Friday, May 19, 2006

Crackergate has legs--the story reaches the pages of the New York Times. (The idea of anybody having accused Merritt of "rockism' is quite deeeeelicious... )

Link courtesy of uTopianTurtleTop, who throws more oil on the fire first here and then here and finally here

What I think of the Greil Marcus quote he's exhumed... Well firstly i blanch at the thought of some of the pronouncement i've made on music way back when being dug up and presented before the tribunal of today ( the thing to remember is these are all historically situated stances, stages on a journey to enlightenment....) But specifically re. Marcus ragging on Anita Baker's gentility as nothing to do with music but just an incident in "class politics". It' s not that he dislikes softer black music per se or in toto (look at all the love in Mystery Train for early '70s soul albeit with the rockism-legitimised element of the political anguish running through "Backstabbers"/"Papa Was A Rolling Stone" et al), what repelled him was Eighties quiet storm ... presumably for its quietism and complacency as much as the bourgie-bourgie black-tie respectability.... and the white equivalents of such anodyne self-absorption and slickness would have been just as repugnant/non-compelling to him. And me, at that point; I could imagine having made a similar remark about Anita Baker-type music and quite probably did. I always think of that kind of post-R&B soul as being like really nice furniture--a beautiful leather sofa or something. You can't really expect people to go against their gut tastes to the extent of embracing its antithesis, cos then you get writing that literally lacks a visceral element. Although, you can certainly acquire tastes and decondition prejudices. IIndeed 've actually developed a taste for that more emollient kind of R&B, bizarrely through the use of R&B diva licks in jungle and in UK garage. Indeed there's one specific Anita Baker song that has been utterly ransacked, there's about five different vocal licks in it that have been used over and over again all across the hardcore nuum. (Another factor: being older and more domesticity-oriented I can appreciate the desirability of a really nice sofa more now).

All these issues raised by Merrittgate (and this Marcus quote) dovetail beautifully with the P-ism/R-ism debate because they relate to this idea you get on the loony fringe of P-ism which is that listeners should step outside their own tastes/biases/preconceptions and achieve an impartial state in which things get understood "on their own terms." I don't think that is possible--not completely anyway--and I'm not sure it's particularly desirable, in terms of its effects of music writing. Oh, open-mindedness is good (although there's more to that statement to be unpacked, a lot more, but later for that; and as an ideal, catholicity tends to keep receding beyond one's grasp, given the dizzying multitude of kinds of music and sheer mass of sound) . But empty-mindedness, which is what a certain sort of "rid thyself of all preconceptions" strand of P-ism seems to propose, is not good. What are we, in the end, but our partialities (in both sense of the word)? Strong writing comes from a situated self, a self with preferences and history, but also blindspots. A piece of music (or any other cultural artefact) doesn't just happen to a listener; the person happens back. Experience is the chemical reaction between a cultural artifact and a self that carries plenty baggage with it. So this idea of achieving a self-erased and
de-valued subject position from which an ideologically "clear" experience of music X or genre Y can take place is an illusion. And not even a useful illusion.

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