Desperate journalists -- The Cure, Morley, Penman and Peel

Started by Oneiroman, May 07, 2021, 22:12:59

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Oneiroman

For their second Peel session, recorded on 9 May 1979, The Cure recorded two versions of 'Grinding Halt', one with the "proper" lyrics and one with impromptu lyrics Robert Smith came up with as a response to Paul Morley's scathing review of Three Imaginary Boys in the NME dated 12 May'79 (but available from 9 May).  This was the well known 'Desperate Journalist in Ongoing Meaningful Review Situation': https://youtu.be/xaVpFpxhRn0 - which has been written about in detail in two articles by Martin O'Gorman on his curesongs blog 'Crying for Yesterday' in which he investigates the context and lyrics of the song.

The main object of Robert Smith's ire in 'Desperate Journalist' is Paul Morley's piece 'A Cure for Cancer?'  But he also mentions Ian Penman who had written a review of 'Grinding Halt' in the same edition of the paper.  'Grinding Halt' was going to be the new Cure single and Penman had been given a promo copy.  He said "The Cure's particular hypotheses [sic] concerns a non-forward-moving national community activity.  Got that?...The Cure [are] interested in writing grandiloquent songs about very little..."  Penman also reviewed Fischer-Z's new album Word Salad in that same NME ("Where semiotics is semolina").  It appeared straight after Morley's 3IB demolition job.  Hence the lyric "Hey mister a [or "A mystery"] review of Word Salad, it's written by my friend Ian Penman."  Incidentally the reference to "an ugly Spirit" is also relevant as the review after Penman's was Max Bell's of The Best of Spirit .

At the start of the programme in which the session was broadcast John Peel had stated that Morley had written an "uncharacteristically violent review" of 3IB.  After he had played the Skids' 'Masquerade' he added "I was just sitting here ruminating as to why it's possible that those NME boys may have taken against The Cure so much.  I can't understand that really.  I mean, there are a great many bands who deserve much harder condemnation than that I think."  The quotes here are taken from the John Peel Wiki.  He was also rather confused by the mention of Penman.

Morley and Penman were the "enfants terribles" of the NME in the late '70s/early '80s.  Penman was an associate of the then squat-residing band Scritti Politti in Camden Town, London.   Green Gartside, Scritti's main man, was himself no stranger to writing long dogmatic tracts about politics, music and culture in which, by his own admission, he usually tied himself up in knots - see also his song 'Jacques Derrida': "I'm in love with Jacques Derrida/Read a page and I know what I need to/Take apart my baby's heart/I'm in love".

Here is an example of Penman's, um , prose taken from a Scritti Politti fanzine:

"Scritti Politti

pull and push

beat politik

onomatopoeiac...formation of words by imitation of sounds associated

with the act or object to be denoted...sections seen emerging from a

mess! relentless rockers...

in the discursive validation of claims to validity, and the

discursive dissolution of opinions and norms the validity of which

is based on unjustified claims, no matter to what extent it is actually

accepted...

        "some kind of piecemeal engineering or dismantling of

problems as wee come to them, with new sets of tools that aren't really

derived formally from the history of rock n roll...""

Robyn Hitchcock of the Soft Boys wrote a song about Ian Penman.  From a 1987 interview by Nigel Cross:

NC: "I swore that I wouldn't touch upon The Soft Boys but, very quickly, there was this song you used to do called "The Lonesome Death Of Ian Penman". Whatever happened to that?"

RH: "Well, it was recorded -- there's probably a quarter-inch version of it knocking around. We never used it -- I think, to avoid libel, we phased out the vocal. Ian Penman was one of the people who put the knife into The Soft Boys' back. And I've never forgiven any of those people. I don't forgive easily. If they're still alive and I've finally made it when I'm ninety-three, they've got it coming. When N.M.E. finally comes to my door on its knees for a front cover feature, I shall say, "Only if you get Ian Penman out of whatever institution he's in, have him cleaned out and sent 'round to apologise for his crimes publicly!" I can understand people not liking Can Of Bees[Soft Boys' 1979 debut album]. But it was defenceless. The Soft Boys were an easy target. We didn't have any allies -- any support. We didn't have a record deal. We financed the stuff ourselves. We had a small coterie of hard-core fans. And the whole thing was demolished. I thought it was peculiarly cruel to pick on an act that was suffering from having been the flavour-of-the-month. My bitterness knows no bounds."

Morley started off writing for fanzines and later became Manchester correspondent for the NME, championing the likes of Buzzcocks, Magazine and Joy Division, before moving to London.  The  pair became notorious for their erudite, convoluted, pretentious and often stilted prose but were both instrumental in promoting post-punk music from 1978 onwards.  Interestingly, given their use of ideas from then fashionable continental philosophy and literary theory - Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Baudrillard and so on - neither of them went to university.  As later music critic Simon Reynolds wrote:

"It has actually been the autodidacts, the rock writers who never went to university, who've been most prone to speckling their reviews and interviews with soundbites from great thinkers.

The two most (in)famous of these 'pale theory boys' were Paul Morley and Ian Penman, both of whom skipped higher education and went straight to the music press.  The legend goes that, within a few short years, this pair halved the New Musical Express's circulation from its quarter-million-plus peak in 1979, with their Derrida quotations and pun(ctuation) games."

