July 22, 2004

From popist to papist and beyond (the pleasure principle)


Simon on guilty pleasures. I second Simon's call for a culture of shame. That's what I was trying to get at in the comments thread. Better punk's unfair and unreasonable hatred than Popism's (or Poptimism's) well-adjusted, laissez-faire, anything goes, if it's good it doesn't mattter what category it belongs to eclecticism, or Jools/Q 'respectfulness' and reverence. Both of these attitudes are intrinsically inimical to excitement/ libido, the first because it transcendentally rules it out (the obverse of 'there's good music every year if you look for it' is that there's never anything to get especially excited about), the second because 'respect' kills culture stone-dead.

Punk's broadbrush proscriptions at least meant that disco/funk/long tracks had to be negotiated back in. And, consequently, their re-inclusion meant something; they were't part of some benevolently oppressive nebulae, which saps the intensity and flava from singular cultural break-outs by incorporating them into a blandly de-odorized popist pot pourri.

In any case, the relationship between a Culture of Shame and Guilty Pleasures is a dialectical rather than a straightforwardly oppositional one. Only with an (at least residual) culture of shame in place is it possible to feel any frission of guilt when you sample (what has been designated as) the forbidden. There is something Catholic about this, as Eppy says. But, rather than a lapsed Catholicism, it's a lapse into Catholicism - in which morbid cult, as Eppy establishes, guilt is pleasure, just as much as pleasure is guilty. But this all presupposes the Puritan/ Protestant reformation initiated by punk.

Zizek explains the complicity between pleasure and guilt by adapting one of Kant's examples. In, I think, The Groundwork to the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant refutes the idea that there is sexual compulsion by asking how we might expect someone claiming to be so compelled to act if they were told that they could have the object of all their desires, if only they submitted to being hanged at the gallows immediately after the copulation. Kant takes it as read that the person's alleged compulsion would melt away pretty quickly. But Zizek, ever the Lacanian, says that this ignores the extent to which many need the equivalent of a gallows in order to experience enjoyment. Only when the pleasure is forbidden, or when there is a risk of its leading to punishment, can it be relished.

Of course, there's a whole fascinating unpicking of pleasure (Foucault), desire (Deleuze) and enjoyment (Lacan) to be undertaken. In which spirit, these extraordinarily intimate and revelatory notes by Deleuze on his problems with Foucault's notion of pleasure, are an exceptional resource.

In other news:

Simon, again, on the trend for painter-related blog names. Marcello is of course a consistent performer here: he started off with a painter(Spencer)-related URL (cookham), moved onto a blog named after a painting (naked maja) before setting up his current painter-alluding residence.

And thanks to Rochenko at Smoke Writing for his kind words on the Whitstable post. I didn't know how people would react to that one, but I do enjoy writing about England. (I could imagine myself blissfully writing for the English tourist board).

Posted by mark at July 22, 2004 05:33 PM | TrackBack

I can appreciate that there's a pleasure in self-denial but to install it as the centre of pleasure seems wilfully perverse.

And from my personal experience of Poptimism the moments of excitement - when music and mood and the world fit together perfectly and almost everything sounds terrific in a kind of Manley Hopkins bliss-state - are just as intense and thrilling as they were when I was more of a puritan. (And it's still enjoyable to draw lines and hate things too, even if it's now an indulgence rather than a passionate struggle). The avuncular contentment people make such play of despising is the default 'off' state of the Poptimist, not as good as it gets. You've talked before about how poptimism kills excitement but empirically I know it just isn't the case.

Posted by: Tom at July 22, 2004 05:50 PM

You seem to be talking about a guilt culture, where the moral referent is internal, rather than a shame culture, where it's peer judgement that imposes moral order. If Simon was really calling for the latter then the good news is that it's alive and well practically everywhere on the internet except for this chunk of the blogosphere: teenagers still vigorously patrol each others tastes and behaviour, especially when it comes to music. I'm not desperate to turn the clock back, but your mileage may vary.

Posted by: Tom at July 22, 2004 06:02 PM

I think I was arguing that poptimism, or "liking things" if you don't want to sound like a jackass, is the preferred default mode to my way of thinking, but that guilty pleasures, properly defined (i.e. not just anything not obscurist enough for you to be comfortable with, just something that your peers consider laughably bad--I think one of the key characteristics of my definition of a guilty pleasure is that you could not convince other people to like it!) can also be a source of pleasure. But a "culture of shame"? I dunno, that just sounds so...British. Or American, if you'd prefer. But horrendously boring and bad for creativity, unless you're going to endorse some sort of Nietzschean view of cultural production where only the brave few rebels have the qualifications to Make Great Art.

I think I'm much more comfortable with the reward-punish dynamic being consciously created WITHIN a work rather than within the context, because setting up that kind of difficulty for yourself spills over to other people who it may or may not work for. Because it's constantly shifting, it's a lot harder to negotiate than the fixed difficulty of a created work, and while that's interesting, I don't think it fosters the kind of celebration and play we're all (I hope) looking for, since you're spending your time interrogating the context rather than the work. This can be fun, but it's a separate pleasure, and it should almost always be constituted as such. But setting up even MORE of a shame system when it comes to experiencing art (because good lord there's a pretty goddamn huge one now) is, to my view, a negative freedom of a kind, but a way far cry from a positive one, which seems like the thing we need more right now. But, we differ on that point...

Posted by: Eppy at July 22, 2004 06:10 PM

K-Punk, there's a very obvious contradiction between your anti-respect thing and your harping on about punk values, and your refs to Foucault, Zizek, Deleuze, and other academics. Why no unfair and unreasonable hatred for these guys? Ever? Are they really unimpeachable? Doubt it.

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 22, 2004 08:36 PM

That's ridiculous. I don't 'respect' Foucault, Zizek et al. Unfair and unreasonable hatred of these thinkers wd probably yield interesting theoretical positions. Who said they were unimpeachable?

Posted by: mark at July 22, 2004 09:02 PM

btw, Tom, meant to say this earlier:
You seem to be talking about a guilt culture, where the moral referent is internal, rather than a shame culture, where it's peer judgement that imposes moral order.

But surely the one presupposes the other? cf Nietzsche and Freud's analysis of guilt as introjected shame. Why would you feel guilty unless you were at some time made to feel ashamed?

Posted by: mark at July 22, 2004 09:46 PM

Yeah…like the poptimism line of thought…the shaming list also….funny how this event and the mentioning of zizek concerning pleasure/guilt relation happens at a time when the ‘gallows’ have been internalized…ie; in post liberal societies the threat of punishment/executioner no longer act in the guise of internalized law (prohibitive loops) that require renunciation or self control ( confessing ones guilty pleasure publicly)….instead it “assumes the form of hypnotic agency that imposes the attitude of ‘yielding to temptation’…the command ‘Enjoy yourself’” (zizeks’ metastases of enjoyment) …lists of shame in the media …‘coming out with our filthy pleasures in public’ has the message “go on admit it!…its okay…we’re all friends here… really” contributing to an “enjoy yourself” social enviroment…from this angle punks boredom seems very appealing…damming up these flows of imposed libidinal catharsis is the best thing ‘punk affect’ could offer right now…negotiating back into the fold certain pleasures such as funk into punk…would at least try to short circuit the immediate automatic and compulsive behaviour loops ( the media event inspired addiction to dirty secrets) which are part of the hypnotic production of a specific markets ‘idiotic’ enjoyment…all together now “aaaiiirrrr hosteeesssssss” (actually wanted to write the lyrics to ashes ‘sunshine in the morning’ track but my jouissance REALLY FUCKING KICKED IN HARD!!!)….sorry have to end on a brighter note…not too far from the pleasure trajectory and sort of in line with the spider man theme…NO…havent seen it yet …but last night did watch Joderowsky ‘Holy mountain‘….now there…NOW THERES A FILM WORTHY OF A FEW COMMENTS!/!/!//???!?!

