Log in

No account? Create an account
Previous Entry Share Flag Next Entry
Lester Plays Vegas (April 30)
On one level I suppose all of this is very funny, but if you look past the surface violence and simple abusiveness to the person at the center it's not funny at all. The reason it's not is the aforementioned ambivalence. Jungle war with bike gangs is one thing, but it gets a little more complicated when those of us who love being around that war (at least vicariously) have to stop to consider why and what we're loving. Because one of the things we're loving is self-hate, and another may well be a human being committing suicide. Here's a quote from a review of Iggy's new live show in the British rock weekly Sounds: "Iggy's a dancer and more, a hyper-active packet of muscle and sinew straight out of Michelangelo's wet dreams... who leaps and claws at air, audience and mike stand in an unsurpassable display that spells one thing—MEAT." Ignoring the florid prose, I'd like to ask the guy who wrote that how he would like to be thought of as a piece of meat, how he thinks the meat feels. Or if he thinks it feels at all. Yeah, Iggy's got a fantastic body; it's so fantastic he's crying in every nerve to explode out of it into some unimaginable freedom. It's as if someone writhing in torment has made that writing into a kind of poetry, and we watch in awe of such beautiful writhing, so impressed that we perhaps forget what inspired it in the first place.
--Lester Bangs, "Iggy Pop: Blowtorch In Bondage," Village Voice, 28 March 1977

I remember, not well, someone having written, probably in the early '70s, maybe a letter to the editor, maybe it was to Creem, and someone wrote maybe a brief reply to the letter, maybe unsigned, maybe it was Lester who wrote the reply. The writer was lamenting the absence of Buddy Holly. If Buddy had lived, he'd be doing great things, said the letter, said the writer. And the reply was No! If Buddy had lived he'd being playing Vegas just like any other oldie living off his past, his work no longer mattering except as a walking corpse of a reminder that it once had mattered.

So Lester. He never totally got his shit together, not just chemically but intellectually. But he didn't give up. If he asked a question, the question didn't disappear, didn't get a glib answer from him and then evaporate or hang around like a vague fart, a mist of buzzwords answered by another mist of buzzwords. The questions gnawed at him, repeated, didn't leave him alone.

If he'd lived, I think it would have made a difference. I don't know what his follow-through would have been — he could get lost in an enthusiasm of words and anguish — but I know there would have been one. Maybe it'd just end up as Lester's filibuster. But the questions would ride him, would at least fight to stay addressed. And this is where Lester is different from all my colleagues. I complain from time to time that rock critics, music critics, people in my rockwrite/musicwrite/wrong world, don't know how to sustain an intellectual conversation. My complaints don't help anybody, since whatever the message is in my own writing, the idea that there's a joy in discovery, in unearthing the unknown, that you interact with what's in front of you, with the everyday, and see a new world each time you look, each time you act, but only by thinking, testing, challenging, re-wording and re-phrasing — this message doesn't get across, doesn't get felt, I guess. There's a basic unshakable dysfunction and incompetence in my world, which amounts to dishonesty, a pretense of thought without actual thinking.

Don't know that Lester really knew how either, but given that the conversation, the questions, wouldn't leave him, I imagine he'd have given it a shot.

  • 1

From Chuck Eddy Who Is Too Lazy To Sign In

Frank, I posted a link to the above on my Facebook wall. Some responses so far:

Brad Shoup I like, even as I'm indicted.
about an hour ago · Like
Chuck Eddy Yeah, me too.
about an hour ago · Like

Alfred Soto I certainly wouldn't turn down Vegas.
about an hour ago · Like · 1

David Williams Ouch.
about an hour ago · Like

Michael Daddino My problem with Kogan's concern, as he's voiced it for the last couple years, is that I honestly don't know what an intellectual conversation is supposed to look like. Or how "a joy in discovery, in unearthing the unknown" is supposed to square with something that's presumably, I dunno, *sustained*.
about an hour ago · Like

Scott Seward i'm glad he was talking about you guys and not me. i always ask the hard questions.
59 minutes ago · Unlike · 4

Chuck Eddy You might have a point, Michael. Honestly, I feel like I've detached myself so much from what passed for a conversation (one in which I used to be a fairly active participant, I think), that I'm pretty sure I'd have no idea if an intellectual conversation was going on even if there was one. But I have to give Frank credit for still looking, prodding, and caring about it, long after I decided I didn't have time for such things -- even if this has been his own obsession, or shtick, for at least 30 years now, which can make him sound like a broken record sometimes. (Sometimes I *like* broken records.)
43 minutes ago · Like

Scott Seward you ever read this: http://thehoundblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/lester-bangs.html

Scott Seward uh kinda long but basically says that lester was pretty burnt out on rockcrit by the time he died. so, who knows what he would have ended up doing had he lived.
34 minutes ago · Like

Scott Seward but james marshall also says there was very little racism in the punk scene in the 70's, so, a grain of salt...
32 minutes ago · Like

Chuck Eddy Has there ever been any question that he was burnt out on rock-crit at the time, though? That was pretty obvious from the last Pazz & Jop ballot he filed, I would think. (That doesn't necessarily mean something might not have revived his interest later, though.)
20 minutes ago · Like

Maura Johnston I was going to ask what an "intellectual conversation" looked like, too. I mean obviously there are a host of conditions that exist in 2012 that I don't think existed back in Bangs's heyday -- the economics of being a "leader" in that conversation are chief among them, and probably guiding a lot of the others. Believe me when I say I would love to have more than the meager amounts of time I do currently have to process and think and let questions gnaw at me, and I suspect other people involved -- whether paid or unpaid! -- would as well.

If anything, the questions gnawing at me are the ones I *don't* write about because the limited time I do have to do anything on the topic wouldn't give the topics at hand justice. (Off the top of my head, I can think of that Foxy Shazam song about big black asses becoming a hit on whiter-than-white rock radio, the ethics of disco edits and crediting in the age of contextless digital listening as inspired by that Kindness song I like biting Trouble Funk, etc. Shoot, the How Not To Write About Women piece that I did a few months back was the product of long-simmering annoyance at things I'd seen -- like, *years* of it, which is why I used that RS cover from the '90s as its illustration.)
5 minutes ago · Like

Re: From Chuck Eddy Who Is Too Lazy To Sign In

Chuck, I've got February and April eardrums for you, but haven't found the time to write a cover letter. Cover letter in brief will probably go, "A funny thing happened while 2NE1 was busy being my official favorite band: T-ara became the band I actually want most to listen to."

i clicked "like" on maura's comment

Alright, Frank, consider me provoked. Partly, I think people ARE DOING what you're talking about on a large scale (which is what you're talking about, right? not conversations at the EMP bar or something?). Nitsuh, Maura, Jukeboxers, even ilxors still I think, play off one another's ideas and chew on them over periods of weeks and months and may actually let those ideas shape their own, which they then express in print and so on and so forth. But since it's on a large scale, the conversation doesn't move as quickly as a one-on-one. Like Maura says, it's hard to find the time, and the more people that chime in, the longer a conversation will take to progress because it'll keep going off into everyone's little personal tangents. And by the time you turn on the computer again, the focus of the conversation has changed and good luck if you're still a part of it. Which partly supports what you're saying, but partly not, because the bigger ideas -- Maura's piece she mentioned above, for instance -- last and shape future thought.

But also, the elements of your writing that you mention -- thinking, testing, challenging, re-wording and re-phrasing -- sound to me like acts of private meditation as much as intellectual conversation. Letting a question ride you and addressing it later is a private act, no? Whether you raise the question or someone else does? Maybe not enough people are doing that, maybe glibness is 90% of it, but it's not a failure of "all" your colleagues.

So I guess basically -- and this seems to be a common theme upthread -- I'm not sure what the heck you want. And it's sort of pissing me off. But that was your goal.

Re: i clicked "like" on maura's comment

This is a (half-assed) response to both you and the convo pasted-in by Chuck, and to the Josh-Anthony conversation that Anthony emailed me.

What I wrote was quite opaque. I didn't really make a complaint, I merely announced one. Of course, this complaint of mine's been coming out in bits and pieces since 1989.

A brief not-much-less-opaque-than-I-was-before reply to Michael's question, "how [is] 'a joy in discovery, in unearthing the unknown'... supposed to square with something that's presumably, I dunno, *sustained*[?]," is that the discovery and joy comes along with and as a result of sustained intellectual effort (good convo often making the effort easier and better). E.g., to be excited by finding a previously unknown species of moth, you have to know something about moths. To be perplexed and stimulated because a moth is doing something that moths are supposed to be incapable of, you have to have a good idea of what the body of knowledge about moths tells you that moths are capable of; and then you and your colleagues have to exhaust all the reasonable explanations you can think of that would tell you that the moth's novel behavior isn't really so novel. After which, maybe the moth flips your world.

That Lester question about "why and what we're loving" in regard to Iggy's death trips is territory that I own, but I'm really bugged to be the only guy who's got ownership of it. Why hasn't the ground been tramped and trampled into dirt by now? Was I the only kid who actually listened to Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan as a teenager? (Yes, I'm still being cryptic.)