He further writes "While the phrase itself has faded away, the 'pale theory boy' stereotype is an enduring one, and is worth closer inspection. 'Boy' is certainly accurate enough: the theory-toting strand of music journalism has tended to be even more of a male pursuit than rock criticism usually is.  But 'pale' is the revealing word, indicating the stereotype's source in a certain kind of hearty, ruddy-faced English anti-intellectualism. The insinuation is that there's something unwholesome, even debilitating, about reading: it's an effete indoor pastime liable to make you anemic if taken to excess."  Quotes from 'Music and Theory' on frieze blog.

Robert Smith took huge exception to Morley's review of 3IB.  He told Mick of fanzine Allied Propaganda in 1979 "We did..['Desperate Journalist']..because otherwise Paul Morley gets to be too important...it was just our reaction...it was as though..[Morley and Penman]..were competing with each other to see who could use the most long words in an article.  He's never met us and he's never come to see us play; he's probably never heard the album, slag a band and then adapt it to The Cure, or whoever."

To quote Simon Reynolds again (from 'The Natural Laws of Music' on the ReynoldsRetro blogspot) "In Europe in general, because the lyrics are often indecipherable or incomprehensible to them, the whole rock apparatus - the importance of lyrics and persona identification - is not so pronounced. People identify with the emotional mood or the grain of a singer's voice, or the abstract feeling that you get from a track, which leaves them more open to write about the texture of the music."

He compares this approach to American (and some British) music journalists who spend most of their time picking over the lyrics, and investigating the ways in which they, and the listeners in general, identify with those lyrics and invest them with a personal meaning which gives them a special feeling that this or that band's songs speak to them in a profound, even spiritual way, which can then help them to negotiate their own lives, relationships and crises in a manner in which they might not otherwise be able to deal with them  This is exactly the approach that the likes of Morley and Penman sought to distance themselves from.  They did not want people to see rock "stars" as sages or gurus whose words their fans would hang onto like pearls of wisdom.  That is why they developed a detached, ironic, difficult, elusive style to distance themselves from the whole rock and roll myth of authenticity and emotional honesty.  Whilst I find some of their more abstruse efforts laughable I think I broadly agree with this approach.  I mentioned in another post that I don't listen too closely to every word of a song or pore over the lyric sheets.  Although I do like a good pop song I'm equally at home with the more experimental, decentred, fractured, cut-up musical and lyrical approach of the "avant-garde".  After all modernist writers like Joyce, Woolf, Beckett, Faulkner, Burroughs and Ballard moved away from the realist position which was underpinned by the idea that "truth" and "reality" can be presented using clear and lucid prose.  Similarly lyricists like Captain Beefheart, Damo Suzuki (of Can), David Bowie and Mark E Smith have adopted a modernist style of writing.  But I can also understand why Robert Smith was hacked off, especially given that Morley was so negative in his review. 

SueC

Thanks for this background.  :cool  Just popping in a couple of links for now...



Also the link to the blog you mentioned:

https://curesongs.home.blog/2019/05/09/9-may-1979-desperate-journalist-in-ongoing-meaningful-review-situation/

As an outsider looking in (my entry point was Bloodflowers and I've yet to listen to the album in question), reading this review reminds me of the saying, "If you point your finger at someone, count how many are pointing back at you."

On the other hand, I can see why the journo was generally fed up too, and some of his criticisms strike a chord with me in general (for music of that time, including some stuff I've heard from The Cure that I don't like - and I might say more about that later) - yet the piece as a whole reads more like a temper tantrum than a considered critique, and you'd want to be pretty sure of your facts before you shred someone like this.  Or even better, do a "PMI" type take (pluses, minuses, interesting) rather than just a rant.  Does rather sound like this album being reviewed was the tip of the iceberg of the journo's ire - you know, when you just can't stand XYZ anymore and everything is looking like XYZ!

We'd never heard the musical rebuttal before - made us laugh:


Thanks for posting.  Only time for a superficial reply today!  Particularly interesting about the different types of journalism, and I want to get back to this when I've got my head together.  :)
SueC is time travelling

Ulrich

Funnily enough, I just read in a Cure bio book, that much as Morley disliked 3IB, in 1980 he'd become a "fan" of "17 Seconds"!  :1f62e:
It doesn't touch me at all...

Oneiroman

Paul Morley certainly got on board the Cure train with Seventeen Seconds.  He later said that when he wrote the review of 3IB he was in a bad mood because it was the day that Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister for the first time (after the general election of 3 May '79).  His view of that album is shared by many critics however, including the late Mark Fisher, often acknowledged as the most original British thinker about popular music of the current century, who was obviously influenced by Morley and Ian Penman.  Here is a quote from an article of his, 'It Doesn't Matter If We All Die: The Cure's Unholy Trinity' (from k-punk 3 August 2005):

"Their early mode - a spidery, punk-spiked pub sub-psychedelia - now sounds like a series of thin sketches. The Cure become themselves in that moment -lasting three albums - after they have shed the petulant quirkiness of Three Imaginary Boys but before they have entered the comfort zone of branded recognizability. By then, Smith's panto-persona - lipstick smear, warm beer and Edward Lear - had become an archetype in the semiotic cemetery of the student disco, and the parameters of The Cure's style were well-established - marked by what quickly became a regular oscillation between a post-Sergeant Pepper jollity and a slippers-comfortable despair. All of the drama of faltering self-discovery and existential experimentalism that makes the essential triptych of Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography so compelling has gone.