Posted by: SIMON at July 22, 2004 10:32 PM

I feel like I was commenting here on something a while back and I brought up the punk boredom thing and some anti-poptimist (sigh sigh SIGH) was trying to tell me that, no man, punk was a REACTION to boredom and it was all about shoving the mess of society in your face and making you wake up and blah blah blah. Which I guess is sort of how I understood it, i.e. as something that WAS a parody of the attitude of conventional society man and/or a reaction to the sunniness of the 50s/60s/70s...uh OK let's just say "youth culture"...and which has now become a sort of consciously chosen pose in reaction to the consciously chosen pose of excitement, the main difference being that it's the default pose for anyone over the age of 14 who, let's say, listened to college radio, or the peolpe who aspire to be like them. The problem being is that for most people who I think y'all are complaining about (people with NO SHAME DAMNIT!) this is, in fact, the regular post, and so what we have it PEOPLE ENJOYING THEMSELVES BOREDLY! Christ save us all. It seems much more useful to me to admit that all this forbidenness crap is just a crock of shit and that we can choose to make something naughty if we want it to and then just go ahead and put funk back into punk or whatever you want to do, damnit. The only thing people are ashamed of is not being ashamed of what they're listening to, and that's the only negative I can think of about the situation.

(Note: this post was incoherent in the spirit of the discussion.)

Posted by: Eppy at July 22, 2004 11:00 PM

Oh yes, and in a more organized vein: one could argue that the reason any "gallows whatsits" are internalized now rather than externalized is because we've grown out of the various repressive/oppressive institutions/laws/mores that created the externalized pressures, and that this is in fact a Really Good Thing since we're probably a bit more free now; conquering interior punishment desires seems a whole lot easier than avoiding witch trials or sodomy laws, yes? We're all in agreement that humans naturally seek out this dynamic, so why is it a problem exactly? I know, yes, since it's internalized it's more INSIDIOUS and SUBCONSCIOUS but come on now. Better than what poor old Oscar Wilde got, isn't it?

Posted by: Eppy at July 22, 2004 11:05 PM

I'm not sure Foucault would have agreed with that, Eppy. The whole point of Discipline and Punish (and History of Sexuality 1) was that the story of progress from external 'spectacular' cruelty to internalized auto-policing isn't one we should be too credulous about.

When there were forbidden territories you got the Pop Group, when anything goes you get Red Hot Chilli Peppers. (Incidentally, I was reading the other day that RHCP credit none other than Gang of Four as their main source of inspiration; what a wretched, wretched legacy!)

Also been thinking about what Tom said: think the issue is that I'm looking at things from the POV of the producer, whereas Tom's seeing it from the perspective of the consumer. It's from the producer POV IMHO that firm delimitations and (relatively) arbitrary detestations are most significant.

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 12:29 AM

interesting stuff and am not sure i agree with *any of it at all*! it's somewhat strange to actually theorise wrt a position based solely around one's in-the-moment, immediate and visceral enjoyment of something, anyway - have always found this poptimism's great paradox. however, being catholic the idea of a guilt/shame culture, i can tell you right now, is nothing to aspire to. just as it represses people's emotional and political lives in the religious context, so as eppy has stated, would it strangle creativity when applied at a cultural level. sure, there's certainly room for people to be more discriminating and demand something more from art (but surely it's possible for a poptimism to have a negative reaction of abject loathing to music as well? tom?). the one thing that's difficult in all this is that the "punk" position seems to be less about breaking down walls than about actively buildig them, less about the destruction of canonical rights and wrongs than the construction of a situation where things we already know can be not just valid but absolutely sublime have to be "negotiated back in", which strikes me as a bit of a waste of time. how would any of this be practically applied?

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 08:54 AM

K-Punk you clearly *do* have Jools Hollandy Respect for Foucault, because otehrwise you wdn't say 'I'm not sure Foucault would have agreed with that, Eppy. The whole point of Discipline and Punish (and History of Sexuality 1) was that the story of progress from external "spectacular" cruelty to internalized auto-policing isn't one we should be too credulous about,' because famously Foucault didn't really believe in 'conventional' historical praxis: now that he is conventional thinking himself, there's no reason thrust his work forward as the final word, when the process he was describing has been meat for so many other leftist thinkers like Weber, who may well have more to add to progressive thinking now, since they relate the same kind of stuff to specific [economic] circumstances. One way or another you *do* have a list of thinkers who are above criticism.

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 23, 2004 09:18 AM

above is rubbish. it's very easy, in an undergraduate english student kind of way, to claim smugly that in demolishing one canon you have only erected another, but this is the way all thought-systems work and progress. to declare candidly your own theoretical position or background is not to declare undeviating loyalty to one brand of thought. it's typically more honest than claiming autonomy from systems altogether.

Posted by: Jay at July 23, 2004 09:53 AM

Dave - I dunno if there's any practical application - other than some kind of listening games maybe (which I like). My 'theory' of poptimism is totally reactive anyway, it was a word which was clearly going to hang around and so I thought I'd better have a 'position' on it. I viscerally loathe lots of things, obviously.

Speaking of which, Mark, mentioning the Red Hot Chili Peppers is a low, mean trick.

The guilt/shame stuff is anthropology innit, no doubt poorly comprehended by me but it's my understanding there's a distinction as well as a link. Of course on the personal level people go from a shame culture (friends laughing at them for liking something uncool) to a guilt culture (where this is internalised).

I think all of this w.r.t. music isn't really experienced on anything other than an individual level - even punk's strictures were only applicable if you, you know, cared about punk. Where shame culture is experienced at a macro level it's as much a fashion/marketing thing as anything. (On the other thread you have a go at people's lack of real freedom/choice in deciding what is good and cool - but if so this applies totally to deciding what is uncool and bad, too.)

Putting up barriers so they can be taken down all over again would be a nostalgia move - very tempting (that buzz of liberation when you're fighting the corner of something unfashionable, it's great) but a bit pointless.

Also the problem with having forbidden zones of taste is that the unforbidden centre (almost always rock, even in its more radical forms) becomes too valorised and the 'naff' stuff gets exoticised in reaction to that. "Guilty pleasures" could be anything but in practise they're always the stuff consumed by groups who have less of a voice than rock-lovin' white blokes (and then you get the situation that the louder voices praising them are FORMER rock-lovin' white blokes who are happy to give up their conservative tastes but less so to drop their grip on media access).

Posted by: Tom at July 23, 2004 09:55 AM

Actually I'm not sure how much my last para applies in the specific case of Bob Stanley and his Sailor records.

Agree on producer/consumer thing BTW - if you're going to get into making music then straighten up and have a bit of discipline (not that I'd know).

Posted by: Tom at July 23, 2004 09:58 AM

above is rubbish. it's very easy, in an undergraduate english student kind of way, to claim smugly that in demolishing one canon you have only erected another, but this is the way all thought-systems work and progress.

well, duh! i wasn't exactly saying that i have some revolutionary new theory, just that the above doesn't work too well for me and i don't hbiestly think there was anything especially smug about it. if anything it was rather humbly put as i have little more than a fundamental and basic understanding of zizek and foucault gleaned as an undergraduate english student (a past that i had no idea was so stigmatized). the key point is what the hell is the reason for having to "negotiate back in" things we already know to be of value?

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 10:30 AM

Stelfox, I wasn't referring to you! i meant the idea that K-punk had a holy canon of unimpeachable thinkers as expressed by Henny Miller or whoever...

Posted by: Jay at July 23, 2004 10:38 AM

Hey, cool it guys! We don't want another M------o situation! :-)

Dave, I thought those remarks were aimed at Henry, not you, but could be wrong ?

