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

Friday, July 29, 2005

(note: updated a note below, Saturday at 3:16 pm)

IMPURE POP FOR SYNCHRONIC PEOPLE

Regarding post from earlier today, on Pop --

thinking about it, I haven't actually read that much on Top 40 before. But I have been witness to part of the shift in critical consensus, from unabashed rock-centrism to guilty, defensive, emotionally-conflicted, fashion-following, abashed rock-centrism that pays lip service to non-rock Pop but still *loves rock best of all*. (Sorry, not naming names today.) Not that there's anything wrong with loving rock best of all! What rings wrong, what rings untrue, is the anti-rock-centric pledge coming from people who really want nothing more than to rock rock rock!

Which is why it was so refreshing to read Joshua's piece on Top 40.

His take on Top 40 (and it comes in a lovely context of a discussion of medieval folk art):

"The World the Same Way Up, Only More So";

and, "a place of pleasure more than ethics; the pleasures of the world, the same but more so";

and, "a story shaped by relations that extend themselves to some all-too-near, all-too-human horizon of risk before returning to the security of the root form, a story in which moment after moment is rifted with yearning for change, dreams about transformative love and fame and transformation itself, yet the figures do not change much, must instead repeat the familiar joys and sorrows . . . "

In other words, Pop is at heart conformist, but with an excess of emotion or passion or excitement.

Since reading Robert Walser's Running with the Devil, I'd been coming at music in general with the questions, how is this working for people, what do people hear in this, why do people like this? Phil Collins stumped me, but this frame makes perfect sense for Phil -- conformist, but with a passion (the "passionate" texture of his voice).

The frame makes sense for Barry Manilow and Ferrante & Teicher too -- conventional song forms and timbres and an excess of (for example) screaming violins -- I love their excessiveness.

Rock-centrists love the Rocker as Rebel image; Nirvana fit it, which is why a lot of rock-centrists got so excited when Nirvana conquered the charts -- millions of people were choosing to conform to the Rebel! Producer Butch Vig worked hard and shrewdly to shape Nirvana's sound into something radio-friendly, and according to Chuck Klosterman in Fargo Rock City, when metal kids (he was one at the time) first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" they dug it and thought Nirvana must be some new pop metal band. They hadn't seen Nirvana's clothes yet. A telling story.

All of this fits in with something my pal Jake London said about stardom on this blog 17 months ago:

"I think stars are generally people who have a personal way of walking but not too personal. It's usually a very delicate balance of distinct and indistinct that allows for stardom, particularly on a mass scale. Stars tap into our inadequacies around both homogeneity (I wish I was closer to the norm like this beautiful star) and heterogeneity (I wish I was different from the pack like this star)."

The conformist norm changes over the years, of course, and there is always more than one norm on the Top 40 at any given time. How this process works, how music signifies social conformity -- a lot of musical and cultural richness in all of this.


UPDATE, JULY 30:
3 things:

1. Got a nice email from Joshua denying that he is "Nick." OK -- I wasn't completely sure about that one, and I'm completely fine with being wrong. No offense intended to either Joshua or "Nick."

2. Didn't mean to imply that Joshua is the first critic I've read who has gotten past the rock-centric prejudices; his piece in "This Is Pop" is, though, the first I've read to build a framework for understanding pop music as a whole and as music.

3. Shouldn't have said in the previous post that Joshua's snideness motivated me to find out more about his stuff; it was more a combination of his snideness toward me along with mine toward him.
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