The Cure's three crucial albums emerged from the shadow of two other bands, whose reputation towered above theirs: The Banshees and Joy Division. Smith made no secret of his fixation on The Banshees (with whom he would later guest as a guitarist). When the band's first bassist, Michael Dempsey, left the band, it was because he "wanted us to be XTC part 2," whereas Smith "wanted us to be the Banshees part 2."

Robert Smith's look - that clown-faced Caligari ragdoll - was a male complement to Siouxsie's. And as with Siouxsie's, Smith's bird's nest backcomb, alabaster-white face powder, kohl-like eyeliner and badly applied lipstick is easily copied; a kit to be readily assembled in any suburban bedroom. It was a mask of morbidity, a sign that its wearer preferred fixation and obsession above 'well-rounded personhood'.

Goth morbidity arose in part from a Schopenhauerian scorn for organic life: from Goth's perspective, death was the truth of sexuality. Sexuality was what the ceaseless cycle of birth-reproduction-death (as icily surveyed by Siouxsie on Dreamhouse's 'Circle Line') needed in order to perpetuate itself. Death was simultaneously outside this circuit and what it was really about. Affirming sexuality meant affirming the world, whereas Goth set itself, in Houllebecq's marvelous phrase, against the world and against life. By the early eighties, it was possible to posit a rock anti-tradition that had similar affiliations, an anhedonic, anti-vital rock lineage that began with The Stones - with the neurasthenic Jagger of 'Paint it Black' rather than the cloven-hooved demonic-Dionysus of 'Sympathy for the Devil' - and passed through the Stooges and the Pistols, before reaching its nadir-as-zenith in Joy Division. But Goth suspected that rock was that always and essentially a death trip. This was the gambit of The Birthday Party, who hunted rock's mythology back to the fetid, voodoo-stalked crossroads and swamplands of the delta blues. After all, isn't Blues the clearest possible demonstration of the discrepancy between desire and enjoyment, and therefore of the validity of the theory of the death drive? The Blues juju - or jou-jou - relies upon the enjoyment of desires that cannot be satisfied.

While the Birthday Party literalized the return to the Blues - their career a kind of hectic rewind of rock history, beginning with Pere Ubu/ Pop Group modernism and ending in a feverish re-imagining of Blues - The Cure, like the Banshees went to the other extreme. Maintaining fidelity to post-punk's modernist imperative (novelty or nothing), they preferred a sound that was ethereal rather than earthy, artificial rather than visceral. You can hear this in Smith's guitar, which, swathed in phasing and flange, destubtantialized and emasculated, aspires to be pure FX denuded of any rock attack. (Is this the first step towards MBV [My Bloody Valentine]'s honeyed amorphousness?) The Cure's version of Blues enjoyment-in-the-frustration-of-desire is auditioned in 'A Forest': the song in which the group find themselves, ironically, since it is a song about loss - or rather about an encounter with what can never be possessed. 'The girl was never there', Smith sings, a line worthy of Scritti - or Lacan. 'Running towards nothing.... Again and again and again....'...'A Forest' was the trailer for Seventeen Seconds, and it turned out to be the album's centerpiece. The synthesizers and the drum machine bring a moderne sheen lacking on the no-frills hustle and bustle of Three Imaginary Boys. Smith was listening to Astral Weeks, Hendrix, Nick Drake, Bowie's Low, and wanted the album to be a synthesis of the four. The result was both more and less than this. As English as The Smiths would be, but, naturally, much more modernist and much less kitchen sink, Seventeen Seconds puts one in mind of a deserted country house, vast white spaces and empty floorboards decorated by the ornate cobwebs of Smith's guitar. Emotionally, the effervescent petulance of the first album has drained away, but, even if the predominant mood is now moroseness, it is not yet Goth- morbid. But there is a kind of cultivated detachment, Smith assuming an 'ostentatious absenteeism', dissociating himself from an everyday life conceived of as a dramaturgy of effigies: 'it's just your part/ in the play/ for today...'"

Another important recent thinker on popular music, Simon Reynolds, in his seminal book about post-punk (whatever that is, and there's a huge debate), Rip It Up and Start Again, barely mentions The Cure except to dismiss them as "goth-lite" and as existing in the tradition of (overly) "serious" artists like Pink Floyd and Radiohead (ie rather than post-punk).  I'm not sure what he has against The Cure, but it's certainly a book worth reading, discussing not just the music but the ferment of ideas that prevailed in the UK music scene between 1978 and 1984.  To quote from a review in The Guardian on the book's release (by Kitty Empire 17 April 2005), which provides a good summary of the book's focus:

"Often dismissed as an awkward period in which punk's gleeful ructions petered out into the vacuity of the Eighties - into New Wave and worse - the post-punk era of music has gone largely uncelebrated until very recently. In the last few years, a clutch of bands such as Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party, Interpol and the Rapture have shot to prominence with an arty guitar pop which owes a huge debt to this morning after the revolution before.

Post-punk resisted revisiting with some good reason. With the exception of Joy Division, who slotted straight into rock'n'roll mythology when their singer, Ian Curtis, committed suicide, and Public Image Limited, whose singer, John Lydon, never quite outpaced his Sex Pistols infamy, these bands had enjoyed relatively little in the way of fame or fortune in their lifespans. There were reasons for that.

Many of them came to pop from art college with austere agendas, bristling with theories and influences culled from art, literature, performance and critical theory. Inspired by the seismic upheavals punk conducted in subject matter as well as chord play, the post-punks sought to bring to pop the most un-pop of themes. Boy meets girl gave way to lyrics about industrial decay and the mechanics of power.

