January 29, 2004
IMAGINATION NEVER LETS US TAKE THE BLAME
Blimey! Nick Gutterbreakz defends Go West !
To be fair, Nick's is a dispassionate and interesting reappraisal of a record he liked at the time.
But I must admit, if there's a record which sums up more or less everything I hate about the eighties, it would be 'We Close Our Eyes.' Oddly enough, it's essentially for the same reasons that Nick makes (half) a case for it. i.e. the 'BIG, noisey synth sound, HUGE drums, a weird lyric and ... strong vocal...' It's all so BIG....
And in the mid-eighties, snths started to sound horrible. Not like synths any more, but like surrogate brass sections, and Go West were pioneers of this naturalization of electronics. I can only make the comparison again with Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer', which to me, typifies this: like Go West, it's at once completely, clunkily artificial and cloyingly 'soulful.'
And the video, the video: 'We Close Your Eyes' seemed to be on the Chart Show every week for a year, a sign of how functional and quotidian pop had become. The fact that 'Peter Cox looked completely at odds with the 'expected' pop star image - wearing a tatty vest, wielding a giant spanner and covered in what looked like axle-grease' was part of what I detested about them. They were a symbol of a new, deglammed Pop star: the 'ordinary bloke'. Marcello talks about them as being the first generation not influenced by punk; I think that punk itself could be construed as a moment in Glam, and Go West - and That Video - represented the end of Glam. Pop stars were no longer required to be strange, beguiling and otherwordly.
Nick asks: 'why is it okay to like Hall & Oates now, but not Go West?' The crass answer is that Hall and Oates made good records, whereas Go West were shit. I personally don't see any but the most vaguely generic comparison with H and O - yeh, Go West were rock-soul, but I like Hall and Oates in spite of that. At their best, Hall and Oates had at least two things Go West didn't: funk and nuance. Everything is clumsily up Front, BIG, with Go West. There are shadows in H and O: whereas Go West are like having a bright light shined directly into your eyes. All that said, Go West certainly sounded American. That's another of the features I hold them in contempt for. Postpunk pop had an anglo-specificity that the likes of Go West eliminated. They remind me of the sort of records you'd hear on Paul Gambacini's Hot 100 rundown of the American charts on Saturday afternoon; an experience I always associate with trudging around shoe shops for some reason. I remember quailing in horror at the American charts in those days. The banality.... Imagine if our Pop was like that, I shivered. Go West ensured that it was.
I fear that Nick's final defence of GW will raise the hackles of Popists everywhere. It's exactly the kind of thing which irritates the likes of Angus G! 'At least they wrote their own songs and played a few instruments,' Nick writes, 'which is more than can be said for many of today's fame-for-fame's sake teeny-poppers. Marcello opines that Go West were the first of a new breed untainted by Punk. I would suggest that they were actually the (fag) end of the Creative Teen-Pop era - that period facilited by punk lasting roughly 1979-85 when pin-up chart acts wrote and performed their own material.' To the universal disgust of Popists, I think Nick has something here. It's not just about 'playing your own instruments', though, it's about people being able to realise their own vision, and not being puppets of the likes of Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell. (Why is their not a more audio-friendly word for 'vision' by the way?) It seems to me irrelevant whether people actually play on their records, but that they, rather than some cynical projected demographic, are the agent of the process is important.
Incidentally, shouldn't we seriously be thinking about a 'third way' beyond Popism and Rockism?
Posted by mark at January 29, 2004 11:26 PM
"...what I detested about them. They were a symbol of a new, deglammed Pop star: the 'ordinary bloke'."
I agree in principle, although that very word 'new' was what impacted on me AT THE TIME. Without the weight of history against them, Go West sounded quite fresh to my ears in '85, because it WAS new. The reason I can still appreciate 'we Close Our Eyes' is because I can still detect a sense of urgency and commitment in it. they sound 'driven'. subsequent hits fail to reach that level, being merely functional.
teen-Pop: Creative Autonomy Vs. Svengali Manipulation...now there's a subject for further discussion. more soon....
