Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Let's Animal!

i am what you call very female today and so i am having a sick day today with vicodin, whiskey and a bunch of magazines. i felt the power of corporate music rags in action: while reading the interview with julian casablancas in the new spin (with dave matthews on the cover; no comment), i decided, fuck it, i'm buying those strokes tickets, man. i paid fifty bucks to see the stripes; i can pay fifty bucks to see the strokes, since i am getting ready to like them. their new single is sweet and it sounds from the interview like jc is getting way more emotional, singing-wise.

there was an article in there that kind of summed up for me why i don't hang out much with rock critics and why i am glad i don't live in new york, where all the rock critics hang out together (creepy!), and why i never fit into that culture. in this article, the critic basically admitted that he doesn't really grok music on the aesthetic level--for him, it's mostly about the sociocultural aspects: buying the record at the record store, wearing the clothes, taking on the baggage. what's weird is that he was describing this as if it were a good thing. worse, he assumed that the rest of the world is like him. he said, i suspect that no one even likes music anymore.

i don't even know where to begin with the multinefarious wackitude at hand.

one big problem with criticism, a problem lay people don't know about, is that in order to be a compelling writer you've got to take strong stands, be controversial, and fuck shit up. the difficulty is that this aids and abets a grave intellectual disability, known in psychotherpy-speak as "all-or-nothing" thinking. (i know this because my shrink just told me i have it. surprise.) according to all-or-nothing thinking, for example, it's not possible for pop music to be equally, simultaneously all about the music AND all about the fashion.

the problem is that, of course, that's exactly what it is.

for better or worse, my all-or-nothing thinking is mostly limited to my personal life. in my work, i am challenged by a lack of it. this is one reason i am a "female" writer, though i think i am a normal, androgynous writer, and most men are just way off the deep end of received masculinity. but that is another topic. to be quite honest, my ability to see other people's perspective is the reason i was able to write positive articles about some of the worst bands of the late '90s. it was a sort of malign, corporate-era misuse of a potentially beautiful quality.

anyway, the thing is, i recently figured out that life is a mostly all-and-everything proposition, because of the multidimensional nature of the Creation, and the fact that linear time does not really exist beyond our perception of it. bear with me.

we experience time as linear, but it is not anything like what we think it is. i think of it like a cell. inside a cell are miles of dna strands. if you look at things from the perspective of a gene on a strand of dna, you see yourself located on a long string, with miles of dna ahead of and behind you. if you were to travel along that strand of dna, you would feel as if you were moving along a line; it would feel linear, and you would feel like you were moving across space and, thus, through time. but if you look at a cell from a distance, you see that it is a tiny, contained and complete entity, and that travelling through a cell is not really moving across space at all. you're still in one place. likewise, i think that life happens in an instant, always, as a cell exists, complete and whole, with miles and miles of perceived space and time coiled within. i think our lives are already complete, but we experience them in a linear way.

since i don't believe in linear time, i also believe in a kind of triumphant originality in every creature. that is: no matter how many humans have fallen in love throughout history, every person who falls in love is the first person to ever fall in love. and of course every person who discovers led zeppelin is the first person to discover led zeppelin.

believing in this kind of multidimensional life goes hand-in-hand with my ideas about rock, and rock criticism. for example, i think rock is 100 percent style---and 100 percent art. you can't separate them, and why would you want to? it's too much fun.

i have a friend who has taught me a lot about loving music. he cries a lot, especially when listening to music. he cries to the spice girls. he cries to the beatles. he cries to the zombies. he experiences music on the deepest possible level; it transforms him, it has shaped his life story and his very identity and it has long ago replaced whatever religion he once was taught. he is music.

at the same time, he is also the greatest student i know of rock style and gimmickry. in fact, his favorite band is the pooh sticks, who were essentially a cartoon band like the archies--heartbroken triumph in the guise of hooky pop. he's such a good student of rock style that he'll happily give props to bands he doesn't even really want to like--sublime, limp bizkit, the strokes--because he appreciates their grasp of pop style. i think that in his mind it's all kind of one thing. and if the band is really gimmicky and really good--like the white stripes--he sometimes gets intimidated and can't admit they rock. (his dismissal of them only confirmed my belief in their brilliance!)

it is no accident that this friend--who could easily have become a critic and almost did--decided to become a musician. in my experience, musicians have a freedom that most critics deny themselves.

