Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Dear New Yorker:

Don't get me wrong—I'm a huge fan. I keep your fine magazine on my bedside table at all times; I find its soothing pedantry to be the perfect nightcap, informing me as it lulls me into an erudite sleep. See? I know words like “erudite.” I'm one of you, New Yorker.

But you know what keeps me up at night worse than anything—worse than rowdy neighbors, worse than snoring lovers, worse even than five-alarm chili with extra Tabasco? Anger, that's what. When I'm angry, I can toss and turn for hours, grinding my molars and mentally giving those who deserve it a good what-for.

You know where this is heading, don't you? Of course you do, New Yorker—you're very bright. Yes, I'm angry at you. Specifically, I'm angry at whichever editor was drunk enough to let Sasha Frere-Jones's cudlike rumination on race in indie rock into your austere pages. Because—how to put this delicately? It blows, New Yorker. It plain old fucking blows.

Here, basically, is Frere-Jones's thesis: Kids today, with their Shins and their Arcade Fire and their pants around their waists! Whatever happened to the rock'n'roll, man? Music has lost its soul. Not like when I was growing up. The Stones, man, now that was a band. Etc etc yadda yadda—if you have any male relation over the age of 40 but under the age of 70, you already know the schtick. He further goes on to say that this is evidence that rock'n'roll has abandoned its African-American roots. In other words: The Shins are not like Elvis.

May I speak for the entire under-40 population when I say, Duh.

I mean, honestly? Is this all it takes to get in your pants, New Yorker? Because I am chock-full of such observations. Check it out: Movies today aren't like Casablanca! Cars now lack tailfins! Am I on staff yet? Because I can keep going.

Frere-Jones backs his argument up with example after example, tracing the whitening of rock from its Muddy-Waters-stealing beginnings with the Stones and Beatles, on through the electrified blues of Zep, into the (to him) disappointingly Caucasian folk-rock of today's Decemberists. But this is the thing, New Yorkerthat means nothing. Anyone can cherry-pick a few bands to back up the most asinine of arguments. Sure, the Decemberists, the Shins, the Fiery Furnaces, Of Montreal, Wilco—they all draw primarily from white musical sources like folk and the Beach Boys and late-era Beatles. But they're hardly the only indie acts making the rounds. Perhaps Frere-Jones has not heard of a talented young man, name of Beck? He's been known to appropriate a culture or two in his music.

Speaking of which, Frere-Jones's black-and-white vision of modern music is a little tough to stomach. Um, hello? There are a lot of musical traditions out there that have been fused to rock. Try listening to Cornershop to discover one, or Calexico to discover another. Or, hell, throw on some Madonna—at one point or another, that lady's stolen from just about everyone, bless her chameleon heart.

Frere-Jones whines that rock no longer rocks. I guess he's too busy listening to old Clash albums (Sandanista? You seriously want to point out Sandanista as the pinnacle of their career?) to spend valuable seconds listening to, say, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or the Donnas. No, and of course he wouldn't, because you know what? An entire 10-column on the history and present day of rock, and he can't be bothered to name a single female artist? Perhaps now would also be a good time to mention, New Yorker, that we ladies have learned how to do all sorts of things since you first went into circulation. Like drive! And vote! And play electric guitar! Crazy but true!

But of all the omissions Frere-Jones makes, one trumps them all: In a piece arguing that indie rock no longer borrows from African-American culture, he ignores the biggest indie act of the first half of the 2000s, a band that single-handedly blows his theory to smithereens. I speak, of course, of the White Motherfucking Stripes. I mean, Jack White might as well have his IOU to African-American music tattooed on his bicep—and for all I know, he does--so jubilantly blatant is his borrowing from Detroit blues and soul. I know you don't get out much, New Yorker. But trust me, the Stripes are pretty major. Your boy should have maybe mentioned them somewhere.

Yes, there is some super-white music out there. But guess what? That doesn't mean all music's gone honky. The existence of the Pernice Brothers no more precludes that of Amy Winehouse than the existence of Joan Baez precluded that of the Beatles. And anyway, after half a century, wouldn't you expect modern music to be further removed from its roots? Isn't that what evolution is supposed to be about? And what's wrong with music diversifying into many different sounds? We can get cars in colors other than black now, too, but I don't hear anyone bitching about that.

