Sunday, August 31, 2003

I'm all over the shop here. Words are back; words spilled over other wordsmiths who in turn spilled them over the music that almost made them come apart at the tendons, the heartstrings, with emotion. The tension between the micro-personal-intense and the macro-universal-analytical. Feelings (heart) versus ideas (head). And how to connect them.

This, from Sasha Frere Jones, on Lester Bangs, in Slate. We may wrestle with "dear old Lester" over and over (doubling back on ourselves as we discover his own doubling back, tripping over our feet and scratching our heads), but he truly did manage to absorb and articulate the currents and pulses, and often well before they are manifest overtly in our heavy-handed, leaden-footed mainstream culture:

"Innocents in Babylon" is a long feature about Jamaica and Bob Marley written for Creem in 1976. Bangs gives a short history lesson on Jamaica's "colonial hangover" and winds up liking his subjects without pretending their future in the music business is any brighter than it looks. The interview with Marley is a great stereo experience: Bangs listens to Marley talk while other interviewers try, gamely, to guide Marley away from vague statements about Rastafarianism. The article is also as good a primer on the nuts and bolts of Jamaican music as exists in anything shorter than book length. Reggae was years away from being standard college background music in 1976, and only a few Anglo listeners had realized the potential of dub. Bangs sees the power of the sound system at work during a visit to a record store:

[T]his sense of the guy who plays the records as performer extends down into the record shops, where the clerks shift speakers, tracks, and volume levels with deft magicianly fingers as part of a highly intricate dance, creating sonic riot in the store and new productions of their own in their minds: I control the dials.

He's not just hearing the essential flux of Jamaican pop—he's hearing hip-hop a few months before it appears on the streets of New York. [Frere Jones]


So, the micro-personal: I often wince at my over-earnestness, at that (unfortunate?) by-product of my own small defiant stance against the massed ranks of cynicism (not to mention my predilection for melodrama!). On ILM, I even outed myself yesterday (don't bother scrolling through such a long thread just for my two or three posts, either), embarrassed and self-conscious (fuck, I hate meanspiritedness, but I don't want to come off all sanctimonious, either, and besides, that thread turned out fine after the pissing contest ended). Regardless, what I was always drawn to in Lester's writing was something SFJ alludes to in his concluding sentences:

The cynicism that permeates much rock criticism would annoy Bangs more than anything. You can see him now, grabbing a critic, shaking him and saying, "HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS ISN'T A GOOD RECORD? JUST BECAUSE IT'S BAD DOESN'T MEAN YOU GET TO SLAG IT!"

(Or, just prior to this -- "That kind of naked investment would be too painful in the instant feedback world of the Internet" -- which opens up a whole 'nother road for a future blog entry. Ha.)

Bangs connected the intellectual and the emotional, often seamlessly. In my own writing, I'd be happy if I achieved a mere tenth of that synthesis. But I really could end up cutting and pasting the entire article here. Just read it already.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?