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

Monday, May 08, 2006

"Hey, hey, you, you get offa my cloud!"

Quote of the day, from my fellow blogging Seattle-ite singer-songwriter Ali Marcus (whom I haven’t met):

“The Stones don't rock. Or, they rock in the way that Disneyland is magical.”
John, I'm definitely digging Ali Marcus' blog, which I just discovered last week after EMP, but I'm not quite sure what she means about the Stones. Is she saying they're not a tight, good live band? Because if she is, she's dead wrong. I think the whole rocking-out thing at their advanced age embarrasses a lot of people -- I suspect this is what Ali is getting at -- but their chops musn't be impugned. They wipe the floor with most rock bands.
I'm going to second Jody's post. The Stones do rock, although they probably shouldn't, what with the head injuries and all. Charlie Watts almost single-handedly makes the ticket price worth it. Almost.
The other thing is I think Ali misreads the Paul Simon article. I'm not sure working with Art Garfunkle is approaching "creative competitiveness and musical passion", not that Artie can't sing. I'm no huge Paul Simon fan, but I'm pretty sure his solo work has challenged him and his listeners more than "Bridge Over Troubled Water Redux" would have.
Now the real inconsistency is how do you tag Neil Young for being unchallenging and not the Stones?
The band cooks, but Mick's persona ruins a lot of it for me. Such a put on. Such a put on about being put upon. And I think that's what Ali was getting at. It works, it's showbiz, just like Disneyland works and is showbiz. The comparison is meant to be insulting, I think, because the Stones are supposed to be about not being showbiz, or something. I love "Get Offa My Cloud" and a bunch of other songs by them, and there's a "Get Offa My Cloud" element to Disneyland, from a certain perspective, and definitely a huge element of Mick Jagger's sneering swagger in George Bush's persona. The bad-boy-ism of the pampered rich white guy: rock and roll had a baby and they called it the modern Republican Party.

What bothered me about Simon's comment was his diss of McCartney. "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" is not an auto-pilot record -- great melodies, fabulous singing, interesting arrangements & sonics, emotional engagement. Very cool -- and, there's nothing wrong with Beatle Paul playing his old songs either. Engagement with new stuff & old stuff both seems altogether healthy and admirable.
My post edited, perhaps unfairly, Ali's quote, which, in full, is this:

"The Stones don't rock. Or, they rock in the way that Disneyland is magical - it's all kind of a willful put-on, due to societal influence, respect, and nostalgia."

I agree that what the Stones' instrumentalists do is not a "put-on," and they rock. Mick's shtick is a put-on (not a bad thing) that pretends not to be (which I persist in finding irritating -- my own weakness, my own guilty displeasure).

The obvious reading of Ali's comment is that the Stones are fake rock like Disneyland is fake magic. But I don't believe that Disneyland is fake magic, so I wasn't looking at it that way.

The magical effects that Disneyland produces for people so persuaded are real. Same with the Stones.
Hmmm John. I think you're wildly misreading Jagger, whose stage shtick, like many of his songs, is, like, total jive. I don't think he pretends for a minute not to be show bizzing it up -- he's hardly an earnest rawker type. Much more of a trickster-ironist. This comes through in many of his lyrics, too.

Also, I must say it's WAY unfair of you to lump Jagger in with George W. First of all, Dubya was born into money. Mick MADE his. And by the way, Mick also dissed Bush in song last year. (Also, I'm not sure what anyone's "whiteness" has to do with this.)

Can I ask: when's the last time you really listened to the Stones? Their body of work is incredible. Jagger himself is probably the most musical adventurous of all the big 60s rock icons; he recorded disco songs at the height of the "disco sucks" backlash, experimented with synths and drum machines early (much to the distaste of Keith, the blues-rocker puritst), etc. And he's written some amazing, beatiful, and very touching songs -- it's not all jive! The guy is a very talented lyricist, way way underrated.

Long and short: I suspect you're knee-jerking a bit about the Stones. Plus, like LarryLove said, Charlie Watts! What mad swing. Sonny Rollins didn't record with them for nothing!
Okay, I'm going to respond in order.