That post-punk resisted scholarship is rather strange. Seething with ideas, it's a music writer's genre in excelsis. Indeed, many of our best music journalists were either directly involved with, or inspired by, the post-punk period. Paul Morley, from the Manchester scene, wrote for NME, the organ of record. Simon Reynolds, author of a number of books on music, and of this definitive overview of post-punk, was a teenager at the time, excited by each new record, thrilling at the heady ideas that came along with the music.

Later, in the mid-to-late Eighties, Reynolds sowed what he had reaped from Scritti Politti and planted Roland Barthes into the pages of Melody Maker. Post-punk made him the intellectual gymnast he is today...And in Rip it up and Start Again, Reynolds returns to the bands of his youth, intent on reassessing the after-punk dawn.

Reynolds's overarching polemic is this: that punk was not year zero at all, but, rather, the last gasp of a conventional, staid, macho, rock'n'roll - all crude Chuck Berry riffs and no innovation. Post-punk was where punk actually delivered on its promises. It was a time when the good ideas of 1976 (DIY attitudes, independent record labels, questioning everything) were disseminated outside the capital. The tired hegemony of guitar-bass-drums-vocals was questioned by bands building their own synthesisers. Dancing and black music were not shunned."

Food for thought anyway.

SueC

Thanks for more food for thought, and discussion!  :cool

Quote from: Oneiroman on May 08, 2021, 21:06:10Paul Morley certainly got on board the Cure train with Seventeen Seconds.  He later said that when he wrote the review of 3IB he was in a bad mood because it was the day that Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister for the first time (after the general election of 3 May '79).

To think that we've all lived through a before - before neoliberalism ravaged our communities and the planet and plunged us into a new feudalism with concomitant gargantuan environmental crisis...however small some of us were at the time...  :'(


Quote from: Oneiroman on May 08, 2021, 21:06:10His view of that album is shared by many critics however, including the late Mark Fisher, often acknowledged as the most original British thinker about popular music of the current century, who was obviously influenced by Morley and Ian Penman.  Here is a quote from an article of his, 'It Doesn't Matter If We All Die: The Cure's Unholy Trinity' (from k-punk 3 August 2005):

"Their early mode - a spidery, punk-spiked pub sub-psychedelia - now sounds like a series of thin sketches. The Cure become themselves in that moment -lasting three albums - after they have shed the petulant quirkiness of Three Imaginary Boys but before they have entered the comfort zone of branded recognizability. By then, Smith's panto-persona - lipstick smear, warm beer and Edward Lear - had become an archetype in the semiotic cemetery of the student disco, and the parameters of The Cure's style were well-established - marked by what quickly became a regular oscillation between a post-Sergeant Pepper jollity and a slippers-comfortable despair. All of the drama of faltering self-discovery and existential experimentalism that makes the essential triptych of Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography so compelling has gone.

It's really good writing, from a verbal perspective, but is it accurate?  One of my main problems with music criticism is that it takes what is mostly subjective and treats it like it's objective fact - and that it continues to present as fact even things which are.objectively falsifiable - "slippers-comfortable despair" is a really glib take and wouldn't stand up to examination, for example - but it seems to me that verbal cleverness is more important to this author and the two others we're looking at than accurate representation, or intellectual humility.  He's caricaturing here, and it actually says more about him than it says about The Cure's music, in my opinion.  He clearly prefers their early music - because faltering self-discovery and existential experimentalism are his thing.  I prefer their later stuff (excluding the pop songs), because it's more mature and considered, more thematically diverse, and more musically accomplished, and I don't understand why we should glorify what is essentially a larval period in human intellectual and emotional development over and above the perspective brought by actually living life thoughtfully for a decade or two (if such a thing occurs, and I think in the case of The Cure it did).


Quote"Robert Smith's look - that clown-faced Caligari ragdoll - was a male complement to Siouxsie's. And as with Siouxsie's, Smith's bird's nest backcomb, alabaster-white face powder, kohl-like eyeliner and badly applied lipstick is easily copied; a kit to be readily assembled in any suburban bedroom. It was a mask of morbidity, a sign that its wearer preferred fixation and obsession above 'well-rounded personhood'."

So how much 'well-rounded personhood' do you find in the Suits who attend board meetings?  In the average suburbanite whose life is governed by television and social media?  Isn't the West fixated on economic output as a measure of the quality of a person's life?  Don't most adults blindly follow the basic tenets of their societies without ever seriously questioning the underlying assumptions and noticing the elephants in the room?  Isn't there a vast deficit in imagination and creativity in the everyday lives of people running on their various hamster wheels?  Isn't physical and mental illness on the up and up in the West?  And how is that 'well-rounded personhood'?

(Aside:  How Robert Smith presents himself visually is one thing - and what people choose to project onto it is another.  The very act of copying your style from another person, or fashion etc, is by definition inauthentic.  Which is not to say we don't all of necessity borrow from what's generally out there - I'm commenting on that whole 'cloning' phenomenon, that also turned punk into a dress code with safety pins through the nose etc.  Pretty soon, the appearance of the thing replaces the substance - if there ever was any - and that's a general underlying theme with the West, in my view.)

Let's look at Goths as an example of an alternative subculture in the West, though - how is reminding yourself of your mortality any more fixated and obsessed than pretending to yourself that you're immortal?  Were the Romans with their memento mori fixated and obsessed?  Or do people manage to live their lives more consciously and meaningfully as a result of confronting their own mortality (whether through a serious brush with death, or by choice)?  And become, in the process, more 'well-rounded persons'?