What does "they are THE agent" mean? Own their own record companies? Build their own instruments? Invent their own instruments? Invent their own language? Cadences? Scales? It's an argument, not a monologue (punk also insisted the audience be given back its agency) (malcolm mclaren's agency conflicted with the other sex pistols - that's what gave that project most of its force). The problem with Pop Idol isn't the framework (which has infinitely more possibilities than the standard locked-down rock or indie routine-as-of-now), it's that people aren't thinking out how to operate with and through and against this framework (partial slight momentary exception: Kym Marsh). The gatekeepers aren't Fuller and Cowell either: they're TV producers we never get to see. This set-up is (still) so so so wide open to be punkified: the watching millions wd LOVE to see the show become the judges' values - and the producers' values - being contested *effectively* (what I continue to dream of here would something like Frank Herbert's Dosadi Experiment). "Effectively" meaning that the war itself wd be the entertainment.
Popism IS rockism: the "third" way is anti-rockism. This is basic.
I'm keen that pop stars - at a given moment - articulate a vision ("an audion"?). Whether it's "theirs" I don't care about. The awful records Will Young made at first and the good ones he's making now suggest that in his case a bit of vision isn't a bad thing. Generally though a pop star's own vision is precisely limited to Go West's: playing a few instruments, writing a few songs, singing something meaningful (perhaps about dolphins, or being real). The problem with Gutterbreakz' argument - does he really prefer Liverpool to Welcome To The Pleasuredome?
I'm on his side re. the Ordinary Bloke thing though. I've argued this on ILM before, that glamour in pop started as an amazing liberating idea and gradually became a trap, a set of critical limiters: it boils down very easily to a kind of enervated gesture-pop where vision is all important and good old muscular execution somewhat less so. I like your punk as glam stuff though because Glam for me is/was most interesting when people who really have no natural talent for dress-up play it anyway (Slade or Minty!). (I hold these views partly because I was always too plump and hairy to be androgynous).
I don't think the 'war-as-entertainment' thing is going to get much better than Michelle vs Waterman, sadly, i.e. the value-conflict-as-entertainment functions better when it's not about music. The audience - you saw this in World Idol too - pretty much agree with the judges about what the music should sound like, they just disagree about who should be allowed to perform it. This makes for great TV, hurrah, and the records remain adequate-to-rotten, boo.
>Incidentally, shouldn't we seriously be thinking >about a 'third way' beyond Popism and Rockism?
Robbie Williams = Tony Blair ?
Mark s's points are well-made. Even as I wrote, I knew I was overstating the case about agency. It would have been better if I had said that it is desirable for the artists to have _some_ agency, some capacity to express a vision (I'm not satisfied with 'audion' as a word, though it's tempting in certain respects.) Restoring audience ageny seems equally crucial. The situation with Pop Idol is thoroughly Baudrillardian: the audience, through polls and telephone votes, is ostensibly in charge of the process, but they/ we are effectively reduced to acting out a role laid down by 'the circuit.' The circuit fixes their/ our desire by anticipating and modeling it, leaving only a choice between predetermined options, no possibility of a genuine response. As for 'punking' it --- is this possible with television? Punk involves exertion of collective agency. Television by its nature militates against this: as Baudrilard says, in itself it is social control, because it ensures people aren't talking and engaging with one another.
Popism is Rockism. I think I know where you're going, but can you elaborate?
During the year of its release, I encountered 'sledgehammer' in what was, as became immediately obvious, its natural environment: played through a boomy loud PA whilst being mercilessly spun by a terrifying tattooed pikey on the waltzer at the fair. Not sure that has any significance, except the persistence of the memory may speak in the records favour in pop terms(meshing with lived experience and all that). Or perhaps that's begging the question?
just one more irrelevant reminiscence (sorry mark ;)
apropos of "weird lyrics", was this the same era as that nik kershaw (?) song which was something about 'by a tree near a river there's a hole in the ground where an old man of aaron (???) goes around and around' - as you can tell, I'm remain haunted by the unresolved inexplicability of the lyric, and still remember the confused images it conjured up in my young mind of a wizened bearded old man spinning round, down a well in the middle of a field ... Does anyone actually know the answer (or whether there was an answer) to the riddle?
the lack of possible engagement is no more than the lack of engagement between eg a reader of a book and the author who's dead, or a one-note shtick-sleb like baudrillard (who i think is a cynical reactionary pessimist who merely serially discovers justifications for his own disenchantment with politics onto everything he touches): anyway, point is, the lack of to-and-fro doesn't make books a bad thing, politically. One of the most interesting aspects of Pop Idol - and in the general the collision of the old-form Talent Show with reality TV - is precisely that it opened up a breach between two layers of gatekeeper within the leisure industry. The assumption of changeless monolithicity in media is always in effect a counsel of despair (as well as ahistorical, and more to the point just silly as regards social facts - media is people, not the Matrix). Pointing to a situation which demonstrates a (potential? actual-but-brief?) *breakdown* in routine monolithicity, at the level of structures as well as at the level of spectacle, and then deciding to interpret it as a continuity anyway - on the grounds that as Baudrillard teaches us, only continuity is now possible? - can become a disguised way of saying "What's the point?"