LarryLove: The strangeness of Simon's comment is that he fully believes in his Eno project as a lower-profile, more abstract work, meaning that its OK for Paul Simon to continually evolve and stretch his ideas even if they diverge from earlier, more mainstream work. Meanwhile, he criticizes Young, McCartney, the Stones for similarly expanding their ideas as well. How come others have to be in a box? No one wants to be in a box.

John: "The obvious reading of Ali's comment is that the Stones are fake rock like Disneyland is fake magic. But I don't believe that Disneyland is fake magic." Perfect. This gets at the heart of what I meant about the Stones and Disney. They are institutions, and the idea of them is so much a part of our cultural history that to question their actual music (or Mickey Mouse) seems a bit irrelevant to me. The power of nostalgia looms large.
PS- John, thanks for the link. I like your blog too!

Tomorrow's Hopvine agenda includes a "Wayfaring Stranger/Summertime" mash-up - should be epic.

Do you really think they're the most adventurous? More than the Beatles? (Revolution 9!) (And: Sir Paul in the disco backlash, "Don't say good night tonight"; and John, "Whatever gets you through the night", both disco. I love Paul's song by the way.)

The connection between rock-and-roll bad-boyism and Bush probably falls under the law of unintended consequences, but it's real. Liberals and Democrats are stereotyped as effete. Limbaugh and the talk radio crowd are straight outta Jack Nicholson's characters, all larger-than-life and sneering, very rock and roll. The parallels are huge: machismo, perpetual aggrievement, sarcasm, a sense of entitlement, glorification of individualism, general bad-boy-ism. Bush and Limbaugh may or may not be rock fans, but they viscerally understand how to project themselves like rock stars, and Jagger is the rock-starriest rock star of them all.

And whiteness has a lot to do with that. Certainly in Bush's case, and also in Mick's and Limbaugh's (who, like Mick, is a self-made talent, not, like you pointed out about Bush, a Svengali-ized trust funder).

I'm unsure about Jagger's jiviness. Sincerity is unknowable, and you're probably right that he intends to be jiving, and I think I was wrong to say he is insincerely pretending to be sincere. Now I'm thinking the opposite: I think he intends to come off as jiving, but that his projection of a sarcastic, aggrieved, individualistic, macho, entitled bad boy comes from deep within. And his persona is so dominating that I can't feel any tenderness or vulnerability when he sings "Wild Horses," even though it's a great song. I just hear his pout. "Fool to Cry" -- his tenderness works for me there. And I'll listen more closely next time I hear "Wild Horses"; I'll give the Stones' version another chance.

And I will agree with you here: he has written many excellent lyrics.

I don't know what you mean by knee-jerk, though, because I've been listening to them all my life and covered a bunch of their songs in high school; my disaffection grew gradually.

When and what did Rollins record with them? Never heard of that!

Ali -- thanks for dropping by! I'll make it to the Hopvine some time, guitar in hand, but probably not tomorrow night.

I think, by the way, that Simon was criticizing Young, the Stones, and Sir Paul for *not* expanding on old ideas. I mostly think that Simon was just competing and positioning himself. I did hear part of one of his new songs on 103.7 the other day, and it sounded intriguing.

I need to clarify. Obviously the Beatles *were* more musically/sonically adventurous. When they were the Beatles. In the 60s. (Or at least they were up until they went all back to basics after Sgt. Peppers.) I was referring to a continuing track record. Now, this is kind of a world’s tallest midget distinction, because none of the big rock icons of the 60s are particularly adventurous at all. But I don't hear anything in Lennon or McCartney's solo work (or George's) that's at all akin to, say, the new wave experiments on Undercover of the Night. And I think the Stones' disco experiments were far more, um, disco than Macca's. My point is, Jagger at least has maintained a healthy interest in what’s going on musically. I mean, he commissioned a Neptunes remix of "Sympathy for the Devil"!

