The music discourse boils over
One of the things that makes me laugh amidst all the huhbub here: When has Mick Jagger ever been thought of as an intellectual?
"What is strange about today’s moment is how the winners can’t stop pretending they haven’t won already."
It's only superficially strange. Wokery can never admit that it has won, because being "oppressed" is the ultimate sign of virtue.
Glad to see the link to Freddie de Boer's post under "Poptimists." Readers of this Substack will appreciate Freddie's comments as well; here's the link again if anyone missed it in the article above.
What a disastrous interview. I can't believe how awful. You totally nailed this column. I hate cancel culture but this one was beyond the beyond.
As in many other arenas...it feels like we are in a "time of ashes." The ecosystem effects of social media have caused the old landscape to deteriorate, desiccate, and in smaller & lesser incidents conflagrate, until we are left with one sole agreeable preference in each category - the most popular thing is the best. Going against the popular mandate means one is an elitist, from which it follows that they are every other -ist.
So pop must be praised - but that's not the least of it. The people must be taken as the highest authority on every subject. We must also agree that there is no higher cuisine than Chik-fil-A - anyone who pretends to like broccoli rabe or goat vindaloo is not only elitist but lying. We must also agree that there is no better television than Netflix's latest social media bait hit, and that there is no finer cinema experience than Barbie for girls & Oppenheimer for boys - anyone who pretends to like less-sexist 90s movies or even silver screen classics is a lying elitist too. "You think you're better than me?" is the constant refrain.
The range of acceptable media & cultural preferences has narrowed to a pinhole. The two kinds of articles now are "Popular thing good!" and "Actually, popular thing good!" - and what we must accept, before we can begin to search for a way forward, is this: People who are happy living in that world are lost to us. They are bepigged. They are willing inhabitants of Circe's walled garden. They are born, they scroll on their phone, they die. That's their life. We can try to prevent our children from becoming that kind of person, but we can't save the people who already are. They're gone.
But not everyone is happy that way. And as alternative cultures have died, the still-human have grown increasingly lost, and they're starting to look for each other. There are seeds of life glinting green amidst the ashes. They'll never trend on mainstream social media - right now they're just looking for a few likeminded people to be alternative with. Our calcifying, turgid mainstream culture holds nothing for them at all.
From these few people, the unbepigged, the still-human, new life will grow in time. The mainstream public, the social media addicts, the UberEats orderers, the loyal Amazon shoppers, living at home, playing at home, working at home, entombed alive - they are as the soil, they have become part of the Earth, part of the environment, merely setting, not alive. We the different will walk the Earth & shall inherit it. The distant shakes and irate murmurs of the living dead mean no more to us than graveyard wind.
"harmonious tension" - I like it!
Also, Taylor Swift is no Joni Mitchell. Or PJ Harvey, or Kristin Hirsh, or Alice Coltrane, or any of a number of women I listen to who produce music for adults.
If Swift wasn't conventionally attractive, no one would care. She's a model, not a musician.
All of the writing I’ve read and the dissension I’ve witnessed about the obsequiousness of today’s music critics signals that we might finally be at a transitional period, which is always exciting! Whatever transpires, I hope that it doesn’t come at the cost of one of poptimism’s biggest wins, which is the demographic broadening of voices doing the critical analysis. Even if it resulted a Pyrrhic victory given our overwhelming reticence to criticize music's current upper class, the refocusing on non-rock genres, the reanalyses of what was once accepted as canon, and the platforming of the brillant diverse voices speaheading the effort, has still been a good thing. It’s inevitable that the pendulum swings back again, but I’ll be damned if we go back to people like Wenner doing the talking.
I’m sure someone else has pointed this out, but another group for whom this is true (and that dovetails with Ross’ interests) are sabermetricians.
Ironically it was Wenner who could not articulate his particular bigotry. He was basically saying that rock, to him, is the concern for middle class whites. He is not interested in other peoples lives., which is fitting considering he epitomizes the solipsistic boomer nostalgia
My favorite thing to listen to is atonal "classical" music, which is an obscure subculture if ever there was one (I've read hundreds of pieces about how it went away in the 1980s, although this is clearly false, or how the people who claim to like it are just pretending etc.)
But I'm reasonably aware of the poptimism debate, and I don't think that the opinion Ross expresses here is nearly as obscure as he claims it is. I read versions of it all the time, and not just on substack. The inability of the poptimists to admit that theirs is the dominant, mainstream opinion is annoying. But plenty of people fall outside the mainstream. If you want to channel gen-X dislike of selling-out or whatever, of course you will find the mainstream annoying.
Thanks for posting that review of Sgt Pepper.