You don't have to be a Goth to acknowledge these things - and you don't have to be a Goth to be fixated and obsessed about something (nor is every Goth fixated and obsessed).  Try an Olympian - who is generally afforded hero status in the mainstream West for their fixation and obsession and resultant achievements (but 'well-rounded' it ain't).


Quote"Goth morbidity arose in part from a Schopenhauerian scorn for organic life: from Goth's perspective, death was the truth of sexuality. Sexuality was what the ceaseless cycle of birth-reproduction-death (as icily surveyed by Siouxsie on Dreamhouse's 'Circle Line') needed in order to perpetuate itself. Death was simultaneously outside this circuit and what it was really about. Affirming sexuality meant affirming the world, whereas Goth set itself, in Houllebecq's marvelous phrase, against the world and against life.

I don't know any Goths personally, @Oneiroman - what do you think of this summary?  I doubt all Goths think this; do many?  I think this probably rather over-intellectualises the matter; it certainly goes round in circles, and quite illogically so.  How is death the truth of sexuality, any more than birth is?  There's a cycle of life, biologically, and death isn't any more important than birth - they're both important.  And if you're looking at human sexuality, there's a heck of a lot more than those two aspects, as well - there's a whole relational universe.  What sort of world do the people who come up with these myopic philosophies live in?  Just their particular intellectual silos, filled with the vacuous applause of their yes-men, living mostly in their heads, and not using their ears and mouth in the proportion of 2:1 - and then making mighty proclamations like they're truth?  It's like The Blind Men and the Elephant all over again.

Yeats wrote this wonderful poem - but wasn't a Goth (and an acknowledgement of mortality is not married to a negative view of sexuality either).


LOVE AND DEATH

WB Yeats

Behold the flashing waters
A cloven dancing jet,
That from the milk-white marble
For ever foam and fret;
Far off in drowsy valleys
Where the meadow saffrons blow,
The feet of summer dabble
In their coiling calm and slow.
The banks are worn forever
By a people sadly gay:
A Titan with loud laughter,
Made them of fire clay.
Go ask the springing flowers,
And the flowing air above,
What are the twin-born waters,
And they'll answer Death and Love.

With wreaths of withered flowers
Two lonely spirits wait
With wreaths of withered flowers
'Fore paradise's gate.
They may not pass the portal
Poor earth-enkindled pair,
Though sad is many a spirit
To pass and leave them there
Still staring at their flowers,
That dull and faded are.
If one should rise beside thee,
The other is not far.
Go ask the youngest angel,
She will say with bated breath,
By the door of Mary's garden
Are the spirits Love and Death.


I like philosophy, but I prefer good poetry - it doesn't tie itself in knots in the same way; it doesn't spend so much time in extreme intellectual positions and trying to be right...

And one more thing that leapt out at me:

QuoteAfter all, isn't Blues the clearest possible demonstration of the discrepancy between desire and enjoyment, and therefore of the validity of the theory of the death drive? The Blues juju - or jou-jou - relies upon the enjoyment of desires that cannot be satisfied.

Bwahaha, very good!  :lol:   But I don't agree with his conclusions.

The last gig I went to was the blues, here's my take!   :angel


QuoteWhile the Birthday Party literalized the return to the Blues - their career a kind of hectic rewind of rock history, beginning with Pere Ubu/ Pop Group modernism and ending in a feverish re-imagining of Blues - The Cure, like the Banshees went to the other extreme. Maintaining fidelity to post-punk's modernist imperative (novelty or nothing)...

Ah, very interesting - I don't particularly like postmodernism, and prefer originality, so far as this can be obtained... which might explain why I went largely off U2 after the 80s, and got seriously into The Cure's music recently... which I wrote about here:

http://curefans.com/index.php?topic=5557.msg774255#msg774255

Personally I wouldn't say "novelty or nothing" - I'd say, "originality very welcome"... novelty can be frippery, bad taste, etc etc.  But bad taste isn't original!  ;)


Quote...they preferred a sound that was ethereal rather than earthy, artificial rather than visceral. You can hear this in Smith's guitar, which, swathed in phasing and flange, destubtantialized and emasculated, aspires to be pure FX denuded of any rock attack.

Now here's a bit of projection, and to be fair, this sort of cultural symbology of projection that the author is projecting onto...

Emasculated, my ass.  Now this goes right to the heart of the toxic masculinity which in many places has falsely defined masculinity, and certainly doesn't own it - it's a very bad example of masculinity, and far more evolved models exist.

By that definition, death metal guitars and wanky look-at-me guitar solos (as opposed to aesthetically lovely guitar solos - I know, I know, we could argue this one for days) are the zenith of masculinity, when they frequently correlate lyrically and personally with misogyny, immaturity, insecurity as a male and general human being, compensating mechanisms, etc etc - kinda like a red Ferrari.

And I would highly recommend to anyone who hasn't read them, Desmond Morris' classic The Human Zoo - he devotes a bit of space to the modern rock group, and the red Ferrari, in the context of primate behaviour - and Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety...

Right now, for general entertainment and explanations, I'm handing over to Bill Bailey!


@Ulrich - the Rammstein version of Scarborough Fair (at 2:42) in really bad German is hilarious, bwahahaha, and as a native speaker I highly commend it to your attention!  :rofl

All I've got time for at the moment!  :)
SueC is time travelling

Oneiroman

@SueC I'll come back with a fuller response to your points when I have time, but I'll say a few words now.