As for the connections you draw between Bush (and now Limbaugh!) and Jagger: again, these seem almost nuttily farfetched. I mean, why is Jagger -- who, like all good Brit rockstars, toyed with fey/dandy/effeminate iconography; think of his "girly" hip-shimmying dance moves! -- why is HE the model for Bush and co. and not, say, John Wayne or a fascist dictator? (Jagger's actually far less macho than any of the Beatles in this respect; Lennon was muy muy macho!) I think there are plenty of homegrown, all-American models for the character traits you describe ("machismo, perpetual aggrievement, sarcasm, a sense of entitlement, glorification of individualism, general bad-boy-ism"), and imagine that these were more likely to have influenced Bush, who famously took no interest in pop music or the counterculture (or politics) in the 60s, than some English musician. And honestly, I think it’s a bit of a crass rhetorical move –- a bit demagogic, really -– to link someone whose music and/or persona you don’t like to Bush, especially when the guy in question just recorded an anti-Bush protest song that he played to sold-out stadiums across the red states! It’s a bit like a Republican accusing a Democrat of giving comfort to the enemy when he opposes the Patriot Act.

Sonny Rollins plays on "Waiting on a Friend." Rollins asked Jagger to "dance out" the solo for him in the recording studio, and he improvised along.

P.S. Got an advance of Simon's album. Found the lyrics great as usual but the music an almost unlistenable (and shockingly tuneless) mess.
Hey, I'll make it an even 10.

I think that all-in-all the work of Stones, the Beatles, Macca, John, Neil, et al, is of a piece. The experimentations are at the margins, not the core, and, when successful, enhance the body of work. I think this is Maccas great appeal (to me anyway, notwithstanding quite a lot of un-rigorous work): he has a unique ear, that though preditable in many ways, still has the capacity to surprise and thrill. The Stones, too, I think are most successful on thier home pitch: that lanky, Watts-behind-the-beat groove that gets the head bobbing may be their cliche, but they know it works, despite a perhaps too often lazy song to drape it on. I heard that re-tread single off the new LP and it made me smile, smile, smile.

Some artists are better suited to refinement than experimentaion, and I think the generation of classic rockers, because they so transformed the lay of the land -- becoming (or being labelled) "artists" to whom a body of work is important, are more comfortable with the former.
Forgot to sign the above!


John Wayne isn't smirking and sarcastic like Limbaugh and Bush; also, while his persona is rugged & macho & individualist, he's all about commitment to the community. Nicholson is closer to the Smirk, but I find his persona to be quite rockin' in the typical sense of rockin'. I hear what you're saying about Jagger's flirting with femme-y-ness, but he was always more of a "bad boy" -- in image -- than the Beatles, an image that is one of Bush's only self-developed political assets -- "I feel an affinity to him because he partied like a fool as a young man." It doesn't matter that Bush didn't like rock.

The point isn't to run down Jagger, either, who has made a lot of terrific music; I didn't sit around thinking, "Now what outrageous thing can I say about Jagger that would discredit him if people bought it." It's an impression on how personas work in politics and culture that occurred to me and strikes me as true.

But you raise a really good point. Limbaugh and the rest would *say* that they aspire to John Wayne-dom. But the buttons they push are rock and roll: "I'm in it for me, and to hell with everybody else," is the button that Limbaugh, Bush, and Jagger (more than any other '60s rocker) push; that's not Wayne's vibe.

My diatribe is related to another pet complaint about rock: How Jagger and, even more, Dylan, spearheaded rock's assault on class-aspirational cultural iconography, where two middle-class kids masqueraded as poor, influencing almost all of subsequent western culture. Before them, the stars all wanted to masquerade as rich; upward mobility was the myth of America. Downward mobility has been the reality of the majority of American-born Americans since Reagan or maybe Carter -- in no way is this rock's fault. But I do think an unintended aftermath of the switch in iconography is that it has made it easier for rich jerks like Bush & Co. to pose as "men of the people." It is true that rich people have always posed as "men of the people," but in some real way I think the imagery of rock has made it easier for Republican demogogues to make "elite" a synonym with liberal. Before this shift, "elite," in politics, meant "country club." Now it means "NPR." Rock's drive to obfuscate class realities has facilitated the shift.

