenient tie-up to the interesting factoid that led off the review, but
I'm confused by the argument. He seems to be saying that because there are
pop--or, horrors, "twee"--elements to the album, the White Stripes are as
bankrupt as fast food chicken and the discerning listener (one without, ahem,
"Questionable Musical Taste"--not baiting the "you guys are indie snobs!"
argument there, are you Brent?) will go...what, listen to the Stooges and Robert
Johnson again? This is where he loses me, and it's where the traditionalist
argument always loses me. Are certain genres just dead and any attempt to
revive them is morally wrong? It's an especially strange argument coming from,
you know, a critic reviewing new music.
I guess I'm the wrong target for this argument anyway, since I think the idea of
a Church's Chicken at The Crossroads is AWESOME. I want to go there and eat
fried chicken, because fried chicken tastes good. I want to go there and piss
on the shrine to Robert Johnson and form a garage-rock band with two guys and
two girls wearing trucker hats and call ourselves "Robert Johnson's Blues Band"
and get signed to Atlantic and get a video on MTV featuring a digitally animated
picture of Robert Johnson playing guitar with us. Robert Johnson wasn't a god
because he was black and poor. He was a man just like the rest of us and
there's nothing served by treating him like one except traditionalists'
(who--for the record--I'm not necessarily grouping Brent with, he just seems to
be copping their party line) fragile senses of self-worth. C'mon, kids--what's
more rock 'n' roll than a fast food joint on a holy place?
Of course, you have every right to dislike the White Stripes album--I'll admit
that I wasn't so crazy about it for a week or two, although now I think it's
great. And, fair enough, if you're looking for a straight blues album it won't
be to your temperment, and if you think the last song is useless and cheeky
instead of kind of cute and unassuming (although I know most male rock crits
hate "cute" with a passion--but c'mon guys, lighten up here), and if you think
Meg's drumming is naive instead of, well, naive and pretty fucking powerful,
then the review makes sense, although it did seem a bit harsh for the 6.9 at the
top. Still, it does look a wee bit suspicious for Pitchfork to slap down the
first album after a mainstream breakthrough for an indie band, and I have a hard
time seeing what justifies the over 2-point drop in rating from White Blood
Cells to this. Yeah yeah yeah, different reviewers, but if Ryan saw fit to
co-sign the WBC review, I have a hard time swallowing that particular argument
here. Anyway, like I say, lighten up--Jack White can fuck Robert Johnson's
corpse and appear on TRL for all I care, Elephant is a fun, good album that I'll
be listening to for quite a while.
From: Robert DiCrescenzo
actually it's letter #2. The positive letters are far outweighing the
negative. Sure, this might just imply that people aren't writing me like
the used to, but, uh...
let me explain. I'm not saying the White Stripe's ALBUM (not the "WHITE
STRIPES" as an entity- a point which people often forget when reading a
RECORD review) is not very good, not just because they're "indie" and
"contemporary." It's not good because it fails at what it tries to
accomplish. A lot of my review is coming from the fact that everyone else
DOES compare them to Zeppelin and Son House and such. Zeppelin is not
better because they're older, but because THEY'RE FUCKING 100 TIMES MORE
TALENTED. Sorry! I was hoping to set out to say that the White Stripes
won't be so highly regarded years from now. These perfect album ratings for
Elephant are just absurd. De Stijl was their best album, and critics are
just compensating for the fact they didn't even know who the band was at
Elephant is not as good as White Blood Cells. Deal with it. This is why it
got two points lower (not to mention the fact Ryan's tastes are different
than my own). Should "Preservation Act 1" been giving an equal review to
"Lola"? I review albums, not bands.
For the most part I would say I am a traditionalist, not because I'm an old
crank who thinks kids today don't make good music. Robert Johnson is not
better than Jack White because he's dead, old, and black, he's better
because when he sings "hellhound on my trail" you fucking FEEL the guy's
pain. When Jack White sings "a seven nation army couldn't hold me back" I
don't feel like he's fighting for everything. I feel like he's trying to
feign cool. He may not be, but his talents won't let him emote like Robert
Johnson. Or Jimmy Page.
Just as you bemoan critics being traditionalists, I bemoan neophiles who
think the White Stripes should be hailed just because they're fresh.
There's no difference.
