Thursday, March 03, 2011

i know this much is true

Interesting article, cueing off the new Adele album, about the style-ization of soul.

Mind you, this was already well under way when Stubbs and I wrote "All Souled Out" in 1987.

That's what Adele/Duffy/JoshStone/Winehouse remind me of: that long Eighties moment between Mari Wilson/Tracy<>Compact/Respond and the Levi's TV commercials propelling Ben E King and Jackie Wilson to the toppermost of the poppermost.

However when Mike Spies makes this assertion at the end:

This was possible because England had the benefit of sharing a common language with the States while standing at a comfortable remove from its complex social circumstances and neuroses. English people were free to have a genuinely aesthetic experience with American music and so were able to view it as a set of stylistic options or gestures from which they could pick and choose. That English singers seemed to have no hang-ups about borrowing these American voices is not surprising, as the English, I think, have always had a better idea of the multi-voiced nature of performance than Americans. They were able to view the blues as theater, which it was, and still is. For them, it was never a matter of genetic code, which is, perhaps, Shakespeare's enduring legacy"

I think he is wrong. The British--then, meaning the Sixties, above all; subsequently, as in the Eighties moment I referred to; and even now still, to some degree--respond to Black American music not as style but as truth: the emotional truth they can access and utter in no other way (so they believe). After some kind of epiphanic baptismal encounter with the music, they decide that this is the language of deepest truest emotion and they try to become as fluent in it as possible. The same thing has happened to plenty of white Americans (Michael McDonald, Daryl Hall, Robin Thicke etc). But for the British especially, not just soul but all American music, by which I mean the fundamental American forms (jazz, blues... country too) has served as an escape from Britishness. Or as I put it an earlier Slate piece:

"Black American music fills the holes in the British soul: The healing pain of soul music offers a mirage of wholeness."

I'm not sure there has ever really been this detached, postmodern-ish British appreciation of soul as a gestural language, a theater of emotion. Even Green, who came closer to this as anybody through the self-consciousness of songs like "Faithless" and "Gettin' Havin' Holdin'", celebrated black music in terms of its wrecking power, the way the softest and sweetest of music was the most lacerating, tore you to pieces. Which is the closest a Derrida-disciple can get to saying "I love this music because it's authentic, it's true".

The pathos of Brit wannabe-soul from the mid-Eighties onwards is in fact the conflict between the singer's desperate desire to communicate, emote, express from the depths, via a mode of vocal expression that had indeed becoming style-ized and shallowed-out through repetition and through the passage of time... turned into a retrochic signifier of era / timeless elegance/classiness... the longing for authenticity, for the real and the true, that is fatally undermined by the emptying-out of an expressive mode through its formula-risation and its form-alisation. The language of truth becomes false.