What people are calling "popism" means being rockist abt pop: which is to say - among 95 other things? - fetishising and/or idealising certain of its techniques, machineries, rituals or means as essential short-cut signs of value. (I also think the "popist" is totally a strawman, really: though it's true that, somewhat for forensic *and* critical-strategic effect, at war with the world or with myself, I find it helpful to take as read that every #1 is BY DEFINITION "good pop", whether or not I personally like it or think it's significant or fun-revealing-exciting-annoying-truthseeking to talk abt...)
Also I dislike the way the "hypermediated superego of the blah blah blah" always becomes just a swank way of saying "Oh for the good old days": I *like* Zizek, but which-the-hell good old days is HE pining for (the secret Leninist-Catholic utopia of Slovenia under Tito) ?
>One of the most interesting aspects of Pop Idol - and in the general the collision of the old-form Talent Show with reality TV - is precisely that it opened up a breach between two layers of gatekeeper within the leisure industry.
Can you elaborate a bit (not sure who the two layers of gatekeeper are)?
Also, said breach doesn't seem to have had much effect though; isn't Tom right that the audience essentially agree with judges about what the music should be but disagree about who should perform it?
On Baudrillard: incredibly prescient on reality TV _and_ the referendum mode - seems to me Baudrillard had identified trends which have intensified in media. Media have changed: to become, if anything, _more_ Baudrillardian.
Saying media is people is a tad uh humanistic. They are social and technical machines, with their own inherent protocols and structures. Not that these are invariant.
In the end, let's judge Pop Idol and its ilk by its results. Which have been pretty dire. (The offcuts - Liberty X especially - have been better and more successful than the actual winners?)Interesting to compare the 'rockist' Fame Academy (which notionally purused the idea of people writing their own songs) with popist Pop Idol. btw trivial point, but isn't Fuller one of the TV producers we don't see?
Every number 1 'great pop'? Forget popism, that's populism! Obvious problem with this is it doesn't deal with the quantity of affect only quantity of sales. People could have bought the single coz they quite liked it or because they absolutely loved it.
Saying they are machines is saying they are invariant: the reason they are not invariant is they are made of people (as are protocols, structures etc). Baudrillard is used to avoid actually looking at media politically, or accurately (ie overlooking all the stuff he isn't prescient about, bcz not interested in, such as people making choices for reasons).
Two layers of gatekeepers = people who decide which music gets make (to maximise profits of records sales plus also layers of accumulation of other cultural capital in ref future power-broking blah blah) vs people who decide which programmes get made (to maximise profits of records sales plus also layers of accumulation of other cultural capital in ref future power-broking blah blah). There was a big shift in the balance of power - partly leading to and partly resulting from the Pop Idol phenom, somewhat as a result of a massive crisis in confidence in the idea of the ability to judge what wd be successful within the pop industry. This crisis hasn't been resolved.
Populism would I think be saying "every number one is great music": but not all music is pop, and by "good" (which I don't relate to my opinion-as-a-listneer) I don't mean "great" (which I think probably is, at least as I use it). Anyway, as I said, it's forensic-strategic for me, ie not evaluative especially, bcz I don't give much of a fuck if any given bit of music is "good" or not as music (which seems to me to be trying to second-guess the Future Judgements of the Court of History), or even how much people liked it (which I agree is hard to read and not very useful) - I'm interested in what it's doing, and what I can do with it. If pop is a genre as opposed to a mere symptom a good way to decide what's "good" (ie what works well) is by looking at what charts where. Obviously you can't leave the discussion that "this works well", bcz you have to explain what you mean by "work" and what you mean by "well". But this explanation is the stuff that matters anyway, bcz it's about relationships and fights and attraction-repulsion and decisions and etc.
sorry that wz me again = mark s (in case u couldn't tell)
(yes i think yr right abt fuller = TV producer)
(How are the offcuts not the results? - the effect of something is everything that happens as a result, not just the stuff we being told to look at...) (I agree that the records produced have mainly been lame: big one-off sellers which can't be sustained - OK so if contestants are full-on fame-driven, and not just 15-minute-fame-driven, then the question of sustaining their success is an issue for them, which will/must lead to conflict; also non-sustainable insta-profits don't solve the problems of record-making folk, in fact in the medium term they exacerbate them = another site of potential conflict, esp.as the returns diminish) (My point abt Cowell is that I think the Nasty Judges increasingly function as lightning rods to deflect attention from where other - bigger - interest-fights are going on, but none of this is in any sense a stable ecology)
(oops my parentheses abt the two kinds of gatekeeper are identical = the dangers of cut-and-paste at speed at work... the progamme makers are maximising audience share not record sales)
Apologize for spectacularly misreading you on 'good pop': the 'good' as opposed to 'great' thing is obviously crucial...
