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Mar 142013

John Roderick recently lamented that “Punk Rock is Bullshit” at Seattle Weekly, writing,

For those of us who grew up in the shadow of the baby boom, force-fed the misremembered vainglory of Woodstock long after most hippies had become coked-out, craven yuppies on their way to becoming paranoid neo-cons, punk rock provided a corrective dose of hard truth. Punk was ugly and ugly was true, no matter how many new choruses the boomers added to their song of self-praise. It was this perceived honesty that we, the nascent Generation X, feared and worshipped. But over time punk swelled into a Stalinistic doctrine of self-denial that stunted us. The yuppies kept sucking, but by clinging to punk we started to suck too.

At SF Weekly, Manjula Martin responded with “The Jazz Age Is Bullshit,” a nice bit of satire on Roderick’s piece and an enjoyable skewering of generational nostalgia (to my mind). Martin writes,

We took this music, which was different and new and hated by our parents, and developed it into a vibrant youth subculture based on one core principle: to rebel against the prevailing social and political standards, and to do it by partying hard on the dance floor and wearing clothing with a new aesthetic. But man, it turned out that once I got a little bit older, the Jazz Age totally disappointed me. And now jazz means something different than it did almost a century ago when I discovered it. Now, young kids get into jazz who don’t even know what jazz really stood for. Jazz has failed us. So can we finally admit to ourselves that the Jazz Age was bullshit? Because it was. Here’s why:

It seems like something our students might be engaged by, as part of discussions of countering and/or taking an approach in WR101, or in WR121 sections in which music and pop culture are the foci.

Two readings on music & generations

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Jun 192012

For those who include a “Generations” unit in WR101 and/or those teaching WR121 with a focus on music, here are a couple of recent readings I can imagine provoking great classroom discussion.

First, “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered” at The Trichordist lays out a concise, considered, and informed argument against the “pirate culture” of downloading music in which I expect many of our students participate without much reflection:

Rather, fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices. I would suggest to you that, like so many other policies in our society, it is up to us individually to put pressure on our governments and private corporations to act ethically and fairly when it comes to artists rights. Not the other way around. We cannot wait for these entities to act in the myriad little transactions that make up an ethical life. I’d suggest to you that, as a 21-year old adult who wants to work in the music business, it is especially important for you to come to grips with these very personal ethical issues.

Second, “Constant Forward Movement: Taylor Parkes On Can’s Lost Tapes” at The Quietus offers a smart but accessible exploration of how a band’s aesthetic and artistic choices are part of a larger matrix of political and cultural conditions. That overlaps with the punk readings from Reading Culture, but in this case it’s probably a musical and historical moment they’re less aware of (and as educators isn’t it our job to make sure our students leave college with a greater appreciation of German progressive rock?).

Jaki Liebezeit was playful when he suggested that Can could be an acronym for communism, anarchism, nihilism, but it wasn’t supposed to be a joke. This is a side to Can which is often forgotten, but they were as much oppositional as anything else, an extreme reaction to their own past and present. There’s no other way to make sense of them; the unity, the exquisite restlessness, the way they work so very hard to transcend time and place. Can’s relationship to the mood of post-war Germany is more than a footnote. It doesn’t define them, but does provide a context within which they’re easier to understand, and harder to reduce. This was “alternative” music, not (just) in the sense of consumer choice; a demonstration of a different way of living, an impression of freedom. Way out, as a way out.

Feb 042012

The album w h o k i l l by tUnE-yArDs was just named record of the year by voters in the 2011 Pazz & Jop poll.

I’m guessing this doesn’t mean much to more than (maybe) 10,000 people in the entire country. In fact, if you effortlessly understood 100 percent of this article’s opening sentence, you can probably skip the rest of the piece. But there’s something about this situation that I find pretty fascinating, even though it’s speculative and only partially related to music. When (and if) you listen to w h o k i l l by tUnE-yArDs, you are listening to two things: a record that’s very good, and/or a record that will someday seem way worse than it actually is. And logic suggests the latter is more likely than the former, even though that’s no reflection on the value of the artist.

@ Grantland

I won’t pretend to have heard of tUnE-yArDs before reading this Chuck Klosterman piece, but fortunately I’m not posting it to demonstrate how au courant my musical taste is. (Did I redeem my lack of cool with the always cool insertion of French? Phew.) What’s more interesting to me is the relationship between Klosterman’s review at Grantland and this review of Klosterman’s book Fargo Rock City. Clearly Malcolm Harris is riffing on Klosterman’s review, yet the conceit of the New Inquiry piece turns it around, jesting that Klosterman is the derivative one. It all adds up to an engaging example of taking an approach, one our WR101 students might respond to, because it shows taking an approach as both critically powerful and (gasp!) funny at once. Plus, they probably know who tUnE-yArDs are.

Genre and Music

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Nov 162011
"I was searching for connections between different eras, different genres of music," Isacoff says. "Normally, things are viewed in these little segmented boxes. There's classical, and then there's jazz; romantic, and then there's baroque. I find that very dissatisfying. I was trying to find the thread that connects one type of music — one type of musician — to another, and to follow that thread in some kind of natural, evolutionary way."

This article from NPR about Stuart Isacoff's attempts to classify pianists in ways that transcend traditional notions of genres in music might be interesting fodder for 121.

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