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Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, June 26, 2005

SINCERITY, DE-CONTEXTUALIZATION, MANIPULATIVENESS

I had thought that all the interesting ideas had been thoroughly mined out of Sincerity Pit, but discussion over at Carl Wilson’s blog keeps striking new veins.

Struck by the de-contextualization thread first mentioned by my good friend and Turtletop contributor Jake London, his comment that 15-20 years away from the original context, it can be tough to sort out the innovators from the imitaters (Soundgarden v. Stone Temple Pilots is his example), and all you can go by is whether you like the song. It helps explain why I (born in 1963) think the Monkees are pretty terrific, and people who were grown at the time think they were trashy cash-ins.

The lesson of the Monkees helps me keep my ears open to Britney et al. No matter who wrote / arranged / played / recorded / pitch-corrected it, "Toxic" is a pretty terrific song and record.

Also struck by the "ambivalent stardom" thread. It was a big recurring theme in the Replacements' work, and by the time it reared its head on something like the 7th album in a row I was stone sick of it, even though I had loved loved loved the Replacements. I felt like saying, "Ambivalent about success? Then don't play in public."

The "ambivalence about success" theme is a holdover from the very commercialized anti-commercial thematics of the Weavers & the '50s folk revival, as Christgau has written about. The anti-commercial ideology, and its commercialization, is double-bind mindtwist, and it contributed to Kurt Cobain's death, and I hate it with a passion.

Carl in his original post inveighed against the Manipulative. I simply can't see what is inherently wrong with "bringing the strings in here." Arranging one's materials for most effective emotional impact is exactly what an artist is supposed to do, I thought. Among other things, natch. Certainly Ornette Coleman, Mingus, the Beatles, Mozart, Judy Garland, Beethoven, Bernard Herrmann, and so on and so forth -- even Laurie Anderson -- are masters of arranging their materials for maximum emotional impact. They may activate absorbing reactions other than sheer feeling as well, but their arrangements pack wallops. "Manipulativeness" feels like an even slipperier critical concept than "insincerity."
Comments:
Your point on "manipulative" is well-taken - and I've made the same one myself in the past. I got carried away with the typing. I think "overdone" or "disproportionate" or something like that would be the better phrase - "manipulative" is what one applies to a manipulation that you think doesn't work, much the same way one applies "insincere."
 
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