In general I much prefer the early works of pop musicians.  With The Cure I haven't really listened to much of their material from the '90s on - but I do agree with Mark Fisher that Seventeen Seconds/Faith/Pornography are their best albums, although I think he is being overly polemical about their later stuff (at least from the '80s).  I do personally like the more tentative, exploratory, raw and maybe immature (what's wrong with that? - I think "larval stage" is a bit harsh!) material that people in their late teens to early thirties can produce.  Pop music in my opinion isn't like some other art forms, where for example writers can get better as they get older.  I find concepts like "maturity" and "musical accomplishment" anathema when it comes to pop - I would think of AOR or soft rock for example - although in other musics such as jazz, blues or "avant-garde" that wouldn't necessarily apply.  Of course lots of younger musicians are reactionary bores with no ideas or sense of fun or anything that makes the best pop so enjoyable and inspiring.

I'm not sure that Fisher would have regarded his opinions as "objective facts", more an intervention in the debates surrounding pop music and cultural politics, almost agit-prop - the piece I quoted from was from a blog, after all, written on the hoof. 

Fisher's most celebrated article in his k-punk blog was about Joy Division, depression and suicide:
http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/004725.html - he gets in another reference to "Caligari-faced panto turns" (surely Siouxsie is more Genuine, if we are referring to Robert Wiene) and talks about the "post-Bowie mummery" of The Cure, The Banshees. and Bauhaus.  Fisher killed himself in 2017.  Simon Reynolds wrote in The Guardian:

"Last week the writer Mark Fisher took his own life. His on/off struggle with depression was something he wrote about with courageous candour in articles and in his landmark book Capitalist Realism: is There No Alternative? Fisher argued that the pandemic of mental anguish that afflicts our time cannot be properly understood, or healed, if viewed as a private problem suffered by damaged individuals. Rather, it was the symptom of a heartless and hopeless politics: precarious employment and flexible work patterns, the erosion of class solidarity and its institutions such as unions, and the relentless message from mainstream political parties and media alike that "there is no alternative" to managerial capitalism. That this is as good as it gets - so deal with it.

Finally the depression that Fisher, 48, had dissected acutely and fought against doggedly got the better of him. He left behind a wife and young son, a close-knit network of friends, allies, colleagues and students, and an ever-widening readership, all of whom were waiting always to hear what he had to say next."

There's also an interesting recent interview with Ian Penman here, in which he discusses his views on music in general and his changing attitudes to writing, and about his dislike of the close analysis of lyrics as opposed to an investigation of how music and vocals work to convey complex feelings in the listener:
https://www.lrb.co.uk/podcasts-and-videos/podcasts/at-the-bookshop/ian-penman-and-jennifer-hodgson-it-gets-me-home-this-curving-track

SueC

G'day @Oneiroman - thanks for the discussion - a few more clarifiers and questions from me!  :)

Quote from: Oneiroman on May 10, 2021, 00:44:54In general I much prefer the early works of pop musicians.  With The Cure I haven't really listened to much of their material from the '90s on - but I do agree with Mark Fisher that Seventeen Seconds/Faith/Pornography are their best albums, although I think he is being overly polemical about their later stuff (at least from the '80s).

There's nothing wrong with people saying what they prefer - that's all personal choice, individual taste etc.  What does bug me is when people seem to make statements about the objective qualities of things based on their own preferences - if the albums or paintings or books they prefer then get presented as the "best" work of an artist.  "My favourite" and "the best" are not synonymous, but are frequently used as if they are.  And it particularly bugs me when critics (and/or fans) think they can tell the rest of us what the "best" work of a musician or painter or writer is, as if they are some kind of authority - and indeed as if art is some kind of competition.  Music and art criticism often doesn't hold up to logical scrutiny.  They're not infrequently just using high-flown language to justify their own preferences and prejudices - and the joke is that critics themselves are generally not involved in the creation of art at the same level as the artists themselves, if at all (unless you consider music criticism an art form).  So that strikes me as a similar position to be in as a backseat driver.

I don't think there's anything wrong with talking about what we prefer and why, or about why we find a song, album, painting, book etc meaningful or beautiful or appealing in some other way, or to discuss the historical contexts and backgrounds of these things, technical stuff etc.  Or likewise, why we really dislike XYZ, even if other people think it's the ant's pants.  I find that kind of discussion really interesting, because it teaches me about other people (and my own blind spots), lets me see through their eyes, shows me other aspects of music, visual art, literature, film etc.  And these kinds of discussions aren't about who's right, they're about what each of us think and feel, and why (as well as technical and contextual stuff) - which I just find far more productive.

Brett sits in-between your point of view and mine on this and says he finds it tiresome to have to include qualifiers in all his writing (he writes essays about Cybermen episodes of Dr Who) - while I've trained and worked as a scientist and find it really important to make those distinctions, including in non-scientific discourse and everyday life.  I think the consequences of not making those distinctions in everyday life - of not regularly thinking about the difference between our own opinions (or somebody else's opinions) and verifiable facts, and how it is that we're forming our opinions - gives us susceptibility to groupthink, advertising, propaganda, conspiracy theories, senses of entitlement and superiority etc.  When I look at the US - who are a sort of social experiment in anti-intellectualism and 'anything goes' - and particularly when I looked at it during the pandemic this past year or so, I find the consequences of the lack of rigorous thinking appalling, and incredibly destructive.