Henry, for the record, I don't 'respect' Foucault, I'm enthusiastic about him. My pt was that enthusiasm/ libido and respect don't sit well together, not that one shd hate anything.

I never said any theorist was the Last Word on anything.

Posted by: at July 23, 2004 10:39 AM

on a purely personal level these debates fascinate me because, as tom knows, i'm the last to call myself a popist and think it's in many ways a fundamentally absurd position. however, when faced with other, more proscriptive approaches it generally comes out as a lot more appealing (also, whenever things like the pazz & jop get done, i'm generally shocked by how much correlation between mine and tom's there is despite our getting to our respective conclusions rather differently). call me a dimwit, but i'd rather live in a world where the default mode is one of "avuncular acceptance" than one of "unfair and unreasonable hatred". anyway, i now have a lot of violent dancehall to listen to.

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 10:41 AM

sorry i'm used to being randomly attacked on the internet, plus coz of the mention of the canonical stuff!

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 10:43 AM

surely the fact that any of us have (had in my case) comments boxes points to the fact that none of us are likely to claim anything to be the last word

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 10:45 AM

Tickled by your comments on the protestantism of punk, Mark. Reminded me of growing up in the North of Ireland in the 80s when like everything else, it seemed Punk was divided between the two
religions: Stiff Little Fingers, Belfast, earnest, issue-led, rockist,Protestant, and the Undertones: Derry, idiotic, cartoon-like, popist, Catholic (although the politics did turn up later).

Posted by: Conor at July 23, 2004 10:59 AM

It seems to me that there's plenty of stuff that's disrespected by the forces of 'respect' you identify. I'm not sure they're much more respectful than anyone else.

Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 11:49 AM

Jay, I didn't study English and I wasn't being smug, and never said K-P was replacing one canon with another (though it's a nice straw man argument).
I was calling out K-P on exactly the point that punk year-zeroism *does* claim to be outside all systems, that its adherents Won't Get Fooled. Okay, so you've never explicitly said anyone has the 'last word', but I never see any unfair and unreasonable hatred for any but the most obvious targets -- Jools Holland or U2 or whoever.
I'm sure you'd be interested in a take-down of Lacan/Foucault/Derrida but somehow a swipe at Phil Jupitus is always more urgent.
This isn't meant personally, but the sheer repetition of the French theoretical canon in blogosphere discourse is galling, up to the rhizome-comparison stuff itself.

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 23, 2004 11:57 AM

how the hell can hatred of jools/jupitus/qmagazine etc be unfair and unreasonable? i believe u2 are more difficult to loathe completely than this bunch, in all honesty.

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 12:04 PM

Exactly: I don't think it is unfair and unreasonable necessarily (it's irrelevant): my point is, K-P is calling for 'punk's unfair and unreasonable hatred,' but instead of making attacks on the sacred cows of theory he in fact goes for these soft targets of mezzocult. I'm not the one calling for unreasonable hate!

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 23, 2004 12:13 PM

yeah, but what if he doesn't hate these "sacred cows"? it would certainly be pretty unreasonable to direct this hatred at them, but also quite stupid. i don't think he's calling for hatred of *everything* and also using the theories of others and stepping stones to a position of one's own (all philosophy and theory is really good for, after all deleuze never wanted his brand of post-structuralism to be the definitive last word, anyway) is not necessarily the same as holding them up as unimpeachable. the fact that we're running with these ideas proves as much.

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 12:35 PM

the problem is that the name for this culture-of-shame negotiated-back-in deal is and always will be ROCKISM = a fatuous endless crippling STUPID deference-from-within to the designated cultural gatekeepers of the moment = the prior reason i have always been unconvinced by SimonR's explanatory reasons for being pro ANYTHING (ie not his intitial intuition/taste, but his expanded justification): they are always involve checking over yr shoulder to see you stay in with eg baudrillard or ballard or momus or julie burchill or lenin or kirk degiorgio or whoever it may fashionably be, the secret probably unconcious agenda behind this being that you are using these fine fellows to PROTECT yr own cultural and/or class narrowness, to disguise it as its opposite

viz the endless rubbish he used to talk abt eg soul or rap back in the day, where both were wz totally being judged against in-group values of a small bunch of white brit writers and NO AWARENESS WAS EVER HINTED AT that actually the matertial and sociological practice of the music concerned was AT BEST only dimly aware of the existence of this small coterie, let alone operating in any kind of world where the coterie's perspective were of consequence

the function of "popism" - if it existed at all (ie outside SR's and mark k-p's referent-free strawman reconfiguration) - is precisely and exactly to INTERROGATE RUTHLESSLY YOUR *OWN* CULTURAL GATEKEEPERS (and the unquestioned assumptions which you are hiding behind them) - as TimH correctly pointed out on an earlier thread, the fact that you can tell from his discussion that e.g, ballard knows fuck all abt YBA art, and is merely distorting it to affirm his OWN theories, is a weakness is HIS position, not a weakness in YBA's (their weaknesses are elsewhere). If you have to rescript the object of enquiry in order to gussy up the "theory", then it's the theory that's at sea (other classic vectors for this in-group misfeasance: fred jameson; adorno). As it happens, i think the actual proper real word for "popism" in this context IS punk... but i am well aware that almost everyone else today reads punk merely to mean its post-indie-weeny reactionary collusive retreat mode

yes yes of course WE know things THEY don't know - the point is, do THEY know things WE don't know (ans = yes) (obv) (and to be honest the things *i* don't know are of more consequence to me than the things i do know that "they" don't)

Posted by: mark s at July 23, 2004 12:41 PM

Just a swift thought about mapping Catholic / Protestant onto punk: one of the key Catholic / Protestant divides is the issue of mediation and loyalty. Catholicism has God's word communicated via the priest and the church; protestantism is all about the direct relationship between God and the believer.

Punk (it seems to me) very quickly came to see itself as the One True Church, and your talk of negotiating admission into the canon from the apocrypha echoes that. It is only really protestant in so far as it saw itself as some kind of revolutionary protest.

Just saying, like.

Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 12:48 PM

(x-post) That seems spot-on to me Mark and I suppose if we're going to work with that definition of popism than it's kind of a protestantism without a bible.

Maybe that's also kind of a definition for the punk you're talking about and maybe that punk only really lasted as "punk rock" for the millionth of a second after the big bang.

Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 12:53 PM

momus has a good line incidentally on how (eg firbankian) CATHOLICISM UNDER THE PROTESTANT SETTLEMENT is a good map for the dissident coterie (the time we argued abt it we got distracted onto the anti-child abuse = anti-gay debate)

Posted by: mark s at July 23, 2004 12:53 PM

some notes towards what i mean by punk

Posted by: mark s at July 23, 2004 12:55 PM

OK, let's get specific. Popism =

Morley (some of the time)
NYPLM (Tom being one of its most eloquent advocates)

For me, its central defining feature is the idea that Pop can be treated as a relative autonomy = consumerist aestheticism. 'Forget all this stuff about changing the world, let's just listen to the music...'

Punk's strictures were/ are ETHICAL - in the best, non-moral, Spinozan or Foucauldian sense - not AESTHETIC. The revolt against Prog was partly a disgust with its purism aestheticism. Either music was an intensifier - in which case it was 'acceptable' - or it wasn't, in which case it shd be junked. The criteria were extrinsic to music 'itself'. Moreover,punk was/ is about ceasing to be a (passive) consumer; participation culture....

Needless to say, punk was abt contempt for the Masses and for yourself insofar as you fell into lazy and reactive worker-consumer-zombiedom...

The Protestant thing is something I picked up from Marcus (his linkage back to the Lollards for instance). Protestantism without the Bible? Is that like Surrealism without the unconscious (Jameson)? Given that Protestantism's whole quest was to return to the Bible and turn away from authoritarian tradition and iconistic superstition, I find the prospect of Protestantism without the Bible a little hard to imagine, to say the least.

the function of "popism" [...] is precisely and exactly to INTERROGATE RUTHLESSLY YOUR *OWN* CULTURAL GATEKEEPERS (and the unquestioned assumptions which you are hiding behind them)

But WHY? So you can be a better Popist? So you can be a better Cultural Studies student?