God, this piece! Every paragraph seems designed to make me want to smack Frere-Jones with a plugged-in Gibson. He dismisses Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as Wilco's worst album—which, okay, even morons are entitled to their opinions, but shouldn't a journalist at least acknowledge that just about everyone else in the known universe crowned YHF as a masterpiece? Dude, you can't have missed that. They made a movie about it and everything.

And then. And then. And then this idiot's got to take things even further, because he's writing for you, New Yorker, and therefore he has to get to the Really Big Picture, which as he sees it, is: Music is becoming more racially segregated. To which I can only say: GNARLS FUCKING BARKLEY! CHRISTINA FUCKING AGUILERA! AND, ONCE AGAIN: THE WHITE FUCKING STRIPES, MOTHERFUCKERS! I mean, just because one or two subsets of modern music aren't melting the pot, that doesn't mean music in general isn't one big Benetton ad's worth of multiracial love children. Hell, good luck figuring out what the racial identity of American pop music is these days. And while it's true that, so long as there is breath in my body, I will renounce Dave Matthews and all his works, the fact remains that there's one white boy who knows how to steal from black folks, knamean?

On the brimstone-scented soul of James Brown, New Yorker, this piece is exemplary of everything that's wrong with the cultural-criticism breed of “journalism.” It combines slipshod argument with incomplete facts; flaccid reasoning with deliberate laziness. That it ever made it into your pages is a sad statement about both modern journalism in general and the crack habits of your editors in particular.

Because no one who has ever attended a rock show would ever, ever, no matter how many blackmail photos were involved, hire a guy from an all-white funk band to write about rock music. An all-white instrumental funk band. Seriously, New Yorker, what were you thinking? Even down your hallowed halls some AC/DC must have wafted, at one point or another. That was rock music. Instrumental funk by guys too white to sing? Nooooooot so much of the rock, no.

Seriously, were there blackmail photos involved? Was she underage? Because this does not make sense. I'll grant you, Frere-Jones has what is probably a valid and interesting point when he says that indie rock should find a new term to describe itself, since it is no longer holy nor Roman nor an empire. But it's a valid and interesting point that should be made in, at most, 300 words. This thing runs closer to 3,000. You know what that is, New Yorker? That's Proustian. And not in a good way. Think about it. I know I will, while grinding my molars tonight.


Ann Editor

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

ISYGF, Intermission: Proust in the news!

I know, I know, I've been using this move as an excuse for my absence for so long, you've probably deemed it an empty excuse. But let me put it this way: I am currently sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor of my empty back bedroom, sipping bourbon out of a plastic cup. We are so far into the final countdown, my friends, that we might as well be a Europe cover band. (Rim shot.)

But! As I was lying on my couch (the bed is packed)last night, lulling myself to sleep with the New Yorker, what to my wondering eyes did appear? In a profile on Marie-Laure de Noailles, patroness extraordinaire of the Surrealists, the author (Francine du Plessix Gray) writes of her encounter with de Noailles while still a young rookie reporter:

As I proceeded to interview her, any trace of tolerance she might have had for me was diminished by my lack of an adequate retort to the one query she put to me: "Men who love Proust have short penises, don't you think?"

I can't decide if I love Marie-Laure an Andalusian dog more than I did before because of this, or if I now find her to be tiresomely stuck in some sort of perpetual adolescence. (I mean, it is kind of a highschool Mean Girl trick to play. Even if it is side-rippingly funny, if you're into the Proust-mocking genre of humor. Which I, obviously, am.)

I like to think I would have had the presence of mind, in such a situation, to shoot back that the only man I've ever known who was an outright fan of Proust was, so far as I can recall, about 5'10", and from head to toes an utter dick, meaning he was by far the largest penis I've ever encountered. But that's what I like to think I'd say. And I'm not a rookie anymore; I expect, at that age, I would have been reduced to a similar stammer. Does that mean I will be writer for the New Yorker in another few decades? Friends, we can only hope.

But it does bring up an interesting point: Should an artist be judged by his or her fans? I tend to vote no, because, well: Jesus. On the other hand, I do find a... well, at least a tolerance of at least one Joss Wedon project to be a good indicator of some minimal sort of compatability with a new person. Hm. This is the sort of question that, in a perfect world, would be solved with the judicious application of more bourbon. But, considering I have to be up early to let people into the house to take away yet more furniture, I think I'd better retire to the couch and try to stop thinking about how much I need to do in the next 36 hours. Proust, and his unfortunately endowed fanclub, will have to wait.