Thinking about this since last night, I was trying to think of how a liberal rock iconography would look, and I thought of Springsteen with his community-mindedness. As it happens, I like fewer of his songs than I do of the Stones, and I rarely like his ensemble sense (though I love the monolithic sound of "Born in the USA") -- but I do like his persona and think he does good.

All of this is very impressionistic -- Marcusian in the "Greil" sense, even -- and it wouldn't surprise me if you thought it's not a valid way of understanding how culture and politics interact. Maybe you're right. I don't know.

p.s. I did know that the Stones toured with their anti-Bush song. Good for them.
Just thought I'd stick my nose back in and make some more noise, although as comments-type arguments this is pretty civil and way too well informed.
Lessee...I would tend to agree with Jody's read on Mick's persona. Something I remember hearing him say was that he'd always strived to be like the black American artists he'd grown up listening to. I'm not sure how this plays with the 'whiteness' comment, but if you look at Exile on Main Street you can see he wasn't lying. I want to get back to the musical adventurous thing. The Stones to me have always been almost tourists in most of these adventures, "Hey Disco is a nice place to visit! Let's see if we can get tickets to go there!" I'm trying to reckon this with my perception of Simon's work with African and South American musicians which has seemed a little more in depth, even if what it really was, was a Ladysmith song with Simon almost totally on the sidelines. To be honest, I haven't really spent all that mush time with Graceland or Simon's work to know for sure; my perception could be way off.
I'm going to say that John's reading of Simon criticizing Young and McCartney is the way I read it too, although I think he is patting the Stones on the back. Maybe the confusion is what he is congratulating them for.
And I'm not gonna say anything about Springsteen because I made the bone-headed mistake of criticizing him on Alterman's blog and I can still feel the lead pipes I got hit with.
Wait, so Jagger is to blame both for "masquerading as poor" AND for swanning around with models on lear jets and acting like a "pampered rich white guy"? Which is it?

Personally, I don't see downward mobility in the Stones’ shtick at all -- certainly not Jagger's. They've always flaunted their $$$ and jet-setting. If anything, they're pop's ultimate nouveau riche vulgarians. Dylan's more to the point -- Bruce (whose music I like quite a bit, btw) even more -- but I think if you examine the history of American bohemia you'll find examples of artsy slummers dating back way before your loathed rock 'n' roll, John. And by the way, is the just-folks masquerade -- "poorface" -- really necessarily WORSE than "masquerading as rich"? Is there perhaps some value in wanting to identify with the great unwashed, even if in practice it's often mawkish and patronizing? Do you really prefer the values of unbridled aspiration and rah-rah capitalism that you find on, say, Wall Street, or even in hip-hop culture, John? (If you did, I reckon you'd have a different job, and life, than you do now.)

I dunno, seems to me you really really really hate rock. I mean, I'm not so crazy about certain aspects of rock culture either (see my current piece on Slate) and have never been a huge "classic rock" dude. (I don't really even dig Hendrix, although I recognize his greatness.) But I think you're so anti-rockist that you're, like, seeing rock's ghost wherever you turn. I think the idea phony-populism of Bush et. al. can be laid at the feet of rock in any way is nuts. In fact, I think that we -- the "left," the Democrats -- are to blame for a total failure of nerve, failure to communicate, and ESPECIALLY for wasting years and years all wrapped in idiotic identity politics when we should have been dealing with economic issues that speak to people's real lives. The vaunted "wedge issues" (i.e., social issues) that Republicans have exploited -- we gave them the wedge! Oy! But anyway, that's a whole other discussion...

Do I contradict myself? I contradict myself very well! (A misquote of Whitman that I stole from somewhere.) You're right, that was a wild swing against Jagger, putting him in the Dylan "downward mobility" camp. Bohemianism is where he's from. Is it reasonable for me to plead that my confusion on this part of the question bespeaks the successful obfuscation of class that has occurred in the last 30 or 40 years? (Probably not.)

