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

Sunday, August 07, 2005


Joshua Clover has been reminding me of the Marxist shading of the word "ideology," which is: That Which Is So Accepted That Nobody Mentions It.

In rock criticism, an unspoken axiom -- a fragment of Ideology -- which happens to be completely, absolutely false -- is that rock criticism has no influence on the music it covers.

Indie-rock happens to be the most ideologically messed up genre in music.

1. Popularity is uncool.

2. We're going to trumpet our belief in such, either in interviews, songs, or both.

3. This trumpeting is going to help us become popular, because . . .

4. Rock critics, and lots of fans, are flattered by the implied elitism in the stance, and . . .

5. Rock critics will push our story, because they dig it, all the while denying that they're pushing anything, or if they are, that their pushing has any consequence.

It's all a very cool set up, unless you happen to believe it. Apparently Kurt Cobain did, because when he shot his head off, he left behind a note full of self-loathing for ignoring the lessons of what he called "Punk Rock 101," which, unstated, states, 1. Popularity is uncool; and Kurt knew he'd ridden that bull to the toppermost of the poppermost charts.

I'm still waiting for some frank self-assessment from rock critics about this. Some admission that, hey, maybe what we write DOES influence how musicians think and act and, 2, hey, maybe this Popularity Is Uncool thing is nothing more than a shrewd little marketing thing in the guise of anti-marketing, which, if we valued our integrity as journalists and thinkers, we wouldn't be pushing.

Cobain died for somebody's sins but not mine.

Not every rock critic buys into the anti-Popularity biz, but has anybody indicted the role of critics in promoting it? The ideology promotes either insane self-loathing or bad public faith or both; no real human good can come of it. And no, this is not to say that only popularity obsessives are worthy. This is saying -- popularity is a sociological fact. Sociological distinction and aesthetic distinction have little correlation, positive or negative. Just ask the wildly popular Shakespeare; just ask the scorned and obscure William Blake.

RIP Kurt. You rocked hard with killer tunes and riffs and a voice as pained and feral as your crazy blue eyes; you wrote songs worthy of that voice.
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