Please believe me on this. I'm very passionate about music, new and old. I
try to compare music on it's own merits and unhandicapped from the lens of
lore, indieness, or whatever.
thanks for reading
I'm not doubting that you were trying to review the record, not the band (your
reviews are generally very evenhanded), but what I was saying in my letter that
it seems clear that you slipped here a decent number of times. For instance,
you even say in your reply that you're reacting in no small part to the album's
critical assesment in other places. To clarify, though: just because someone's
comparing them to Zep doesn't necessarily mean that they think they're as good
as Zep, just that they sound like 'em, and just because the album's getting a
lot of perfect ratings (which are, agreed, inaccurate) doesn't mean you have to
skew yours lower to balance out the Rotton Tomatos average or something. I
actually liked De Stijl better, too--I don't even own White Blood Cells (please
imagine this clause spoken in a music-nerd voice)--but I still contend that I
think you'd have given Elephant a point more if "Fell In Love With a Girl"
wasn't on MTV. But obviously you can't prove that you were unbiased and I can't
prove that you were biased beyond what I've already said, and that's OK too. I
just think that maybe you're less hearing insincerity in White's singing and
more reading what he says in "459 press articles on The White Stripes over the
last two years" and deciding that he's insincere. But I could be wrong.
Brent, I don't "think the White Stripes should be hailed just because they're
fresh." I think they've already been hailed, and whatever. Good for them. Now
I just want the album to be reviewed fairly. Like I said before, it's clear
we're coming from different perspectives--I don't care if Jack White sings in a
Bozo the clown voice and plays guitar like a 2nd-week Mel Bay student as long as
the songs are good, which I think that, on Elephant, they very much are. Is
there some damage that's going to be done to music if they are successful? That
seems to be what you're implying.
I cc'ed ryan on the original letter--and I should have made this clearer, I
admit--because I think having a traditionalist review a White Stripes album is
like asking a shark to review a flounder. They're a pop band, in no small part,
which obviously you know. I just think that you anger seems a little misplaced
in the review (especially the last line that I quoted originally) when, like I'm
saying here, they're just basically not your thing, and that's a bit different
from them being a Church's Chicken on Robert Johnson's shrine.
Thanks for the reply.
From: Robert DiCrescenzo
I swear on a bible (sounds like Jack!) that I reviewed this album fairly! I
thought about this review for a much longer period than other albums. I'm
so far past caring about hipness. The fact they were on MTV makes me like
them even more. Really, if I get you to believe one thing, believe that I
have no regard for fucking hipness, indieness, mtv, fame, or whatever. If
that comes across, I can understand, as it's one of my main reservations in
writing for Pitchfork, who I find to be way too concerned with indieness.
See, I don't think the White Stripes even SOUND like Led Zeppelin. That's
like saying Of Montreal are like the Beatles. It's really lazy to just
compare them to the biggest heavy blues/rock band ever. Why not Canned
Heat? Hawkwind? Early Fleetwood Mac? Bloodrock? That's lazy journalism
and reactionary criticism.
I appreciate that you're not just cussing at me. I miss having intelligent
discussions about music. I'll be reviewing more often for sure. I hope you
[Editor's note: Hmm, just noticed that they didn't actually publish my letter. Weird. They did publish 3 less articulate letters, and none of the real positive letters that Brent said they got. Hmm hmm hmm.]
Yeah, thanks for the replies. It's always hard to prove that I'm not another
hairy-palmed Audioslave fan (or, worse, a relative of Ted Leo) but I do my best.
I've heard the complaint that Pitchfork is a bit too indie and hip, but it's not
such a big deal for me--I mean, I read it cause I like indie rock, and hipness
can be fun sometimes, too. I do live in East Williamsburg, after all (shh!) so
I don't have too much right to complain about that. I only have a problem when
folks use hipsterness and indieness in a negative way, using their separatism or
knowledge about a particular small wedge of culture to lessen others' enjoyment
of things. That seems shitty. I would much rather people recognize this kind
of neat community/subculture we have and use it for havin' fun, which sounds
pollyannaish, I guess, but there you go. I don't really have a problem with
hipster or indie attitudes leaking their way into record reviews, but I was
mentioning, say, the MTV thing because it seemed to be well-nigh impossible to
review the White Stripes and only review the album. But you said that the video
increased your opinion, so no complaints there!