Calling things machines isn't to say that they are invariant --- your calling for a pragmatics of pop (ie not how good is it, but what does it do?) is precisely machinic (in the Deleuze-Guattari sense).
Am massively sympathetic to this kind of analysis, in part because this Historical Court of Judgement thing is totally spurious - instead of saying Pop is shit at the moment, it would be much better to say 'I can't do anything with these records now' or, more colloquially, 'they don't do anything for me' but think you're right that the evacuation of evaluation actually only poses more evaluative questions one level up viz. the ones you identify: what is 'working'? and 'well'? (Same 'problems with D/ G, incidentally.)
Especially becomes problematic if chart position is treated as a forensic indicator. Doesn't this make the criteria de facto populist? i.e. 'working' is being equated with selling.
Point taken about Cowell: the Nasty Judge thing is a red herring, when I mentioned him (and Fuller) it was for his role as a producer / manager of desire, not coz of the pantomime of his onscreen persona. If we're talking about reactionary cynics, forget Baudrillard (who is more disappointed/ disenchanted than cynical IMO), and think Cowell. Cowell's success based on LCD thinking, never knowingly overestimating the public's taste. We're back into evaluation again, because by your definition, everything Cowell's been responsible for - from Robson and Jerome to Gareth Gates - would be 'good pop.' I can go with that, but it irks.
Partly suspicious of this 'people' line because it implies some sort of intelligent consumer, when most of the time we stumble round supermarkets (and the supermarkets of pop) in a kind of stupor, being semiotically selected rather than exercising choice.
yeah, , ,and fuck zizek while you're at it
Chart success = not the *only* forensic indicator (when fingerprints and blood type disagree = inspector frost's ears perk up!! and we have a story!!)
The irk reminds me that the world is full of people who aren't me, and that this is something I have to deal with ie "good" is not necessarily something I can master or control or be comfortable with.
I've been riding Baudrillard superhard bcz I always found his generalisations seem to step blithely over the thing I'm mainly most interested in, which is (something like) "if this is a machine why isn't it working how the operators think it works? (and that's the price they're paying for their misperception...)"
One of the things I always hoped (still hope) might happen is that Pop Idol contestant-performers and/or songwriters and/or svengali producers/agents/whoever wd come up with material which is actually *about* the dramas and dilemmas they were caught up in (and/or we the viewers were caught up in). Ziggy Idol as the dark opera of itself. (Country and rap tend to be much better at this kind of multi-layered self-aware self-reflection, of course: the professional specifics of my career as metaphor for your life, ... but I don't see why this is a genre rule that can't be fucked with...)
second par: that's = what's (sorry i'm in a stupor of stella)
was going to take up another line, to wit the reality TV line, which seems equally in need of punking ----
I said here (http://k-punk.blogspot.com/2003_07_13_k-punk_archive.html#105838211480294313) that the format seems matter underexploited.
Sorry to quiz you again Mark but what is Frank Herbert's Dosadi Experiment?
And the machines don't have operators: the supposed operators are part of the machine. That's the point about Cowell: he would 'blame' the audience for the records he's produced. They wanted em. It's the circuit, the circuit that is the agent.
the dosadi experiment = sf novel from mid-70s, with (among other things) very complex and funny legal-gladitorial procedure, where drama and innovation and entertainment in the courtroom are prized over merely proving whether the defendent was guilty or not
It's actually 'Aran'.
Fact: the Bulgarian radioplay version of I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me was missing the second verse.
Can't seem to get hyperlinks to work from the contents box, anyway it's http://lyrics.stuffinmyhead.com/showlyrics.php?songid=14.
Apparently, btw, his big hits were actually pre-85: 83 and 84 was his halcyon period.
yeah, but what does it MEAN, sphaleotas?
I vaguely recollect something about Kershaw eventually admitting that it was all a load of nonsense. But he may have been joking.