too much typing—since 2003


sous les pavés, les...politiques?

I got mentioned in a CD's liner notes, for the second time I'm aware of. I mention this not only because, hey, it's kind of an ego boost, but also because it speaks to a truth about all that music reviewing I used to do. Somewhere, there are sadly misguided individuals who think that rock criticism is a member of the same species of journalism as, say, writing about public policy, and that the traditional canons of objectivity ought to be applied.

Yes, I'll wait, while we both finish laughing at the notion that journalists covering public policy have the first idea of the ethics of objectivity.

Better? Anyway, as I was saying: the whole notion of "objectively" reviewing music is nearly nonsensical. I suppose if all we did was provide an accurately transcribed score, that might come close - but of course, musical notation is notoriously inept at capturing the subtleties of popular music. Still, despite a general awareness that what's going on is the circulating of opinions, there's still an odd objection to critics openly admitting that, in many cases, they are - we are - essentially cheerleaders for our favorite bands. And why shouldn't we be? Most of us start doing this not because of the bulging rolls of large-denomination bills - except for those of us so gullible as to, say, believe anything George W. Bush says - but because we love music, we love lots of music, we know lots of music, and if we work this critic thing right, we get to hear a lot more of it. And when we hear something we like, we want to tell people about it, hoping they'll learn to like it too.

So what it really means to me when an artist thinks enough of my writing to thank me is that I've done my job well, and that the artist, at least, thinks I'm helping other people hear about the good music he's putting out. What's distinctive about Tris McCall, whose site is linked above and also on your right there, is not only that he's rooted in music in a highly developed sense of place (New Jersey, in this case), since that's true of many artists, but his approach to his subject is almost completely free of rock'n'roll cant. I mean, god bless Bruce Springsteen, really - and I'm sure the Jersey of his songs has its reality too - but it's not the whole story. And the stories McCall tells, both on his newest release Shootout at the Sugar Factory and on his previous album If One of These Bottles Should Happen to Fall, manage to be both extremely rooted and specific in addressing subjects and persons not often sung about, but also genuinely evocative of lives beyond those of his community. (Addendum 11-7: the CD is also worth owning just to hear him rhyme "orange" with the middle syllables of "bizarre enjoyment.")

One of those rock'n'roll myths is that of the outsider, the aloof artist, who sneers at the mundane. Harry Dean Stanton, in Repo Man (maybe the most rock'n'roll movie ever - I love it, but...), expressed it best: "Normal fucking people - I hate 'em." And because of the prevalence of that sort of attitude, it's probably difficult for someone hearing a song whose chorus is "please legislate," or a song called "The New Jersey Department of Public Works," or a song about a building inspector, or a song earnestly telling people not to litter the singer's neighborhood, to escape the notion that such sentiments must be meant sarcastically, that a rock band or singer must be way too cool to concern themselves with such mundanities. But McCall is serious - fortunately, he also has a sense of humor - and it's a damned good thing, too. We rely so much on expected everyday reality, to the extent that we're unaware of it, just as we're most often unaware of the air we breathe. It takes an unusual event - a garbage strike, say - for us to recognize just how much we owe the people whose jobs it is to remove our trash. More: someone has to pay for all this. And that someone is us - because we are the ones who benefit. The phrase "your tax dollars at work" is a cliche - and like most cliches, it hides a truth behind the veil of overfamiliarity. We drive on roads, we walk on sidewalks, we send our kids to school, we trust our safety to traffic signals and streetlights - and still, many of us rant on talk radio about getting "nothing" for our taxes.

Yes, there's wasteful spending - and god knows higher levels of government aren't accessible to average citizens - but the more we disdain the very concept of government, the more we elect grinning, nicely tanned figureheads (you know who I mean, of course), the more power we deliver from our own hands. And then, while those who can afford private security, maid and pool service, and gated communities squeeze dry the last ounce of public funding, we complain about government's inefficiency, and (mostly) don't vote at all, or vote for talk radio's pet "outsiders," who continue to choke off government at every level.

We can be young and cool and spout off about anarchy - but really, if we were all individually responsible for everything local government in particular does, we'd never have a spare moment to create art. We'd be too busy picking up trash and pouring gravel into potholes.

No comments: