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Re: sloanpolitik

On Wed, 28 Feb 1996, James R. Covey wrote:

> hey james rocchi,
> i read the christgau piece too.  he admits that's
> he's being very hypocritical by complaining about
> apolitical music on one hand and worshipping the
> archers of loaf on the other.  
> i'm exactly the same sort of hypocrite:  i have
> the same complaint and i too worship the archers.

two things: first, to quote, i killed christgau with my big fucking 
dick.  second: the archers DO have a strong political slant to their 
music.  the politics are NOT of the social order, but the fact that they 
recorded what essentially amounts to a concept record ("vs. the greatest 
of all time") indicates that they do infact have a political agenda.  
their agenda, which runs rampant in their lyrical content, is a 
wholehearted dismissal of the record industry and the myths of nostalgia 
and celebrity that it produces.  there is no hypocrisy, politics and 
philosophy exist on many different levels, and to limit a "valid 
political agenda" to existing only in the realm of sociology is dead wrong. 

> i think brendan's wrong about music&politics being
> like oil&water (sorry big guy); it may seem like
> that in 1996 but over the course of history the
> story has been anything but that.  
> it may be stating the obvious to say this but
> pop music is directed by the changing winds of
> culture, and right now, there is a widespread
> skepticism of general principles and inflexible
> dogma in our culture, a skepticism that i share.
> people find it easier to believe in the local
> than the universal, the timebound/changing 
> rather than the transcendent/universal and so
> on.  political dogma generalizes, by its very
> nature, and thereby runs up against the wall
> of cynicism.

i think i get what you are saying (you're being *oh* so vague, babe.).  i 
would have to say, however, that the populist trend is not towards 
cynicism or to skepticism, but to a holehearted avoindance of political 
matters.  it's not that people are skeptical or cynical towards poiltics, 
so much as people have abandonned them altogether, at least on a public 
matter.  it's isolationism - pop music reflects it. in the 60's there was 
a strong movement towards sexual/racial/political freedom in music.  it 
was also the topic in vogue on an academic level, so music was being 
arbitrarily (sp?) judged with that aesthetic in mind.  know there is 
little interest, on a movement or academic level, in revolution, so art 
is not really being analysed on that level any more - we tend to look at 
things not from the point of view of a political agenda, but rather from 
a personal, emotional or viceral level.  "what does this say to me?" as 
opposed to "what does this say to us?" 

christgau, and most other critics fault, is to impose their predetermined 
aesthetic of what IS popular culture on art when they look at it.  he 
doesn't see political content because he doesn't want to, because by HIS 
definition, modern popular culture has no politics.  whereas, if he was 
writing in 1968, he would be bemoaning the rampant political message of 
music because in academic opinion, culture at the time was highly political.

> there's this whole myth of punk's political
> authenticity but by now, most post-punks look
> back at the lyrics of their old records and
> think "how could i have ever believed this?"
> or "how simple-minded."  unless they haven't
> grown up!  

i don't think tha punk has ever claimed idealistic or political 
authenticity, just clarity or conviction.  punk's message is 
straightforward, direct, violent (in an aesthetic sense), energetic.  no 
one would ever claim that the sex pistols represent a well-thought out 
idealogy on their own, but they do fall into a much more important 
category - they are part of a movement.  they might not mean much on 
their own terms, but when combined with their peers, they provide a 
strong aesthetic sense, idealogy, etc.  punk gives us violence, energy, 
directness, momentum, straightforwardness, brutal honesty, conviction, 
pride, honour.  concepts which no one would deem "simple-minded" no 
matter how "grown up they are,"  likewise, hardcore gives us the DIY 
ethic, and so on.  while you might find an individual band's lyrical 
slant to be simple-minded or simplistic (ie, the germs or minor threat ), 
it is part of a 
movement, greater than the sum of it's parts that gives you artists 
with a far more subtle method, like the oft cited fugazi or NOU.

> sloan have never tried to hide their local
> roots, they've never tried to plug themselves
> into some kind of universalizing rock myth,
> even if they've had some fun with that.  
> and that makes them authentic to many people
> (like me) right now.  as far as i'm concerned, 
> their success in that regard makes them quite
> important.  perhaps christgau would disagree.

the politics that concern a band like sloan are the same politics that 
overwhelmed the work of someone like elizabeth bishop: what does it mean 
to live in nova scotia?  what is important in my daily life?  sloan sing 
about (for the most part) the details of their personal lives - and by 
doing so answer the questions.  for an average 20-something living right 
here, right now, what is important is ME, and how I interact with my peers.

for fat mike, what is important in the NOW is totaly different.  they 
have different politics.

> i wonder if it has occurred to christgau 
> that in an age when people disagree about
> so many things and have such widely different
> points of view, that music serves an important
> political/social function in bringing people
> together around the few things they still have
> in common.

i, too, would like to buy the world a coke.

> on the other hand, yes, narcissism can be a
> distraction from important issues.  you've
> raised the point before about how certain
> artists cater to infantile urges in fans.

but isn't narcissism an important issue then?  why do we have such a 
strong tendancy to classify what is and is not poitical, and therefore 
socially relevant or meaningful.

1980's:  every time you turned around there was a new cause-rock anthem, 
whether it be saving kids from starvation or saving the environment, 
there it was, shouting in your face.  naturally, there was reaction 
against it, and now that sort of politcal slant is shunned, and 
ultimately, the music has had no impact.  does anyone even remember he 
name of the song sting sang about the rainforest? is live aid really all 
that pivotal a moment in anyone's life? probably not, unless you happen 
to be bob geldof.

what HAS to happen for ANY music to have lasting social value is for us 
to re-examine how we go about looking at what "politics" are.  the next 
time we get into a cultural framework where politics are an important 
issue for the general public, the music we have now is going to be 
summarily dissmissd as being "politically empty" just as we dissmiss the 
cause-rock from the eighties as being "poitically manipulative."  what 
has to happen is for us not to examine work from the mindset in which we 
are slaves to an over-srching cultural aesthetic "ie, society is 
(a)political,"  but rather try to remove ourselves form that sort of idea 
althogether and look at things on their own terms.

this, however, leads us into the dangerous territory that rorty walks in 
with his views (to numerous to get into here).

how do we be politically unbiased without being culturally vacant?

> it's chilling when i think
> about how much cultural power is now in so few
> hands thanks to corporate control.  does giving
> up on the notion of a common good, etc, mean
> passive acceptance of a narrow corporate agenda?
> john ralston saul seems to think so.  did anyone
> see sook yin lee's rant on _the wedge_ about her
> personal politics and her belief in what she
> calls "anarchy"?  what she calls "anarchism" 
> used to be called "shopping". 

i'm very sorry i missed that ;)
(what is up with her hair, btw?)

> anyways, i don't know how much that last
> paragraph has to do with sloan, or if there's
> any cohesive thought to this post, but right
> now i kind of think why blame the musicians
> for being politically inarticulate when no
> one else seems to have a clue either?  and
> it's not quite fair to say that indie rock
> is completely apolitical, far from it.  but
> "apoliticism" (or political passivity, if you
> prefer) seems to be a recipe for acceptance
> right now.

given the fact that james has about six thousand times the education and 
intellect that i've got, i've probably been way more rambly and 
incoherent than james was, so i apologise to the confused.  please 
forgive any and all huge contradictions and loopholes in my rant.  i'm 
but a youngin'.

anyhoo, it's an interesting 
debate. i think the key is to accept/remember that passivity and 
apoliticism is just as "political" as dynamism and conviction.  


> james