If this is part of a pragmatics of intensification, fine; if it is all abt getting your representation of the Other right, I think we're deep in the waters of simpering slave morality Cultural Studies guilt mongering. This the worst, most paralysing form of guilt.

Which is why I find this fulmination a little depressing:
viz the endless rubbish he used to talk abt eg soul or rap back in the day, where both were wz totally being judged against in-group values of a small bunch of white brit writers and NO AWARENESS WAS EVER HINTED AT that actually the matertial and sociological practice of the music concerned was AT BEST only dimly aware of the existence of this small coterie, let alone operating in any kind of world where the coterie's perspective were of consequence

What do you suggest? Putting a disclaimer in every paragraph saying 'obv the ppl making this music think what I'm saying is irrelevant'? To me what wd be incomparably worse would be Cultural Studiesying abt and fussing on endlessly about 'representing the other' . It's a bizarre feature of this kind of critique that it attributes a claim for universality to discourse which any charitable reader would immediately recognize is self-evidently partial. Simon's articles have always been situated very clearly in terms of his background; I don't see any pretence to be a prole or whatever. Why worry about what ppl who are never going to read it might think about it? Simon's pieces were/ are intensifiers, kits a certain group of readers can use to plug into culture to increase their enjoyment of it. They are not accurate representations of cultures (but then, what is?) Who cares about representation any way?

btw, for me, punk is essentially a TECHNICAL thing --- much more abt photocopying than songs --- in other words, punk just is k[yber]-punk --- big post on this imminently ---

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 02:09 PM

what mark said seems right on for me too, at risk of him being cultural gatekeeper for me to hide behind (obv).
I think the Catholic/Protestant meme for punk prolly relates to olden prog long guitar soloes and mansions vs short-snappy-three-chordness and tight jeans opposition being mapped on to Luther going to Rome and hating all the opulent shit he'd been paying for.
As regards the actual theology, Tim OTM inasmuch as the 'direct relationship' thing was always a bit of a red herring.

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 23, 2004 02:15 PM

As a sort-of-aside I find protestantism without the Bible quite easy to imagine. If as you say Protestantism is a back-to-basics movement then surely P-w/o-B is just rewinding back beyond the Council Of Whatever that established Biblical Canon in the first place. It would be a Christianity that prioritised individual revelation (or even better the social communication of revelation - apostles-as-a-massive!) which then might be backed up by a selection of competing texts. Such a Christianity would be next to impossible to constitute as an organised Church, of course (and good for it).

Posted by: Tom at July 23, 2004 02:22 PM

It would reduce the Bible to a blogosphere - wow!

Posted by: Tom at July 23, 2004 02:23 PM

Getting rid of the organized church was exactly what they wanted -- and achieved, eg selling the monasteries to -- the new mercantile middle-classes! Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 23, 2004 02:26 PM

(Tom yes that's more or less what I meant but I was thinking about it having been set up as oppositional (or at least contrary) at root. PWOB might reduce / increase the bible to a chart.)

Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 02:42 PM

Pop without The Bible would be improved too come to think of it.

Posted by: Tom at July 23, 2004 02:43 PM

Yeh guys, I see yr point now! Nice post, Tom!

Henry, we have to distinguish Henry VIII's cynical, Monarchist exploitation of Protestantism (to arrogate more wealth/ power to himself) from what was happening in Switzerland and Germany (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli etc), and in Britain actually (the aforementioned Lollards, Wycliff, the English Bible etc)

Posted by: at July 23, 2004 02:47 PM

Mark (k-punk) am I misreading or do you think you(or yr mode of criticism I suppose) are changing the world? More than the popists you identify are?

Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 02:48 PM

No, I don't think I'm changing the world --- but I think music is better when it does change the world.

Popists, as far as I can tell, are indifferent to whether they are changing the world, since if it's a good tune, who cares?

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 02:52 PM

You mean like David Sylvian changes the world?

Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 02:54 PM

In the way that I mean, yes.

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 03:00 PM

Mystery Tudor -- yeh, fair point. Such are the dialectics of protestantism/punk I guess.

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 23, 2004 03:00 PM

i'm not going to wait for mark to reply here - that's the one thing i've always felt poptimism will *never* do. it will never change the world (will any kind of crit really do this?) in as much as it's not interrogative enough. i guess the major difference between my approach and tom's is that old context chestnut that we've batted about plenty enough already. i'm all for jumping onto something simply for the sheer visceral, in-the-moment thrill of it, but once i've done that and felt how great letting yr guard down and surrendering yrself to it is for those three minutes, i want to know *why* i like it and waht it's really saying and especially in the case of huge swathes of music i like (a lot of it in spite of itself in many instances), where it comes from and why it's happened. i guess that's an vaguely anthropological approach in certain senses. poptimism seems to miss this and thus while, on the face of it, a nice enough way to approach culture, it's not quite enough for me and doesn't fully do justice to plenty of stuff i like. it's after a bit of interrogation that i generally decided that something is really great as opposed to pleasant, glossy diversion (which i can enjoy just fine - see i'm halfway with you guys). i'm halfway with you, this is probably getting way off the point but it's the first chance i've ever had to say this.

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 03:02 PM

btw - this is turning into a belter of a comments box

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 03:04 PM

See Mark that's the thing: I've kept half an eye on what D. Sylvian's been doing for more than 20 years now and he's never, never been an intensifier of anything as far as I could see.

"If it's a good tune, who cares" is an absurd reduction of Paul Morley's approach and for that matter of Tom Ewing's.

Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 03:11 PM

His beard has intensified a fair bit. Ditto his waistline. Or maybe I was looking at Holger Czukay.

Posted by: B. Brush at July 23, 2004 03:13 PM

If you keep half an eye on things, Tim, you can't expect to see much intensification, really...

"If it's a good tune, who cares" is an absurd reduction of Paul Morley's approach and for that matter of Tom Ewing's.

Really? I thought it was a detailed critique (in seven words).

Joking aside though, in its essence, I think it's accurate. Perhaps you could say how their approach differs from this? Or perhaps Tom himself could say if he disagrees with the characterization.

Posted by: at July 23, 2004 03:25 PM

Oh honestly the reason I've only kept half an eye on DS is because the things I have listened to properly have been dreadful old rubbish. Though I do like Japan's version of "All Tomorrow's Parties" more than The Velvet Underground's.

Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 03:30 PM

I guess I'd ask what positive things I'm meant to be ignoring in bad tunes and what negative ones I'm meant to be overlooking in good ones.

Posted by: Tom at July 23, 2004 03:34 PM

Oh honestly the reason I've only kept half an eye on DS is because the things I have listened to properly have been dreadful old rubbish

thought this was more fighting talk, tim! ;)

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 03:36 PM


Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 03:38 PM

I guess I'd ask what positive things I'm meant to be ignoring in bad tunes and what negative ones I'm meant to be overlooking in good ones.

Yes, but the issue is whether a good tune is sufficient, isn't it...

Tim, btw, I wdn't make any great claims for any of Sylvian's solo work prior to Blemish (and have indeed attacked it).

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 03:46 PM

Sufficient for what?

Posted by: Tom at July 23, 2004 03:47 PM


Posted by: at July 23, 2004 03:48 PM

Sufficient to assess whether it's a positive cultural moment or not....

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 03:53 PM

Does 'positive' = 'intensifier' here?

Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 03:54 PM

The formulation "If it's a good tune, that's enough" [to like something, to mention something, to advocate something, with a sliding scale of 'good' depending on mood] is pretty close to how I think. In fact on the front page of FT we put it as "anything with a hook is fair game".