I love rock and roll. But it's not a ghost I see everywhere. It's the dominant culture and has been for 30 years -- if it's a ghost, it IS everywhere. It now shares the stage with hip hop, which, please note, has been tapped by the patrollers of the boundaries of rock as rock's heir, rather than the equally innovative (or more innovative) dance music trends of the last 20 years. Somewhere along the way, the "rock" myth stopped being about pleasure and started being about "rebel"-ism, so it makes total sense that the bad-boy-ism of hip hop gets talked up in "Rolling Stone" magazine and the Village Voice while pleasure-driven dance music gets much shorter shrift.

Paul Allen loves rock and roll. The picture at the front door of his rock and roll museum, called "Experience Music," is of a fan in a mass audience raising her arms in worship of her rock gods -- that's his front door image of "experiencing music": a passive worshipper. I love rock and roll too, but the religious implication of "ism" at the end of Rock has been bad for our culture and our politics. You disagree. Like I said, I could be wrong.

The Republicans' biggest wedge issue, since Nixon's southern strategy, has been race. What economic populists dismissively call "identity politics" is very much about people's everyday lives. Not that I'm against economic populism, not at all. But it's not a choice, it's not one or the other.

The Democrats have blown it by not sufficiently calling BS on the Republicans. A Springsteen-style Democrat would call BS. We do need a toughness, and my own question is how to disentangle toughness from machismo.

Here's how far class has been obfuscated: When Gary Giddins was touring behind his Bing bio, I went to hear him read. Someone during Q&A asked about Bing's class identity. Rock has so dissuaded middle-class people from being comfortable with their class status that Giddins preposterously answered that golf-swinging, sweater-wearing Bing always had a working class image. I like Bing, but I never thought of him as working class! (I didn't read the bio; he may well have grown up working class; I'm talking of his star persona, which seems totally middle class.) (Further confusion: "working class" and "middle class" are not oppositional in fact, though they're usually used that way; lots of "working class" jobs give middle class wages; all middle class people have to work.)

Bing: tough without machismo.
Whew! Interesting stuff, John. I agree with most of what you've said. To start with the most important first: obvs. race has been the great wedge, and identity politics issues are an important part of the fight for enfranchisement, a more just and equitable society, blah blah. But I don't think I'm wrong in believing that lefties/Dems/etc. wasted a lot of valuable time and energy (and spent a lot of "political capital") policing people's thoughts. You might tell me I've swallowed Dinesh D'Souza's [sic?] line whole, but I personally experienced the awful anti-intellectual excesses of political correctness in college (and elsewhere). It turned me off, and believe me, it turned off a lot of "Reagan Democrats."

You're not wrong about the hip-hop/rock/"rebellion" connection, but there's more to it than that, I'd say. For one thing hip-hop is clearly *the* major late 20th century of the African-American msucial tradition. Plus, it has words (unlike lots of dance music). And unlike most other kinds of dance music, it stormed the pop charts. So there a real world nonideological reasons to view it as "rock's heir."
Good points about why hip hop has been rock's heir.

I'll give the Stones another shot too.

And, regarding wedge issues: rock in general and the Stones in particular (tourists though they may have been in certain ways) have worked to promote African American music (and African music too, in the Stones' case, working with Black Moroccan musicians a while ago). (It's complicated, obviously -- through most of rock history, white musicians have made a lot more money than black musicians playing in musical styles originally developed by black people.)

Now, who the heck is this Woody Payne person who got copyright to the Robert Johnson songs the Stones covered?
Way to draw connections across boundaries! The technical cause-and-effect stream of things doesn't apply to people's goals and motivations - Limbaugh, Bush, Clinton, or whoever - but people don't grow up in a vacuum. Music is fundamentally a social activity.
Thanks Ali.

I've been thinking about why I'm more down on the Stones than I am on more explicitly macho acts like Zep, Halen, or AC/DC (showing my metal age!). I'll post on it later.

How culture works, how music influences people's lives and vice versa -- endless topics.

BTW, nice meeting you last night. You sounded good!
Thanks! If you get there before 8:30 you have a good chance of making the list. Hopvine's full of great musicians.
Wow, I missed a good thread here. To me the Stones have always been middle class/upper middle class guys pretending to be poor bad boys, who in turn were living out their fantasy of a poor bad boy's jet set upward mobility fantasy (how's that for a lot of mirrors).

