As I type this, I’m listening to the Taylor. It’s a solo piano disc from the mid-70s, and the CD reissue has about twice as much material as the original vinyl did. (So it’s not one of those mastered-from-vinyl ripoff jobs I was talking about a few days ago.) It’s one of his most traditionally beautiful records – his playing doesn’t have as much bombast or assaultiveness as on many other records. In fact, it would be an easy entry point for someone whose tastes run more to classical than avant-garde jazz (and I don’t really think this counts as a jazz record, either). A damn fine way to spend an hour and fifteen minutes.
I discussed the Klosterman piece I posted yesterday with a few people, and encountered a lot of dismissiveness. One guy said, more or less, that he’s tired of hearing this theory that “people who’d rather listen to Nirvana than Motley Crüe are doing it to make the Crüe fans feel dumb.” I think this misses on two levels. First of all, just because you’re tired of hearing it, does that make it untrue? Secondly, the piece (and the attitude it addresses) is not about rock fans, it’s about rock critics. One of the other people I discussed the piece with understood the latter point, but felt it merited dismissal because the piece appeared in the New York Times, therefore it was obvious (in his formulation) that Klosterman was not expressing a minority view, but conventional wisdom. Yeah, that sounds right. And Ratt are sure to make the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame on their first go-round, in 2008, because the people who vote on such things, the arbiters of rock taste, do in fact think L.A. hair metal is just as important and valid a form as three-chord NYC punk (1970s division – I’m not holding my breath for the Cro-Mags’ induction), and anyone who feels otherwise is just paranoid, or has some kind of inferiority complex.
Another argument that was raised is that there’s nobody speaking up for other forms of crappy mainstream music, like Kenny Loggins or Mr. Mister. That’s disingenuous, and mentioning it is a diversionary tactic. Those are pop acts; Ratt and the Ramones were rock bands, and thus subject to the judgment of rock critics in a way the other two are not. Within the critic sphere, which is an entirely separate realm within the world of rock, Ratt and their hair-metal brethren were seen as rock, and not pop, and thus fit subjects for discussion, but they were viewed as an affront to the elevated sensibilities which had come with the 1970s, both in the art-rock and punk divisions. (Let no one tell you that punk was a proletarian movement, at least in America. It was an art project, with all the built-in classism of the art scene. Once it became proletarian, in the “hardcore” years 1980-83 and particularly after, the critics turned on it. If the Ramones were the Beatles, NY hardcore bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Sick Of It All were Grand Funk Railroad, and the only reason they didn’t get the critical pasting Grand Funk did was that by then, there was new wave, and later “college rock,” and thus critics had no reason to pay attention to hardcore at all.) All truly proletarian movements within rock are greeted with suspicion by rock critics. This is not to say that all proletarian movements within rock are automatically worthwhile. Some (death metal) are, some (rap-metal) aren’t. (It should be noted that even within a crappy genre, some worthwhile bands can emerge – the Deftones and Slipknot, for example.) But this reflexive suspicion – which is not brought to bear upon bands appealing to upper-echelon American youth like, say, Pavement – is a barrier to successful criticism, and only serves to seal the writer away from any genuinely functional role in the larger rock universe. It’s a recipe for irrelevance.
CDs I brought with me to the office today:
Caspar Br?tzmann Massaker, Black Axis
Dave Burrell, Echo
Cannibal Ox, The Cold Vein
Miles Davis, Water Babies
Kreator, Violent Revolution
Archie Shepp and the Full Moon Ensemble, Live in Antibes
Matthew Shipp, New Orbit
Cecil Taylor, Air Above Mountains
Wire, Chairs Missing