There was an interesting post at Rockcritics Daily … I’d link directly to the post but I can’t find a permalink. Anyway, Scott Woods stuck the words “rockism/rockist” into Google and posted some of the results. One of those results was me talking about Sgt. Pepper. Funny thing is, I stick by my opinion that New Day Rising is a better album than Sgt. Pepper, and I know that opinion is rooted in “rockism,” but after reading some of the things Scott found, I wonder if I really know what rockism is. Sasha Frere-Jones gets at it in her defense of Justin Timberlake (an artist my own hip-hop-loving son has promoted to his geezer father from the start):
[The] attack on Timberlake’s legitimacy is simply another appearance of the long-standing critical bias toward a certain kind of musician and a received take on how they make records. Take Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Sleater-Kinney, or Jack White, artists who use tools deemed “basic” — guitar, bass, drums. You can hear what each person is doing, physically, with their hands and voices. So the critic assumes a link straight from the artists to the putative listener, and praises the work using that metric. If a producer is listed, his role is brushed off as merely engineering and arranging, since producers usually don’t get songwriting credit.
But other genres — dance pop, hip-hop, R & B — depend on different modes of production that don’t hinge on single auteurs and often lean, happily, on technological innovations. Hip-hop threw a big wrench into the singer-songwriter paradigm by using bits of other people’s records and introducing a layer of digital technology — samplers, keyboards — between the listener and artist. These strategies complicate the status of the individual author for everyone, but the biggest garlic for all vampire critics is the audience these genres depend on: kids, often girls. Few critics complain about the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” but for every Motown encomium, there are a hundred complaints about the virus of “synthetic teen pop” and “bubblegum.” Pop critics call it “rockism,” and the (very) short version of the attack goes like this: Pop music isn’t made by people, but by bands of hired guns on assembly lines, working to rationalized standards established by technocratic committees maximizing shareholder investment. The emphasis of pop songs is on transitory physical pleasures, instead of the eternal truths that rock protects. Pop is also consumed by lots of women and kids, and what do they know?
I hear Sasha, and I know I’m not immune to the problem she describes … hence my preference for A Hard Day’s Night and New Day Rising (not to mention Sleater-Kinney) over Sgt. Pepper and World Clique (not to mention Justin Timberlake).
On the other hand, I tend to listen to rock as if it was pop … I like how stuff sounds, I’m willing to forgive stupid lyrics (esp. if they’re unintelligible) if the track appeals to me. I always thought Husker Du was a pop band that just happened to leave their guitars turned up too loud to appeal to my wife … it’s not like they were Flipper or Sonic Youth, Husker Du songs had hooks, and I love hooks.
Perhaps ironically, even though it’s coincidental, as I read the initial message about rockism at Rockcritics Daily, I was listening to … Little Steven’s Underground Garage. Set that just finished as I type this: the Yardbirds, Courtney Love, Bob Dylan, Apples in Stereo, and the Beatles.Powered by Sidelines