Given this, I think John's kind of onto something as it relates to Bush and his folks. It's not that the Stones are to blame for this. But I do think there is something in the lack of difficulty the Stones seem to have in embracing the contradictions within their persona.

They're rogues who take what they want, and don't concern themselves too much with the ethical and moral consequences of that.

In this regard, their persona and music seem to embody at least in part, one prong of what George Lakoff has termed strict father morality in his writing (i.e., the idea that people are born bad, the world is a tough place, and anyone who doesn't or can't defend themselves is either a sucker or lacks the moral discipline to do so and should therefore be scorned).

This is a very seductive set of ideas and one with a great deal of emotional resonance in our culture. It implies a certain sort of power and autonomy. It's the romantic part of being a pirate (it's no surprise that Johnny Depp modeled his pirate character after Keith).

In their own way, Bush and Co seek to connect with people in a similar place emotionally, and use conceptually related personas and symbols. They appeal to that same power/autonomy fantasy. Their personas say that if you come with us, you can be like us: Bad ass. Take no shit. Cool. On top of the org chart. Alpha Males. Winners.

It would be much harder to resonate people in with this sort of story if these ideas weren't already in their frame of reference. There is no doubt that these ideas have been around far longer than rock and roll (hell just go back to the failure of the Populists, a direct result of their inability (unwillingness) to united poor whites and poor blacks). But rock and roll has really foregrounded them in the last 50 years. It made rebellion cool. And taking this symbology of cool worldly and wise rebelliousness away from the liberals and successfully linking it to their agenda has been a major coup for the Repubs,

As Carl pointed out in his EMP paper, quoting Tom Frank, the rebellion of rock and roll is in many respects completely congruent and complicit with the needs and dynamic of advanced capitalism. And I think the Bushies understand that very well and use it as one weapon in their arsenal (obviously they don't take this approach with evangelicals; they save it for the angry white guys who love dudes like Rush and O'Reilly).

When I was in law school, I took a law and social theory class with a man named David Trubek. He was one of the people who started the Critical Legal Studies movement. He talked about an earlier movement in legal scholarship called Legal Realism. In it's time, it was the progressive movement. "The essential tenet of legal realism is that all law is made by human beings and, thus, is subject to human foibles, frailties and imperfections."

Legal Realism was a reaction against legal formalism, which saw laws as transcendent principles that did not eminate from human beings. One of its central tenets was "the belief in legal instrumentalism, the view that the law should be used as a tool to achieve social purposes and to balance competing societal interests." (lifted quotes from Wikipedia).

By the 1980s, however, Trubek argued, Legal Realism was pretty much hegemonic. Whether it be a left leaning movement like CLS or something on the right, like Chicago School Law and Economics, everyone was a legal realist. For example, people might disagree on the correct ideological direction, but nobody really disagreed with the idea of legal instrumentalism.

I think a similar argument can be made about the stuff we're talking about here. Like it or not, we're kind of all rockists now (or at least we have been for the last 30 years or so), in the sense that it is dominant the cultural background reality.

Everyone under 55 has grown up with it. Lee Atwater seems like one of the first guys within the Republican Party apparatus who fully got on this train and bridged any contradictions. He said implicitly and explicitly, "just because I work for Reagan and I'm conservative, it doesn't mean I can't strap on my Strat and rock." In doing so, he started the process of separating the emotional impact and spectacle of rock from its more left leaning political roots.

By the 1980s, this wasn't too hard to do, because at a cultural level, this separation was already happening within the music itself. It had pretty much ceased to have any meaningful connection to its blue collar, and presumably more progressive, roots. It wasn't outsider music anymore. It was everyone's music. So while people still lined up for the visceral, hedonistic, spectacle part of the service, it seems like they increasingly preferred to skip the sermon.

None of this is explicitly the Stones fault. But that doesn't mean there isn't some truth to the notion that it's happening.
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?