Filler By Proxy XLVIII: The Right Kind of Pain

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Mark Greif in the London Review of Books sums up the inadequacy of most popular music criticism when it comes to addressing the genre’s unique qualities, and its unique illusions:
This sort of writing fails the reality of pop: its special alchemy of lyrics that look like junk on the page, and music that seems underdeveloped when transcribed to a musical staff. Then there is the curse of arid musicology; and of Rolling Stone-ism, the gonzo rock journalist who thinks he is a rock star. Perhaps worst of all, there is the curse of the rhetoric of social action and ‘revolution’, a faith-based illusion that pop songs clearly manifest social history, or an exaggerated sense of what pop achieves in the world. In truth, most critics aren’t verbally equipped to describe any band’s vivid effects on its main audience: the listener at home, alone in his room.

You could argue against that last point, but the reality of recording as pop music’s medium (and rock’s, if you are particular about these distinctions) is inescapable in Grief’s review of Richard Witts’ book on The Velvet Underground. Combined, the two writers reveal the band as something quite different from the quasi-mythical beast it has become in popular imagination, and discover the band’s secret twin on the other side of the continent…

Also: The Velvet Underground, as Doug Yule saw it.