As an educator one of my main interests was in teaching students critical, independent thinking.  While the curriculum is fun and the universe is amazing etc, the ability to think critically and to have a reliable compass for what's fact and what's conjecture is so incredibly important for dealing with life in contemporary Western society, where fiction and conjecture are frequently presented as facts not to be questioned (advertising, politics, religion, etc) and you basically are immersed in brainwash from day dot.

I personally don't find it that hard to write in a way that acknowledges those distinctions; and it's useful for me as well as for others if I do that.  And while my husband says he finds it tiresome to use qualifiers, I think his writing reads well and doesn't add to the problems around thinking that exist as background in our society.  It's when something is so insidious it doesn't even get noticed that we're in real trouble.


Quote from: Oneiroman on May 10, 2021, 00:44:54[I do personally like the more tentative, exploratory, raw and maybe immature (what's wrong with that?...

Nothing at all!  :)  You didn't say it was "better" - you said you personally like it better.

And this has nothing to with it, but I also happen to have a soft spot for tentative, exploratory, raw music, have lots of it at home, and like quite a few songs I've heard off those three Cure albums (I've heard Pornography in its entirety via Trilogy but not the studio version yet, and caught songs off the other two live which I really like - though aspects of some I do not).  But even if I hated tentative, exploratory, raw music, it wouldn't make someone else's love for this stuff wrong in some way (although unfortunately, some people think this way in general - and I thought that way as a teenager, and the adults at home were setting the example for that kind of dismissive thinking, and maybe that's one reason I have a bugbear about this).



Quote from: Oneiroman on May 10, 2021, 00:44:54... - I think "larval stage" is a bit harsh!) material that people in their late teens to early thirties can produce.

Yeah, I made the comment about "larval stage of emotional/intellectual development" because human beings generally don't develop full emotional and intellectual maturity until 25+ (if you look at educational psychology etc); and it's not as if you peak at 25 either - ideally it's an ongoing thing, at least until physiological decline can no longer be offset by making new neural connections (which you have to work on).

This wasn't to dismiss the good work that can be done by young people, but to counter this popular-culture worship of youth and of what are often immature ways of thinking - perhaps this in itself was a popular culture reaction to the prior idea of one's "elders and betters" which obviously aren't always your betters either? - but I do think it's fair to say, "Hey, what happens next can also be incredibly interesting and worthwhile, and even better than before."  That possibility exists, and people do usually get more accomplished the longer they work at their various skills - if they can be bothered to / can find inspiration...


Quote from: Oneiroman on May 10, 2021, 00:44:54Pop music in my opinion isn't like some other art forms, where for example writers can get better as they get older.

Why do you think there's forms of music in which people can't improve with practice and maturity?  (Is this about running out of inspiration?  And about it being easier to do something new if you've not read the rulebook etc?)

I suppose the next thing is we're going to have to define how we use the word "pop" - because you and I seem to use that quite differently.  I guess my definition of "pop music" is more about the kinds of things that are in the mainstream Top 40 (popular), and I think of frothy music that's often not particularly accomplished or original, and often isn't very thoughtful (e.g. wake me up before you go-go, do the locomotion, like a virgin, love me do, to cite some soundbites) .  Or music that's specifically written to be marketable and to provide a meal ticket, or to appeal to a wider audience for the sake of appealing to a wider audience.

I'd never have classed that early Cure trilogy as "pop" myself - I view that as "alternative" - but I do class things like Friday I'm In Love and Just Like Heaven as pop numbers - they're exactly the kind of thing you expect to hear on popular mainstream radio.

I realise this classification gets dicey, and that there's a lot of subjectivity in it, and a bit of prejudice.



Quote from: Oneiroman on May 10, 2021, 00:44:54I find concepts like "maturity" and "musical accomplishment" anathema when it comes to pop - I would think of AOR or soft rock for example...

You mean you find AOR and soft rock accomplished?  I guess it's accomplished formula.  Hmmm.  I don't think I appreciate formulaic things very much in music, because I don't especially like that stuff - or at least, what I think of as that stuff, and the mainstream stations that play it - but what do I mean by formulaic?...just thinking out loud here.

I'm trying to think about the life stages of the musicians whose work I like across various genres.  In folk the people I listen to mostly started in their teens and twenties, and quite a few are still going at and past mid-life and making wonderful things.  I think with classical it's the same.  Mostly though I guess they're not inventing the form, just interpreting/re-interpreting, and sometimes doing their own stuff.  When they do the latter, they can do it well when young and also when older.

The focus there is more on music than on lyrics - and where there's lyrics, they are usually reflective on relationship - to each other, to significant others, to the community, to the land.

Whenever there's lyrics, I try to engage with them, and this can be a turn-off to music I would otherwise enjoy, but also can make me more tolerant of types of music I normally don't enjoy.

On the whole, I'd be more well-disposed towards contemporary music if I couldn't understand the lyrics and people just went, "La-la-la."  On the other hand, if I don't like the sound, no amount of "la-la-la" will fix it for me...

Contemporary music, most of the people whose music I liked when I was a teenager back in the 80s continued to make interesting stuff for many years after, and I'm still buying their later CDs, e.g. The Waterboys, SinĂ©ad O'Connor.  I also think Pink Floyd made thoughtful and lovely music for decades and not just in their 20s.