Maybe there have been good sustained conversations at the EMP bar. You can accomplish a lot in an afternoon. And conversely, if someone picks up something someone said twenty years ago and really takes it somewhere, that'd count as a sustained conversation.

I mean, I'm not claiming to have followed the breadth and depth of of all convos. But...

Someday I'll follow through on this post. But as I said, I'm not expecting that to help anyone (else).

I think Maura would be right to say that time is lacking, and to add that money is lacking (time is money), which is to say that the convo doesn't know how to finance itself. But I don't think time/money is really the problem; the "don't know how" is.

In any event, I've made my bed, and now I'll have to... er, make my bed (it's a futon that I have to unroll and put sheets on, the time being almost 3:00 AM).

Anthony E. writes:

maybe it's just me
but i think that one of the reasons pop music exists
is to help people fuck
and i think one of the rarest things you hear in music writing
is the sentence
this track makes me want to fuck

He should read my entry on Enigma in the Spin Alternative Record Guide.

My definition of "intellectual" is broader than almost anyone's I know of. Choosing a hairstyle is intellectual. Deciding what dance should go with "Lovey-Dovey" is intellectual. But my bar for "sustain" is higher than most people's. To sustain a journey you have to travel somewhere, rather than just keep pulling into the same driveway.

Edited at 2012-05-02 09:15 am (UTC)

Chuck Again

Hey Frank -- I'm looking forward to your latest Eardrum CDs as always -- saves me the time of having to keep up with K-pop (or singles in general) on my own these days. Anyway, the thread on my facebook wall continued after what I posted above, but for the most part went off on other tangents (mostly about Lester's 1981 Pazz & Jop ballot), until this comment below that just came in (as always, I should probably be giving all of this a lot more thought, but time and money tend to be my excuse lately, too)


Michael Daddino: My issue wasn't with "intellectual" but with "conversation." Forget rock, forget rock criticism, forget journalism and blogs and Twitter, forget time and money--I'm not sure I can point to anyting in the whole history of thought that actually resembles the conversation Kogan wants, at least as I understand it and at least as he described it in his first post. (He seemed to soften his stringency a bit later.)
I was tempted to posit that what Frank is really after is a community of mystics until I realized that while mystics have powerful abilities to focus, what they meditate on is on the *unconditional*.
I'm not (entirely) saying this to be dismissive: for example, I'll never be a mystic but I feel in my bones that I have a lot to learn from mystics.

Re: Chuck Again

By the way, you say "this complaint of mine's been coming out in bits and pieces since 1989," but I dated it earlier in what I wrote on facebook -- "for at least 30 years now." Guess I was thinking of your long Dolls essay (from ???), or your *Stars Vomit Coffee Shop* liner notes (which, now that I check them, are apparently actually only 28 years old -- oops.) But it's been quite a while since I read those, so it's possible I overestimated the extent to which they may have dealt with conversations about music, rather than just the music itself.

I'm not sure whether to recommend the "Orgasmusic" chapter in my second book to Anthony, or not. (Probably doesn't read horny enough.)

I'd say that what I wrote was mystifying in that I did not explain what I meant by "sustaining an intellectual conversation," or by "don't know how," for that matter. But I'm the opposite of a mystic. That is, I believe that if I think I have an idea but I find that the idea is unable to be communicated to another human being in such a way that the other person understands it correctly and can communicate it further, etc., then the idea does not exist. There was no idea there. I'd not had one. I'd just thought I'd had.

That sure doesn't seem at all like (first line of Wikip entry), "Mysticism (pronunciation (help·info); from the Greek μυστικός, mystikos, meaning 'an initiate') is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, or levels of being, or aspects of reality, beyond normal human perception, including experience of and even communion with a supreme being."

(My wording — "idea is unable to be communicated" — contains a quasi-escape clause, since "able to be communicated" doesn't mean that I've actually successfully communicated it to anyone yet. If I have a great idea and then suddenly die, that doesn't mean the idea never existed, assuming that I could have communicated it to someone had I lived to write it down. Or if I write down a great idea but no one understands it for fifty years and then someone does, whoopee! the idea is in business, and always was (in retrospect).)

In any event, in my post I didn't write down my ideas regarding "don't know how" and "sustained intellectual conversation," nor have I in this thread (the ideas do exist in emails, for what that's worth), unless my moth example communicates more than I think it does; I have to let this go for the time being. So this thread so far is a good example of my not sustaining an intellectual conversation.

I think plenty of people know how to sustain an intellectual conversation, e.g., Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong, though I'm not competent enough in macroeconomics to know how well they're actually conversing.