The thing I and some others I've talked with do have a problem with, though, it
Pitchfork's (professed?) desire to be the anti-NME. Now, I know you're a writer
rather than an editor, and maybe I'm preaching to the choir, but I'm gonna
preach anyway. I totally understand why the NME style puts people off. It's
overblown, hype-ridden, trend-obsessed, and short-sighted. That said, at the
same time it's enormously positive and tends to get me more excited about
music--both individual artists and music as a whole--than almost anything else.
I'm sure they'll rip down, say, the Coral's next album, but fuck it, I'm a fan
now and I don't care. I can see why it would turn people off, but I feel that's
just a bit too--forgive me here--hipsterish and indie, showing an ingrained
distrust for anything people like too much. Maybe this is just me, but I feel
like when you like a band, sometimes you should be like "Oh my god this is the
greatest thing ever in the history of the entire fucking world," because that's
what music does. And when someone does that about a band you think maybe isn't
all that, you can shrug and pat their head and let them have their fun, like our
significant others do when we start getting really worked up about Eminem or
So by attempting to "correct" that, I feel like Pitchfork takes a problem that
does more good than harm and replaces it with a problem that, by an admittedly
small margin, does more harm than good. The more an album is hyped, the more
merciless the site is in tearing it down, usually--and that seems a weird
attitude when you're addressing an audience that has an aversion to hype anyway.
It would seem to be a much more useful service to try and Zen out the hype--as I
was saying about the White Stripes album, and which I'm glad to see you did--and
give a more fair assessment of its worth. The urge to tear down, while
undeniably amusing, just seems like pandering to the indie-snobs at times.
Since Pitchfork is (hold you nose here, this is gonna be painful) a bit of a
tastemaker about indie-rock, I'd like to see it elevate the tone a little,
especially towards bands that show promise. But then again, maybe I'm
overstating the problem, and maybe the audience would leave if the tearing-down
reviews slowed down, I dunno.
Again, I know you're not responsible for editorial direction of the site, so
maybe I should direct this to Ryan, but he seems unable to respond to stuff,
although Mr. Ott has is pretty good about that. All I'm saying, as I did
before, is that it seems like Ryan (or whoever) assigned the review to you
expecting a negative reaction, which is kind of weird given that Ryan's post on
Repeat a few months back about "There's No Home For You Here" seemed pretty
happy with the album. Weird and kind of shitty. It reminds me of the lead
essay in The Believer about book reviewing, when it tells the story about a
certain critic who wrote this post-9/11 essay virtuperously decrying certain
writers, including Zadie Smith, and then when the new Zadie Smith novel came out
the LRB assigned that critic the review. You can guess the outcome. The
essay's worth reading, if you haven't yet--obviously book reviewing and music
reviewing are considerably different, but there are some interesting parallels.
Anyway, I will keep reading--I still like Pitchfork, and it does occasionally
turn me on to good new stuff, most of which is electronic, where our tastes seem
to most coincide. I've learned to laugh at its grumpiness the way I've learned
to pat the NME on the head for its bright eyes, and I don't think people should
get so worked up about the reviews. Still, like it or not, Pitchfork is a major
force in the indie scene, and given that position, I for one wouldn't mind
seeing it move hipsterness from the dark side to the light side a wee bit.
posted by Mike B. at 11:37 AM 0 comments
Welcome to the blog. No idea who'll be reading this, but just in case you wandered in, here's what I'm planning on doing with it.
- It'll be updated every weekday if I'm still employed, presumably less so if I am not. (More on that employment thing sometime later.)
- It may often be reposts of things I've e-mailed to friends or posted other places. (My favorite places to post, for the record, are firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Plastic. I no longer post on nyhappenings because they suck monkeys.) But these things are good, and my friends have encouraged me to blog, so voila, motherfuckers.
- It'll almost certainly either be about politics or music, although occasionally other subject will creep in. There probably won't be a whole big lot of personal stuff, which I'm leery about, but presumably it'll come out little by little.
- I'll post links to stories or songs in progress when I think they're worth sharing, and these will all be at Skein, the collaborative site some friends run. Comments are always welcome.
- Comments are always welcome in general--as you'll be able to see soon enough, I love to argue.
OK, that's enough intro for now. On to the postings.
(much later) UPDATE: nyhappenings no longer sucks monkeys.
posted by Mike B. at 11:31 AM 0 comments