But that's not the same as "If it's a good tune, who cares?" - I don't think, anyway.

As I said to Dave up above, I'm basically reactive when it comes to ideas of 'popism' and 'poptimism', they're things other people come up with, they're not a pre-meditated 'approach to pop' I have!

Posted by: Tom at July 23, 2004 03:54 PM

not to split hairs, but positive is a weird word to use - i'd rather go with significant.

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 03:55 PM


I fucked it up before. It's not much of a contribution to the grand debate unfolding here by the second!

Posted by: at July 23, 2004 03:57 PM

btw Tim, so you think that your view of David Sylvian's records is more important than that of those who bought and enjoyed them? I don't have a problem with this, but I would have thought that you would have.

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 03:57 PM

This may be a stupid question, but mark seems to be asking for critique, ie. precisely the sort of thing I thought Deleuze and Foucault were supposed to be leaving behind. Although obviously Michel, bless him, never quite as philosophical as Gilles, can never quite get his head round what this might mean (which is what GD seems to be saying in the piece mark linked to, about taking a step beyond the Archaeology of Knowledge's 'duality' of discursive and non-discursive formations). It seems to me that what is being labelled 'poptimism' is actually more of a phenomenology of affective states, social rituals, processes of distribution, consumption etc. in connection with pop music. As such it can take any music/person interaction as its object, whether it's popular or not, fashionable or not, good or not, (although all those kinds of considerations may come into play, since listening never happens in a vacuum excused from value-judgements). And in accepting that *all* music provokes affective reactions (surely the fundamental idea of aesthetics, certainly if we take it back to Hutcheson for example) those writers who take pop seriously acknowledge that everyone feels (ie *thinks* if we're not going to think dualistically about feeling vs thought), rather than try to sift for the relevant / critical / historically-socially connected texts

Posted by: alext at July 23, 2004 03:57 PM

I'm opposed to the idea that the only cultural moments worthy of approval are 'significant' ones, so maybe that's a tenet of poptimism.

Posted by: Tom at July 23, 2004 03:59 PM

i dunno, not disrespect to you tom, but sometimes the broad sweep of popism doesn't appear to be as reactive and pragmatic, but more a set of proscriptions the same as any other. in your case, i honestly don't think this holds true with you because reading your stuff, i actually *believe* it.

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 04:02 PM

Mark no I don't think my view's more important, that (I hope) is clear from what I've said over these boards. I do think it's perfectly reasonable, however, for me to say "it's dreadful old rubbish", if I think that's the case. the fact it's my opinion is implicit in the sentence, especially in context where we all already know someone thinks it's good!

What I'm not doing is speculating about either your motives for liking whatever part of his (miserable!) oeuvre you like, or indeed how Sylvian fans enjoy Sylvian. That would be irksome.

Posted by: Tim at July 23, 2004 04:04 PM

ha ha NYLPM vs K-punk FITE!!!

Posted by: alext at July 23, 2004 04:04 PM

Alex t: obv there's nothing less Deleuzian than phenomenology....

I'm not talking abt critique at all: it's more along the lines of 'How do You Make Yourself a Body without Organs?' --- intensive pragmatics, Spinozist ethics ---

obv I have a weakness for a good tune too, but I think that music can do MORE than that and at its best, always does...

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 04:06 PM

I didn't want to imply that a good tune (or a good hook) is anything more than a minimum criteria. We're back to what I was saying waaaaay up in my first post, that you're taking the contented mmm-this-is-nice response as the only one a 'Poptimist' is capable of, which just isn't the case.

Posted by: at July 23, 2004 04:11 PM

mark kp: but WHY? so you can be a better blah blah
mark s: bcz i like finding out stuff i didn't already know (as i'm a writer the real finding out usually happens during the writing)

it's interesting that the k-punk alternatives are EITHER master-slave OR slave-master and nothing else

(haha in ur-gatekeeper terms this is bad nietzsche AND bad hegel!!)

i think argument and discovery is abt believing you are EQUAL (and so is everyone else obv) to
a. the challenge of learning something new from someone else, and
b. teaching someone else something new

Posted by: mark s at July 23, 2004 04:13 PM

Mark: ah, Foucault my ass. His histories are interesting but the moral judgments people ascribe to them are very much a tabula rasa kind of thing, I've always felt. And politically, yikes, the poor guy just gets abused. Very useful for history and literature (to a certain extent) and maybe philosophy, less so for a lot of other things. I get veeeeeeery suspicious when you start to bring Foucault into the real world. ("Yes, but what is the 'real world'?" Argh.) The best thing he's said, politically, were I think a) a discourse becoming a separate, independent thing (very useful in terms of policy) and b) an insistent view of power dynamics working both ways, not just as oppression v. submission. I'm not saying Foucault would agree with me on internalized discipline being better than the alternative (although see what Stelfox says about Cathlocism), I'm saying I'm right, and I could rattle off a few political philosophers who would agree. But eh.

Henry: the overuse of the French theoryheads around these parts is annoying because it seems largely a substitute for EXPLAINING WHAT THE FUCK YOU'RE SAYING. I know my shit, but also as I've just said there are a lot of different ways to take these folks' work. Say it, don't refer it.

Also: Weber, w00t!

Tim: good point about punk as one-true-church.

Dave S.: Re "it will never change the world"--blech! Should this really be our qualification for what friggin' musical value system we ascribe to? I'm pretty suspicious of the idea that one form of art has more capacity to "change the world" than any other, or that art itself is somehow so crucial that you have to fight over it the way you'd fight over civil rights or something. It's not, thankfully, because let's be honest, most art is pretty stupid.

That said, I'm not sure why you think popism and musical analysis are incompatible--could you explain more?

Posted by: Eppy at July 23, 2004 04:18 PM

Hmmm, I don't think all popists are poptimists; the terms aren't interchangeable. It's possible to be a popist and pessimistic abt the current state or future prospects of pop.

Look, I'm much more of a Popist than a rockist (my tastes significantly overlap with those of 'Popists' this year I think, for instance)... and the 'mmm-this-is-nice' thing is obv crude for what can and often be wonderful writing abt pop. I love Morley's writing and Tom's obv, that's a given.

But I think, to use a formulation mark s employed on a previous thread, rockism IS popism, or at least, both are essentially aestheticist.

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 04:19 PM

one of the things the pinefox and i both attempted to start at ilm (and basically got nowhere) is an offshoot of the BEYOND GOOD TUNE meme: a challenge for ppl protune and antitune to SAY how quality in melody operated - what their difference between good and bad in melody was (ppl came up with examples but NO ONE - not even geir hongro! - got anywhere near the heart of how/why they were making these distinctions)

[that uberlame END OF THE SONG thing in Wire was way off base on this territory also: very full of itself as rulebreaking w/o the slightest sense that it grasped how to NOT break the rules]

in fact in all my years reading abt music i've NEVER seen this topic well addressed, by anyone, academic, working musician, Tim Rice, whoever: the fact that bohemians ALWAY shuffle it away into "naff cultural address (epitome of)" is i think actually very telling ---> whatever "good tune" is abt it is NOT something we are all dully au fait with

Posted by: mark s at July 23, 2004 04:22 PM

it's interesting that the k-punk alternatives are EITHER master-slave OR slave-master and nothing else

you'd have to explain that one, Mark

Henry: the overuse of the French theoryheads around these parts is annoying because it seems largely a substitute for EXPLAINING WHAT THE FUCK YOU'RE SAYING.
be specific. Give an example of something which isn't explained. I'll try and explain it in other terms.

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 04:24 PM

obv I'm glad to be a bad Hegelian.

