Thursday, November 11, 2004

Rant: Just finished Jim Miller's Flowers in the Dustbin, which claims to chronicle the "rise of Rock and Roll, 1947-1977." I think rock had risen by then, though. Miller suffers from the usual, terminal case of criticitis: Anything commercial is E-V-I-L. He even slags Springsteen (in an idiotic essay) for hyping himself, with the help of rock journalist turned manager Jon Landau. How crass, how commercial, sniffs Miller. Of course, Bruce followed up his hype with two bleedingly authentic, decidedly non-commercial albums.

Miller's other disease is baby-boomeritis, based in that generation's pathological need to claim that everything that was real or authentic or unsullied happened in their day; that, briefly, they came upon this boring world, delivering unto us Elvis, civil rights, the Beatles, and the revolutionary notion that peace is, often, better than war. (Whence the popularity of the whole Fabian/Annette Funicello/How Much Is That Doggie in the Window vibe? A mystery, apparently.) I mean, thank god they came along to take us out of the dark ages, pushing aside their racist/fascist/Amerikkka parents who probably each worked four jobs to buy their kids the navel-gazing time it requires to be this self-righteous. (Cf. a modern version at Razor's link to the "F*ck the South" guy.)

More bitches: Miller cribs a whole lot from liner notes, vainly hoping, I guess, that nobody reads them. His essay on Sun Records and Elvis borrows heavily from the liner notes to The Sun Sessions, just as his essay on Marvin Gaye's What's Going On doesn't reach too far beyond what can be gleaned from the liner of the anniversary CD issue. Meanwhile, Miller harshes the Crew Cuts for their gentle, novelty-style cover of the Chords' "Sh-Boom" seemingly for no other reason than to prove that he's down with the original (and black) artist. Says Miller, "the Crew-cuts [sic] had no sense of rhythm." That's obviously untrue, since what makes their version so white is its inflexibility with the beat, seemingly sung by a military marching band. Look, the Chords were a better, more talented group (though they weren't Jesus, okay?), but Miller is simply reaching for totems to prove his own authenticity -- something he blows completely by repeatedly referring to Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame" as "Ain't It a Shame." His observations on the Beatles and Stones are banalities, squared: "[John] Lennon . . . was deeply ambivalent about fame." Did he get that from reading Lennon's lyrics to Bowie's "Fame"? Or "Their Satanic Majesties Request had been a pale imitation of Sgt. Pepper." Hmmm. Ever see Spinal Tap? Check out the video for "Listen to the Flower People" or the oldies radio spinning of "Cups and Cakes"; this isn't exactly groundbreaking criticism.

Selecting a moment to capture reggae, Miller picks Jimmy Cliff's appearance in The Harder They Come, while all but admitting that Cliff was a ringer, a professional R&B singer, and not nearly as influential as Marley would be just a few years later. The only reason to point this out is to point out the nexus of commercial and artistic interests. But if Marley really was more pure, and more influential to boot, what exactly is the point?

The only point at which Miller really impresses me is in his view of Jim Morrison: one "would be hard-pressed to describe Morrison as anything other than a monumental jerk." Again, not exactly a new insight, but at least he's not part of the breathy club of critics that rates Morrison just below Dylan as rock's literary "real thing."

I guess you can't ask for much more from a gummy socialist who has the nerve to laugh at "solemn academic treatises on how the heavy metal played by rock bands like Iron Maiden and Megadeath 'articulates the anxieties and didcontinuities of the postmodern world'" while teaching at the New School for Social Research (an institution that seems to have taken as its goal the employment of every washed-up Marxist and tame radical that happens to spout some, ahem, postmodern idea that praises their own ideals while excusing their enormous faults) and writing books about Foucault and calling himself an "intellectual historian," a meaningless and idiotic term that implies that most historians just keep track of the dates and place names that caused folks like Miller to fail their undergrad history courses.

I hate to pound on this shit so hard, since his essay on the Sex Pistols is not bad (for once, he blurs the line between authenticity and commercialism, though he appears to scare himself, and he retreats), and his unblinking overview of the payola scandal (particularly the way Dick Clark dodged several bullets that brought down Alan Freed) is one of the better short pieces I've read on the subject. But 99% of it is bullshit.

1 comment:

Razor said...

I don't know about all of that, but Britney just released her Greatest Hits!!!! OMG! And she did this totally new song called "My Perogative" - which rocks the house. All this plus marital bliss!