But on the other hand, there's a lot of bands who kind of fizzle out after a few albums, and their members then variously go to do other stuff (or not).  That's probably in part about relationships, and wanting to have families and do other things, rather than just music.  And there are bands which after their first few albums go on to make things that sound like they could be anybody's - or become like their own jukebox.  U2, I really love their first five studio albums and then it was never the same for me - though they clearly didn't get less accomplished, and they occasionally even made things again that I found very moving.  So - maybe part of it is the being-there at the time, and living through the age?  Because a lot of people who lived through the time those three early Cure albums were new seem to feel the way about their subsequent work that I feel about U2's.

And I'm not getting that - and for me, Bloodflowers was right time, right place, right age for it etc, so I took to it in a big way, and to me it's got a rawness and sense of exploration and a groundedness I love, and that I felt U2 lost after 1987.  I thought it was fantastic that people could be making something like this at an age where many people - musicians or otherwise - end up on hamster wheels or some kind of autopilot, and life just becomes habitual.  But I think that's more down to people and attitude than it is to youth.  I think it's that so many people just turn off - and some people never turn on in the first place...


Quote from: Oneiroman on May 10, 2021, 00:44:54- although in other musics such as jazz, blues or "avant-garde" that wouldn't necessarily apply.  Of course lots of younger musicians are reactionary bores with no ideas or sense of fun or anything that makes the best pop so enjoyable and inspiring.

I'm not sure that Fisher would have regarded his opinions as "objective facts", more an intervention in the debates surrounding pop music and cultural politics, almost agit-prop - the piece I quoted from was from a blog, after all, written on the hoof.

Thanks for the clarifications.  :cool 

I can see how pieces like that infamous Three Imaginary Boys review happen because I too have strong feelings about music, and they can lead to a reactionary verbal vomit, which can be quite entertaining and well written even if it's not fair, and not entirely rational.  However, I'm trying to avoid doing that, and am not proud of myself when I slip.  And I don't do this for pay (I write about technical, scientific and DIY stuff for pay), I write about music, and life in general, as a recreation, and because it helps me to engage with it better, and because it's therapeutic, and you learn things along the way, and lots of other reasons.


Quote from: Oneiroman on May 10, 2021, 00:44:54Fisher's most celebrated article in his k-punk blog was about Joy Division, depression and suicide:
http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/004725.html - he gets in another reference to "Caligari-faced panto turns" (surely Siouxsie is more Genuine, if we are referring to Robert Wiene) and talks about the "post-Bowie mummery" of The Cure, The Banshees. and Bauhaus.  Fisher killed himself in 2017.  Simon Reynolds wrote in The Guardian:

"Last week the writer Mark Fisher took his own life. His on/off struggle with depression was something he wrote about with courageous candour in articles and in his landmark book Capitalist Realism: is There No Alternative? Fisher argued that the pandemic of mental anguish that afflicts our time cannot be properly understood, or healed, if viewed as a private problem suffered by damaged individuals. Rather, it was the symptom of a heartless and hopeless politics: precarious employment and flexible work patterns, the erosion of class solidarity and its institutions such as unions, and the relentless message from mainstream political parties and media alike that "there is no alternative" to managerial capitalism. That this is as good as it gets - so deal with it.

Finally the depression that Fisher, 48, had dissected acutely and fought against doggedly got the better of him. He left behind a wife and young son, a close-knit network of friends, allies, colleagues and students, and an ever-widening readership, all of whom were waiting always to hear what he had to say next."

This is so sad.   :1f62a:  I completely agree with him that mental/emotional health is a societal problem, a systemic problem, a community problem - that people are being broken by how we run our economic systems, societies, communities, workplaces - and families too... and I'm hyper-aware of the relationship between family dysfunction and societal dysfunction.

I've got complex PTSD (the kind that moulds a brain from infancy) - but that's something I find much easier to work with than depression, and in my case it seems to mostly displace depression, which I've only had properly once, while in a lousy situation in my early 20s.  The thing about complex PTSD is that it gives you a survival orientation - at least mine does, and a friend is much the same - because from the time you're tiny, you're constantly thrown on your own resources and having to find a way to get through.  Not that I recommend this and it's a terribly painful childhood, and you feel it for life, but the up side seems to be autopilots that get you out of trouble, and that you become more appreciative of things like butterflies and sunsets and the so-called simple things in life - that you can derive a lot of joy from things that have other people shrugging their shoulders.

Depression seems to me a far harder thing to deal with.  For so many people, the situations they are in as a result of how we run our societies make depression almost inevitable.  People in work are typically precariat and overloaded, and people not in work are usually below the poverty line and get a lot of flak - and, and, and, and, and.  I'll stop here because this could turn into a book.



Quote from: Oneiroman on May 10, 2021, 00:44:54There's also an interesting recent interview with Ian Penman here, in which he discusses his views on music in general and his changing attitudes to writing, and about his dislike of the close analysis of lyrics as opposed to an investigation of how music and vocals work to convey complex feelings in the listener:
https://www.lrb.co.uk/podcasts-and-videos/podcasts/at-the-bookshop/ian-penman-and-jennifer-hodgson-it-gets-me-home-this-curving-track

Thanks for the link!   :cool

I'll have a good read of that later.  Personally I like looking at lyrics closely (especially where thought  has clearly been put into the writing of them), but I also like looking closely at how the whole thing hangs together.   :smth023
SueC is time travelling

Ulrich

Note: I moved the following "off-topic" discussion into "Off-Topic: Something Else".
http://curefans.com/index.php?topic=9428.0
It doesn't touch me at all...