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 04:26 PM

bad hegelian = "alternatives are EITHER master-slave OR slave-master and nothing else"!!

i just mean interpreting curiosity abt others in the world as a total (cultural-guilt-led) abnegation of self: i don't have a problem w.the INTERRACTION of reynolds-world and curtis mayfield - preferably at the level of crackling conflict: curiosity may best be satisified by collision-of-worlds... (= hegel) (and nietzsche!!) (AND PUNK!!!)

i am very PRO kodwo eshun's approach eg

Posted by: mark s at July 23, 2004 04:36 PM

Dave S.: Re "it will never change the world"--blech!

eppy, that's kinda why i said "(can any kind of crit?)". i don't like the idea that criticism necessarily *should* but if it can "poptimism" (a word i'm getting to dislike more the more i type it) certainly won't! on the other hand, music definitely can effect change in any number of ways, but poptim..aaaarrrrgh! doesn't seem to carte too much about this (not applying this to any on specific person's appoach, either). my big thing is that i like people to dig around in music, really know about it and tell me stuff i don't know about it or for me to do the same when i write. i think that needs a certain knowledge and thought about the wider powers of affect music has, its history and all kinds of stuff - i know tom disagrees woith the primace i lay on this and i think that's where our approaches diverge a lot.

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 04:38 PM

Mark S: whoa, not to toot my own horn or anything, but I think I do this on my blog on a semi-regular basis. If people on ILM can't do it, that's because they're morons. Music theory makes it easy.

Mark the other one: I honestly do mean that in the broadest possible sense. You're better about it than a lot of blogs (i.e. I actually read you, whereas the others make me want to throw things at the screen), but I do think it's much better to say "[idea idea idea]...I'm sort of stealing this from [theorist]" than "this has a lot of relations to [theorist's] theory of [whatever]" and leave it at that. One of the nice things about blogs is that we're not academics, so we don't need to cite things. I'm all for stealing people's ideas, because then you have to put everything out there and couldn't necessarily assume a knowledge of the background. But.

Posted by: Eppy at July 23, 2004 04:38 PM

Who's 'Garth' in Reynolds' World?

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 23, 2004 04:40 PM

eppy what is yr blog!!!? (*embarrassed*)

yes music theory does sortakinda make it easier (thoug there are problems) (haha or "can we outline the problematic this leaves us with?" => another PF/Sinkah production!! what does "problematic" mean when it's a noun!) )

Posted by: mark s at July 23, 2004 04:42 PM

Dave - I am really interested in music history but weirdly I never find that has too much impact on what I feel when I'm listening to it. I'm interested in music history more as a historian, not as a music fan - if that makes sense. I love reading all the well-researched stuff, I just know I couldn't do it, it would feel too much like 'work'.

(Also the history I'm most interested in, cf. Popular, is the history of patterns of mass consumption of music and how that music was received and used.)

Posted by: Tom at July 23, 2004 04:45 PM

garth = jess harvell!!

(that's a joke jess!!!!1 ow! ow!)

Posted by: mark s at July 23, 2004 04:46 PM

Just clicky the name. I can point you to some particular posts if you'd like.

Posted by: Eppy at July 23, 2004 04:49 PM

yeah, i know that tom, it's easy to tell. and i guess that's the difference between us (also for me, it frequently is work, which helps me not get too pissed off when it feels like it!) and i honestly don't think our approaches are in any way mutually exclusive - in fact i think they rather complement each other. it's not an oppositional thing for me even though i can make it sound as though it is at times, it's just difference, that's all. variety: spice of life, innit?!

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 04:51 PM

mark s

I just mean interpreting curiosity abt others in the world as a total (cultural-guilt-led) abnegation of self

fair play, but I'm not curious about others to the detriment of pursuing my own line...

obv the only thing worse than Hegel is Hegelian critiques of Hegel

you'd have to explain why you prefer Simon's position (much more focused on audience, socio-cultural context etc) to Kodwo's auteurist one (no less prone to scathing critiques of soul boys etc).

It's the bad Nietzscheanism I'm worried about any way... Seems to me my position IS Nietzschean, i.e. it's not about subjects etc it's about force and intensities, they are the ultimate criteria, not the 'work' (the tune) itself.

Eppy, yes, I like blogs becoz they're not academic, but I've always enjoyed criticism that references theory. In fact, the only reason I like theory is coz I used to read about it in Penman, Morley, Reynolds etc in NME and MM: those were the days...

I think the problem is when ppl use theory as a substitute for thinking, or when they COULDN"T explain it if asked. I'm happy to explain any of my theoretical refs. I'm enthusiastic about theory, not deferential to it. (Or not always, any way :-)

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 04:53 PM

Oh yes, and I was being a little too reductive by citing music theory--you also need a working knowledge of musical technology and/or the workings of the market to explain it fully. But I think a lot of music-crit folks have these things, they just need the theory to be able to recognize certain basic progressions and the like--it doesn't take much for pop/rock!

Posted by: Eppy at July 23, 2004 04:56 PM

Don't know about you lot, but I'm EXHAUSTED... what with this and the debate raging on the hypersition site, blogging is now officially a full-time job...

Thanks everyone for participating btw.

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 04:57 PM

kodwo: "soulboy discourse OCCLUDES the object of enquiry"
simonR (mid-80s version): " soulboy discourse demonstrates the WORTHLESSNESS of the object of enquiry"

this is a huge generalisation of course, as i am very pro simon
in many other regards: one of the grebt things abt blissed out wz how it RESCUED a whole bunch of disregarded music (but not rap) from the occlusion that the punk afterglow [actually what's the antithesis of glow?: cz that's the word i need] consigned it to

Posted by: mark s at July 23, 2004 05:02 PM

That last comment was supposed to end the debate btw!

Not that I could even if I wanted to. :-)

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 05:03 PM

s'ok i have to leave "work" now

Posted by: mark s at July 23, 2004 05:04 PM

Obv hating soulboys is a prerequisite of joining any club I'm a member of :-)

But surely the whole of More Brilliant than the Sun is an exocet that takes out soulboyism (on the way to doing other much more interesting things obv)

But I thought Simon is a great champion of rap? Or am I missing something?

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 05:11 PM

Obv hating soulboys is a prerequisite of joining any club I'm a member of :-)

guess that's me been shown my cards, then. unless we're talking soulboy as aesthetic rather than someone who happens to like soul pretty much above and beyond anything else.

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 05:16 PM

He defo likes it but (actually I hardly know any of his 80s stuff EXCEPT in this eg) for example in an interview he did w/ PE in 1987 his thing was -- I can't really get to the nub of it -- but really not letting PE and Long Island speak and instead slotting them into his own arguments with City Limits magazine [and comparing the S1Ws with the Freikorps...]. That sounds as if I don't like it; in fact that article (repr. 1996) changed my whole perspective on shit (read aged 15). Just trying/failing to illustrate mark s' point.

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 23, 2004 05:22 PM

nah, Dave, I'd never show you your cards...

It's not about liking soul; in fact one of the reasons I loathe the whole soulboy discourse is that it made soul well-nigh unlistenable for me for yrs..

You're not a soulboy anyway, christ can you remember Paolo Hewitt and Stuart Cosgrove? (Hewitt's sleeve notes for the Jam and Style Council subjected to hilarious ridicule on Danny Baker this morning).

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 05:25 PM

nah, know what you mean totally. drove me bonkers... did you know his real name is paul o'hewitt?

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 05:31 PM

comparing the S1Ws with the Freikorps... is not THAT controversial is it?

besides, Simon's championed loads of rap... major cheerleader for Timbaland back in 97 for instance... I don't see any aversion to rap in Simon's writing and even when he's ambivalent abt it he makes it sound interesting (viz his recent discussions of carnivorous crunk)

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 05:32 PM

(disclaimer: i have no idea whether that last factoid is, in fact, true, but i like to think it is)

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 05:32 PM

Yeah, no-one's saying SR doesn't like rap, more that he's sometimes prone to making his own theoretical tradition hegemonic when talking about it, so really the Freikorps comparison *is* a bit much -- or, more recently, he's keen to slot crunk into the 'nuum', and sez it's jungle, not dancehall (as claimed by practitioners), that's driven a lot of recent rnb. Whether he's right or not is irrelevant to the basic point about his discourse in this aspect overwhelming its subject.

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 23, 2004 05:40 PM

i think the relationship between crunk/r&b and dancehall is far more complex than stateside music being influenced by jamaica. you only need to look at the massive blast of bhangra-influenced rhythms in JA post-Get UR Freak On (eventually leading to diwali) to show that it's not one-way traffic and actually very symbiotic (see also the bollywood rhythm taken from truth hurts, the snake rhythm ripped from r kelly) then then the selling-back process of us artists like lumidee and nina sky then voicing the diwali and coolie dance. also i wasn't aware simon said (haha!) that crunk has had much tangible influence from jungle, thought he quoted commercial euro house, as did lil jon himself, as it happens

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 05:53 PM

he's sometimes prone to making his own theoretical tradition hegemonic when talking about it

but isn't that just about having a vision i.e. being a writer rather than a hack? the alternative wd be to present what he's doing as some unmediated window onto his objects of discussion. There are no such windows! Simon's Operating System is always heavily flagged whenever you read a piece by him...

all that said, the Freikorps/S1W thing is not only a comparison Simon wd make surely...

Is placing crunk into the 'nuum the same as saying it's jungle? I thought jungle was part of the 'nuum not its ur-source. Surely this is no misleading than the practicioners own self-representations, since it's clear that grime is no more dancehall than it is rap (even if it comes from both of them).

That's the 100 up!

btw Henry are you US or UK based?

Posted by: mark at July 23, 2004 05:54 PM

pushing it over 100?

>comparing the S1Ws with the Freikorps... is not >THAT controversial is it?

fucking prescient's more like it -- within a year Professor Griff was making his infamous comments about the slave trade being run by Jews, and asking interviewers questions "why do they call it jewelry then"; chuck d, the "sensible" one was advancing theories about white folk liking acid rock cos of the echoes in the caves of the Caucusus. Dodgy pseudo-scientific racial theories were flying out of PE's collective gob. So hat's off to moi for spotting the (fairly obvious i'd have thought) protofascist aspects of wearing uniforms, doing drill onstage, talking about homosexuality as unnatural, women's role as childbreeding warriors for the struggle, admiring Khadaffi/Farrakhan, calling for strong leadership, hating house music as gay and decadent etc

re. soul -- MS has misunderstood or misremembered the soul piece -- the point wasn't that soul was worthless but that it had become a pernicious influence and hegemonic force in the late Eighties -- w/ groups like the Christians, Wet Wet Wet, Terence Trent D'arby etc, a phenom that owed more than a little to the soulboy discourse

(and of course i love lots of 60s and 70s soul--and some 80s stuff, actually -- modern soul though -- eg. S0S bAND who were nothing if not a soul band but they weren't tyring to hark back like Wet Wet Wet going off to record with Al Green's producer)

why the hell not spar with City Limits writers or coteries at NME? Discourse is a battle zone. Anybody (but especially MS) in this bloggworld pointing a finger at me for being reactive or engaging with bodies of critical thought as much as with the musical objects themselves is verily a kettle calling the pot black.

onward to 200!

Posted by: simon r at July 23, 2004 06:05 PM

i was just being contrary (there's a turn-up, eh?) with the soulboy thing as i know exactly what mark and simon are talking about. i guess it touches a slight nerve, though, loving a lot of the same things that the likes of kirk degiorgio, peterson, ross allen and all that, plus having even been involved in a big way with a mag that was very much rooted in this stuff but knowing that there's a world of equally good and very often more exciting music outside it.
(damn you should have heard the arguments we had abt 2step garage at the time. they were wrong, i was right, obviously, and i finally turned them with groove chronicles, which is a bit of a shame as i'd rather them have suddenly had a road to damascus moment with oxide & neutrino, but hey...)
soulboyism-as-pernicious-force so definitely exists and is not only applicable to soul and jazz (and i am about to get so fucking way off-topic that it hurts, but may be interesting), it's pervasive , running right the way thru brewster/broughton’s (nice fellas the pair of them, btw) discourse in last night a dj and so much other house (in its nu-leavisite, paradise garage-fixated sense) and techno (in its purist white-boy detroit obssessive sense)-based ideas of what dance-music should be.
come to that, it's right at the heart of *any* kind of curatorial interest in music (and "curatorial" is the key word here, with all its inherent connotations of taste and overarching knowledge of what's right that should be attacked at every opportunity coz they’re regressive and stifling, not to mention elitist and snide in their worst excesses.... yes i know i'm on the verge of totally contradicting myself here re poptimism, but wait for it) .
that's why i have a few problems with writing so much about dancehall over the past couple of years; although i'd kill for the record collections of steve barrow, david katz or even kirk dg, i don't want to be like them. i want to enjoy music as a living, breathing part of my life, rather than as artifact or lifestyle choice.
this is where i can sympathise, to a certain degree with poptimism, as enjoying music for what it is, but there's always the point where you find something that *really* touches or fascinates you to the degree that you could become like one of those guys very easily and it's a divide i'm continually trying to straddle and get right (also the fact that all these “curators are white guys w/ black music is an interesting point and one very much not lost on me).
anyway, on to us writers/critics accusing other writers/critics of trying to shoehorn things into their own particular aesthetics/filter everything through a lens of their own making and occasionally taking a combative approach to stuff like it’s a bad thing… well, good god, if we don't all want to do this all the time, then what's the point in us writing in the 1st place! it's the whole damned point of writing, who cares a fig if everything fits or if we end up looking like absolute crackpots every now and again, or upset the odd blogger/fragile egoed artist/whoever; it’s what we’re supposed to do...
anyway, as this whole thing has stopped me doing any constructive work all day and it’s a beautiful evening, i'm off out to engage with the real world and drink in the sun with people who aren't internet music loonies! (actually two of them are, but let me kid myself a while, eh?) happy weekends, all.

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 08:18 PM

something to mull over - how does soulboyism differ from rockism? it definitely does but i'm really not quite sure how...

Posted by: stelfox at July 23, 2004 08:19 PM

Shit... why is it that every band that gets slagged off in K-Punk's comments boxes (I called his pre-eminence first!) are ones that I like?

I've always had a bit of a "comfy cardigan" liking for the Wets. PE are still a fave band .

As for the Chillis... still one of the best bands I've ever seen...

What about Living in a Box? Chooon! Are they far enough out of the canon to draw ire?

Actually, it seems to me there's just another canon being drawn up here -- one that includes previously untouchable naff stuff (Girls Aloud, say), but ejects stuff that /looks/ cool but is actually touched just a bit too intensely with retrospective populism (the Chilis). Leaving U2 in the middle, hated by everyone.

I can't make up my mind whether my favourite U2 album is Achtung Baby or Rattle and Hum...

Posted by: paul "Relentlessly Middlebrow" meme at July 23, 2004 09:50 PM

Mark -- provincial UK.
I don't think anyone's advocating hackery, or simply that writers provide a window on to what they're covering! And I was far from attacking SR's thing on PE, that piece had as big an effect on me as it did on Carmody and Southall (ILX passim) -- read nine years on (so we didn't get the City Limits refs I guess). Anyway I wasn't pointing the finger, shd probably have looked outside blogosphere for example of discourse colonizing its subject.

Posted by: Henry Miller at July 23, 2004 10:01 PM

I like mid-period RHCP, but it did correspond pretty closely with my adolescence, so it's hard to tell if that's genuine. Their Stevie rupoffs are annoying, as is "Rollercoaster," but "Aeroplane" still sort of stands up. Still love "Soul to Squeeze," "Under the Bridge," etc., whatever that other single was from BloodSugarSexMajick.

