As if The Internet was some sprawling Sunday spilling supplements over the bed, then depending on what sections you normally read you may have been aware that writer and pop culture critic Chuck “Have I Told You How Much I Love Chuck” Klosterman did something which, well, in the opinion of at least one blogger was “kinda gross”. Bemused by beatsmistress tUnE-yArDs’ victory in the Village Voice’s annual Pazz & Jop critics’ poll-of-the-polls he took to the web – in this case, his regular column with the predominantly sports-filled Grantland – to express said bemusement.
Full disclosure #1: if you have read this blog for more than like six months you might be aware that I kinda love Chuck “Have I Told You How Much I Love Chuck” Klosterman;
Full disclosure #2: if you have read this blog for more than like six days you might also be aware that I kinda love tUnE-yArDs, and specifically her Pazz & Jop-topping album w h o k i l l.
Now, although there are certainly parts of Klosterman’s column that made me feel pretty icky, I think I understand very generally what he was trying to do here. Who among us doesn’t weigh up our favourites alongside others come the end of the year and come across at least one common thread that’s either passed us by completely or that we just. don’t. get? Honestly I could see myself writing a similar piece about Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes, whose records both make it into that list’s top twenty; the difference being that if I wrote such a piece (and since I do not have any sort of ‘name’ to trade on) I would make sure that I:
(a) listened to the album I intended to address more than once; and
(b) refrain from confusing the word “asexual” with “androgynous” with “you know what? I just don’t fancy him at all, sorry” with reference to Robin Pecknold.
I should really stop right here and say that not listening to a piece of music you intend to critique more than once, as well as a fundamental inability to grasp the distinction between two very different means of self-identifying neither of which are what you are trying to say are both pretty huge problems to be surmounted before one can seriously call oneself a critic; but the reason the piece has pissed of a lot of people is because it is an example of something that runs far deeper – a genre of music criticism which, for want of better terminology, I have been known to refer to as bearded white dude shakes his fist at things he doesn’t quite understand.
And yeah, I know that’s totally sexist – seriously! some of my favourite music critics are bearded white dudes! – but also, in this case, a statement of fact because Klosterman is bearded, white and a dude. And also, not cool! One of the things I have always loved about Chuck “Have I Told You How Much I Love Chuck” Klosterman is that he has never proclaimed to be an arbiter of what is cool! He’s like this scrawny perma-child who’d now old enough to at least be your embarrassing uncle if not actually your dad from Farmville*, North Dakota; who by virtue of possessing many an excellent turn of phrase has stumbled into this role of cultural commentator which he ignores in order to write almost exclusively with breathless enthusiasm about 80s hair metal and one of those interchangeable American sports with “ball” in the title. Before marrying Melissa Maerz in 2009 pretty much every girl he ever loved left him for a fictional interpretation of John Cusack, and he has written something snarky about Ryan Adams in approximately 70% of the books and essay collections of his that I own which is most of them.
*Discovered this morning: the iPhone auto-corrects ‘farmville’ to ‘FarmVille’. Gross.
tUnE-yArDs: if you can’t dance to this you are probably dead. Or maybe just from North Dakota.
So do I care that Chuck “Have I Told You How Much I Love Chuck” Klosterman are once again disagreeing on something musically? No; no, I do not. What I care about is that with this piece of writing he has been pretty disrespectful about an album which is actually good, which sounds as if I might be saying the same thing but is really a tirade against the sort of lazy music hackery that seems to think that you can hold yourself out to be a music critic while at the same time completely ignoring the music to talk about the frontwoman’s hair extensions, dress sense or likelihood that she has had a nose job.
And I say “frontwoman” because when this tactic is employed the target is pretty much almost certainly going to be a woman.
Or possibly one of the Strokes.
But, you know, certainly not David Bowie who has probably put more effort into his image than just about any artist ever. Because you would not disrespect David Bowie in such a way. You just. would. not.
Now, there are a few female artists who can escape this sort of fashion parade. PJ Harvey has worked her backside off for it, so whenever she releases an album that at least tries to bury its raw sexuality in war metaphors she is looked on as an equal. Sleater-Kinney towards the end of their career I suppose, if you ignore the fact that most of those reviews of The Woods went along the lines of let’s-stop-talking-about-their-gender-now-because-this-is-a-mighty-ROCK-album! Like-Pearl-Jam! Then there are the pop queens, the Beyoncés and Rihannas, whose bruises and baby bumps will always be up for discussion no matter how right-on their lyrics are. Authenticity is, of course, the premise of a man and his acoustic guitar as if for your three minutes and forty-three it wasn’t music, by its very nature performance, but rather the window to the soul.
Listen. I write this just as guilty as you of over-identifying with other people’s lyrics, but let’s talk authenticity when the sad songs of heartbreak stop the minute the singer gets into a new relationship. You can keep your twenty quid if you don’t get to hear that one Dashboard Confessional song you identify with so.
It just seems fitting that I write this the week that Lana Del Rey’s album FINALLY, HONEST TO FUCK comes out because have you ever seen one artist so scrutinised on the basis of like those two songs everybody’s heard and one slinky dress and wooden performance on Saturday Night Live? I do not have much of an opinion on Lana Del Rey, although I admit that her photoshoot from Russia’s Interview magazine tops this post because I think it is a gorgeous piece of art as well as potentially a magnificent fuck-you to every single one of those music journalists who thought the bee-stung lips more worthy of commentary than that 1930s-style disaffected delivery she brings to a song like “Video Games”. A song which couldn’t have less to do with video games if it tried by the way, but which wedges itself in my head the minute I see the name Lana in his favourite sundress Del watching me undress Rey written down which is a sign of a mean pop hook. It’s doing it right now.
The many, many people who are paid to have opinions about Lana Del Rey this week are having a field day. Find me a review of the album that does not begin with a dissection of the hype before grudgingly admitting that, actually, the music is pretty good and I might even buy it.
Incidentally, Sasha Frere-Jones has like the last word on the issue – and all of these issues – in the latest New Yorker.
Why is pop music the only art form that still inspires such arrantly stupid discussion? The debates that surround authenticity have no relationship to popular music as it’s been practiced for more than a century. Artists write material, alone or with assistance, revise it, and then present a final work created with the help of professionals who are trained for specific and relevant production tasks. This makes popular music similar to film, television, visual art, books, dance, and related areas like food and fashion. And yet no movie review begins, “Meryl Streep, despite not being a Prime Minister, is reasonably convincing in ‘The Iron Lady.’
On a separate point I will admit that in my role as a fan of problematic things nothing in this post should in any way detract from my love for Chuck “Have I Told You How Much I Love Chuck” Klosterman, about whom I will continue to have fantasies where we drink gin together and I will tickle his beard while at the same time spouting forth on why it makes me no less relevant that I have no interest in listening to Pavement.