this is a freedom that musicians and music-lovers take for granted, and it's the whole reason i like to party with rock stars and normal people and not critics.

i don't know how to explain it exactly, but i think the process of having to critique music all day for money fucks with the way you hear it. because critiquing music becomes tied to your income, and your sense of who you are in the world, you can easily lose track of the real reason people listen to and make music in the first place. music becomes a platform on which to prove your intellectual superiority, a tool for the construction of your ascendancy--you have to become superior to the music. i understand this because i am a critic, too, and a writer, and i do understand the necessity of "mastering" your subject before you sit down to write. when you sit down to write, you have to feel that you can "kill" your subject--you have to become its master, or you're sunk. or so the logic goes.

the problem is that you start to build a kind of resentment toward your subject--and why not? it's your adversary. you're the gay vegas guy in a codpiece and it's the white tiger. you gain all your glamour and mystique through the wild beauty of the animal you have tamed. you think those guys would be rich fuckers if they were working with carp? critics secretly know that their whole gig is based on someone else's glamour and power and freedom. and so they get a little baby chip on their shoulders, that just grows and grows--especially since most of them have musical yearnings of their own.

and here's where the tragedy comes in. i guess because of all this stuff, and because of the all-or-nothing mind, and because of the ancient mind/body/heart disjuncture in western culture, critics are afraid to admit their inferiority to their subject. i don't mean "inferior" in the negative sense: i mean that in the moment of listening to music, they are affected, moved, and even transformed by art. it has power.

there's nothing more natural than being moved by art, but critics--men especially, i'm afraid--are loathe to admit to it. i think they feel like they'll lose their mystique. that's why, i believe, you rarely see critics dancing and crying and freaking out at rock concerts (though they'll write the most glowing and cerebral reviews the next morning), and why they feel so happy and free when they actually have a dance party and get jiggy to the new hot radio singles. (i've seen it happen--i recall one party in minneapolis where several future big-time ny critics got down to britney. they want to party, you see: they just need someone to give them permission. they also need to get much more drunk, much more often.)

i do know several big-fancy critics who have managed to maintain their jigginess, and are learning to integrate their hearts and groins into their writing. this must be encouraged. readers want this; they understand this; and they don't see it as a weakness.

this is the thing: whatever spin-guy says, normal people do like music--they love music, and they need it more than ever right now, which is why we have such amazing technology to get as much music as quickly and cheaply as possible, and why the dinosaurs at the major labels are freaking out. people find in music a world not reflected around them either in the physical realm or on radio: they find a world of beauty, fun, sex and inspiration, sadness and comfort, danger and triumph. a world they knew as youngsters; a world that still exists in their hearts. i knew this the night after johnny cash died: i was at the rustic, and every time a johhny cash song came on the jukebox, the whole bar--and i mean everyone--let out a kind of sad whoop and toasted the man.

hell, i knew this before he died: i heard the first time jed the fish played "hurt" for his catch of the day--and i saw how an explosion of phone calls to the station put that weird, beautiful-ugly enigma into heavy rotation. you think a corporate radio programmer--or a critic--could have predicted that?

if you give them a chance, people can be the best critics of all.

the biggest problem for critics is a fear of loving--we feel we won't be taken seriously for our minds if our hearts are too big, too bloody, and too wide-open. people have taken on the intellectual rigor of lester bangs, but forgotten that what made his writing sing was his mad crazy love.

it's such a shame, especially for the critic. can you imagine stifling the very love that defines your life?


in other news: i got the new outkast record yesterday. it's a double album: one by each guy. so far i've only listened to dre's side. "hey ya" is genius; the rest is watered-down prince. i know where prince's mojo went: dre stole it!

last night i went to spaceland and had a great time on beer and 1/4 of a vicodin, or "viking," as they say. i was chatting for quite a while with a lead-singer guy who happens to look remarkably like jc of the strokes. since i now look like drew barrymore, i thought it would be funny if we started dating. but we won't. he's 23, ok? not that i have anything against 23-year-olds. it's just... i don't know. young people rock my world but they lack the tragi-majestic depth of guys who've been to the races, if you know what i mean.


i don't know if i can go, but Tsar is opening for Shonen Knife this friday at ye olde knitting factory in fabulous hollywood, california. bubble-punk majesty a go-go!



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