"I wonder what Mark Fisher would have thought about the spread across all the end-of-year lists of what is effectively (regardless of genre or sonic specifics) a new singer-songwriter ethos...  recordings approached and analysed and felt largely as literary expressions... narratives of self, social comment, political stances and statements, representations of identity, thematic links  ....  the criticism surrounding it somewhat more attentive to sound and rhythm than Paul Nelson's purely literary appreciation of  Jackson Browne in Stranded, but fundamentally coming from the same place, the same understanding of how popular music works and what it's for.  Today, listening to and reading about this kind of album (fucking Norman Fucking Rockwell the supreme example), it feels like what's going on between artist and critics is a performance of  Importance and Seriousness - Masterpiece Theater you could call it - one that harks back achingly to a time when such major statements could be presumed to be of universal significance. In that sense, true retro rather than surface retro (although NFR is laden with the surface kind too, while Weyes Blood is a singer-songwriter era reenactment).

"The thought of Mark's scorn is a painful pleasure, since we'll never know how he would have worded it or what insights he'd have filleted from the middlebrow morass. He probably would have felt similarly about much of the quality TV of our time - the "must-see" stuff where the "must" connotes not so much "compulsive" as "compulsory"  - claiming our attention via an appeal to a vague dutifulness, the necessity to keep abreast of Important Statements.

"I suspect Mark would have felt this kind of thing to be the diametric opposite of "pulp modernism", i.e. mass entertainment of a seemingly escapist and purely spectacular type (escapist even when dystopian), within which are secreted  concepts and philosophical-political thought-bombs - arguably all the more potent for being inveigled into minds that are not already primed to be edified or "challenged".

"He would instinctively have been supportive of the kind of movies and TV that only get nominated for awards in technical categories like special effects, editing, lighting, etc.

"He'd probably have liked Chernobyl though - for the science-fiction-NOW landscapes of catastrophe...."

SR, January 2020


  1. Responding to this and your post on You're History - the impulse to de-emphasize Capital Letter Importance and Canonization tends to be presented as a pop/poptimist one - seven-inch single supremacy - but there are interesting connections to be found in other music.

    I can't find it online anywhere, but there was a JazzTimes piece by Ben Ratliff a few years back arguing against All Time Greatest Jazz LPs lists, in favor of elevating things like radio sessions or bootleg recordings as being of equal importance, and in thinking of jazz as a unending continuum rather than a set of bullet points (specifically citing Berger's thinking about monuments and battlefields).

    And there are parallels to be drawn with improv-based psych/jam bands, too - where there's no one definitive version of 'Dark Star', and that's the whole point...

  2. An interesting idea. But isn't the auteurist chase after radio sessions and bootleg recordings and other miscellania still part of the rockism within jazz (jazzism), i.e. it may not be about the consummate Masterpiece, but it is still about the Great Master. Every little shard and scrap of Charlie Parker is worthy of our attention.

    The Grateful Dead does sidestep the idea of the finished, consummate, perfect Work, it's true - but again it seems to relocate greatness in another mode - the endless flow of becoming. the flux of live performance. There's no single Work to worship, but there's a lot of work in being a fan, chasing all those live versions of "Dark Star", the box sets that comprise every concert on a tour of Europe etc. It's a long way from the instant pleasure, sugar-rush aesthetic prized in poptimism. The Grateful Dead don't so much reign at the summit of the Canon, so much as displace it entirely for their fans - assume an almost Talmudic centrality, a dominion.


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