Posted by: Eppy at July 23, 2004 11:35 PM

ok i slept and dreamt i wz watching stuart cosgrove give a radio broadcast on how tom waits is a bad thing - not very convincing, he dealt with hegemony as a moralistic problem rather than analysing its materialist workings - after which there wz a TV news report on how the bush campaign are all listening to the polyphonic spree!!!

perhaps i shd cut out eating cheese while reading blogs last thing at night

Posted by: mark s at July 24, 2004 10:29 AM

eppy, adolescence is good, don't distrust it! if anything's an 'intensifier' it's adolescence.

Posted by: luke.. at July 24, 2004 11:45 AM

Living in a Box - sheeessh!

I wd put them in top four worst bands ever with Wets, Chili Peppers (almost enough to make you hate funk forever), and Go West (tho last time I cited them as self-evidently the very definition of shite I was upbraided by Nick Gutterbreakz). That mid/late 80s white 'soul' sound is the lowest circle of hell as far as I'm concerned.


Simon likes U2, btw.

And his piece wasn't anti-PE; it was more, as I remember it, about the contradictions involved in admiring them.


The soulboy/ popist dichotomy is a bit of a red herring in my view. Both are aestheticist and consumerist, the differences are that soulboys, like rockists, fetishise particular signifiers (whether these be clothes, instruments, whatever), whereas popists decry fetishism in the name of pleasure. Beyond both of them is a position that sees music in something other than musical terms, in terms of forces and desires....

Posted by: mark at July 24, 2004 08:32 PM

Speaking of 80s white soul... one of my favourite memories of the period is Tina Turner, would you believe, on IIRC the Tube doing a version of Lets Stay Together -- with Heaven 17 doing backing vocals. And looking like they'd died and gone to soul heaven.


Yours in the Farah mid-grey trousers and pink Lacoste T-shirt...

Posted by: paul "Relentlessly Middlebrow" meme at July 24, 2004 10:15 PM

Paul: you're bringing back all my WORST memories. Stop it! :-)

Posted by: mark at July 24, 2004 11:51 PM


just the mention of them is enough to make me simultaneously cringe/crack up laughing. have a tremendously funny story about them, which i may share in person one day - whether or not it's true i don't know so i'm not typing it for fear of an immense libel suit.
obviously, bands like the wets represent the absolute nadir of that vile 80s soulboy aesthetic and are as such utterly devoid of merit. (despite being responsible for propagating one of the worst periods in music/popular culture, ever, i do find it odd quite how much i like robert elms in his radio incarnation nowadays - who was writing about this a couple of weeks ago? marcello?).
but the thing i find really tricky is just how close pop-period scritti (who i love beyond bounds - *especially* at this point in gartside's career) crosses over here. also, you have to consider people like norman jay, one of the biggest soulboys around, and an absolute hero.
i find it quite easy to be objective about soulboyism, in as much as the music involved is either good (scritti) or utter irredeemable bollocks (the wets) and you can like the good stuff and laugh at the bad, plus it's a lot to do with the proscriptive nature of the way music is viewed - people like robert elms, paolo hewitt etc seemed to set themselves up as the vanguard of "cool", taste and whether or not you were "in" being an incredibly important part of the equation, whereas the likes of norman jay just got on with it, moved with the times and had a lot of fun with it - just look a his good times slots at carnival, it's inclusive and there for everyone.

Posted by: stelfox at July 25, 2004 11:21 AM

ps mark, you really should set up a forum on this site - it would be great.

Posted by: stelfox at July 25, 2004 11:24 AM

small slight guilty defence of paolo h here:
i. during the worst of the factionalism at nme he wz always utterly friendly civil and charming even unto his most shouty foes (not that i wz ever shouty to anyone then) plus also every time i have run into him since i left (1988) he has been delightful to chat to and catch up with - he is a nice man and i have fond memories of him
ii. yes his tastes and his crusades have generally possibly been lamentable, but he never seemed to mind when ppl said so even in the most aggressive terms (i dispute SR's hegemony position also: these characters all VANISHED with incredible speed, fell right off the map of acceptable taste within months not years really - and i think eg the pinefox's lone campaign to rehabilitate lloyd cole and go west has been intriguing and suggestive, to say the least
iii. PH really really really WAS/IS one of the few male ungay rockwriters i've ever met who had a non-intimidated clue how to wear clothes and what to wear (possibly relevant disclaimer: liz naylor once summarised my "look" at this date as haha "beatnik security guard")
iv. but no, PH's visual-sartorial sense of style did not spill over AT ALL into his writerly sense of style (tho this had become a serious problem for the entire paper at this date i think, all factions ie - style had become associated with obscurantism, not entirely unjustly) (i mean, i heart heart heart heart heart ipenman forever&ever&ever and it took me YEARS to kick the habit of writing a la, but he is as harsh as anyone on some of the stuff he wz allowed to get away with in the late 70s esp., claritywise)

the nme soulcalist faction were poor writers and thinkers and - actually - tacticians (their approach did not win the nme readers and ipc management cracked down on em in 88, via a classic censorship pretext), but one of their basic beliefs, that the point wz not simply to "rescue" soul or rap for rockfans, wz i think something that, once lost&crushed, continued the rockpress drive to mid-90s britrock extreme narrowness (yes yes i know PH is/was a flak for oasis once he wz no longer allowed to write abt eg roachford)

Posted by: mark s at July 25, 2004 01:12 PM

some of my best friends are oasis fans!

Posted by: stelfox at July 25, 2004 02:20 PM

Rehabilitating Lloyd Cole and Go West --- wouldn't that imply they were habilitated in the first place?!? Mind you, LC featured in the Observer 100 didn't he?

Beatnik security guard .... I'm having trouble picturing that....

Posted by: mark at July 25, 2004 04:21 PM

Going back to guilt vs. shame cultures in pop music.
A guilty pleasure is different to a shameful one.

A shameful pleasure causes you no grief unless others in your social group find out about it. "Yuk! How could you like xxx?" You have commited an action deemed taboo. And therefore raised doubts about your rights to inclusion. Of course, the adrenalised fear of discovery can give rise to both worry and excitement.

So far, so tedious.

A guilty pleasure, howver, causes you grief whether anyone else knows about it or not. It breaks the rules you set for yourself. More specficially, it undermines the image you have of yourself. Guilt about liking a certain song or artist or whatever suggests that by liking them you admit to yourself that you are not as you wish to be:
"I am a sensitive, caring new man - but I like brutally misogynistic rap/rock/skiffle. Ooooh, the guilt."
"I am sophisticated and cosmopolitan - yet I find myself wowwed by mass-produced pop crap. Oooooh, the guilt."

In short, why does "bad" music happen to (or is liked by) "good" people?

A guilty pleasure is a necessary thing:
1. Coz we cannot not have boundaries that define our identities. And.
2. These boundaries should not static or absolute.

It is instructive to see what songs trigger a "guilty pleasure" reflex in others - coz it tells you so much about them - i.e. what they think they are and what they would like to be.

Whether it tells you anything about the music is a different story.

Posted by: Daniel Byron at July 26, 2004 09:02 AM

Luke--oh yeah, I'm with you, and I think adolescence or adolescent enthusiasm can be a great gateway into things you might not otherwise accept (a pathway around the guilt, kind of, adolescence having a whole different set of guilt-triggers than adulthood). But I'm not entirely willing to make the "I like it = it's good" argument yet. I'm just saying I like those songs. I'm not sure if anyone else should try and build on them, which is what I mean, I think, when I say something is good.

I do get happy whenever "Soul to Squeeze" comes on the radio.

Posted by: Eppy at July 26, 2004 03:50 PM

Holy cow.

It's just POP MUSIC, people.

Posted by: at August 13, 2004 07:00 PM