Edited at 2012-05-02 07:13 pm (UTC)

I suppose, if we come across an alien gas meter and can't read it, then it's "beyond human perception" — until we learn to read it. That moths can be divided into families, genera, and species is something that our ancestors couldn't perceive but we can, because we've learned how (through thinking, testing, challenging, re-wording and re-phrasing, arguing, etc.).

I think what threw Michael was the phrase of mine, "each time you look." I wasn't clear enough that this is the result, the payoff, of sustained intellectual effort, not the method. But I didn't soften any stringency. What my writing over the years seems to have failed to convey is that we get a payoff from testing, challenging, re-working our ideas.

"Conversation" isn't "meditation."

Re: Chuck Again (Anonymous) Expand

Snappy answers to stupid questions

It seems like part of the "so what" of this post (which is really an allusion to lots of interrelated ideas) is that at least three things need to happen for a good intellectual conversation:

(1) Ask a good question;
(2) Think of different ways to answer that good question in conversation with others;
(3) Don't give up on the question until everyone reaches some kind of new or shared understanding re: question that makes the world better than you found it.

I think that rock critics (and academics and maybe most people) by and large have problems with all three of these things, but the one that seems most glaring to me at the moment is (1). The problem is that intelligentsia-leaning types (which includes everyone who has responded to this post) are pretty good at merely "performing answers" regardless of the merit of the question or their answer. Tumblr is rife with succinctly-worded answers to terrible questions -- sometimes it's an easy zing on an obviously stupid premise, and sometimes it's an artful re-shaping of something whose intellectual foundation is suspect.

Here's one that's been bugging me today. The original quote draws weird (and untenable) distinctions between autobiography and criticism, pedagogy and artistry (via Mencken), "natural" and "not natural" criticism. That's to say that the original quote is useless -- the undergirding questions aren't worth asking, like "What's better for criticism, the tone of the pedagogue or the tone of the artist?" or "What is the most natural or artful form of criticism?"

These are bad questions because they're nonsense. They don't have any meaning when the terms are so vague and lacking examples that hold true in all or even most instances (which is probably impossible; the line of questioning is doomed from the start). The example given -- comparing the Colin Meloy 33 1/3 to the Carl Wilson 33 1/3 might say something about those two books if there was a single meaningful example from either text to actually found the observation (as is, I disagree about the "success" of the Wilson book, but I won't go into that here, except to say that the question that seems to spur the Celine book is a bad one: "If even Celine can be redeemed, is there no good or bad taste, or good and bad art?")

Mike's response is equally wrong-headed:

"There’s a big and very important difference, it seems to me, between “personal” criticism that’s using art as a kind of thematic center around which to write a memoir or personal essay, which is either not-criticism or not-good criticism, and criticism fundamentally about art that is open and honest about the critic’s personal experience. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about yourself, or even that you can’t talk about yourself at length; it’s just that this has to be in some way about your relationship with the piece of art and what that says about art, not what it says about you."

This is just wrong on its face. The best piece of music criticism I wrote last year, (take that for what it's worth), a comment on Warren G/Nate Dogg, was not "fundamentally about art" as opposed to "fundamentally about me" -- it's fundamentally about both, and there's no way to separate the two; I am not a "vehicle" through which art is analyzed. I analyze art and art analyzes me.

But why was anyone responding to this quote affirmatively in the first place? Why was there dysfunction on top of dysfunction from the start? (It probably wouldn't be impossible to build something useful on such a vague and untenable premise, but you'd have your work cut out for you.) It's true that it's hard to read carefully, think carefully, and be prepared change your mind, maybe in a profound and uncomfortable way, when your mind needs to be changed to make way for a better or more accurate idea. But that can't be all there is to it.

Re: Snappy answers to stupid questions

If you do get 1) it's very hard to reach 2), because many people will care enough about a specific 1) to want an answer, but few will care enough to come up with an answer of their own (it has to be your idee fixe or bete noire, not someone else's, and I feel like the thing with online crit is everyone has their own bete noire just like they have their own favourite bands), and 3) is just discouraging -- I mean, what really happens is someone comes up with a seductive theory that gathers supporters, and someone else comes up with a theory that contradicts the first theory, and both theories are wrong to a certain extent, but one fixes something about the other while introducing errors of its own, and the advance happens in the clash. But without wrongheaded conviction there is no conversation; if you say "all theories are kind of wrong, including mine," everyone will agree and no one will know how to move it forward. (This is what happens with Frank's conversations in actuality, at least the ones I've observed in my relative short time hanging around these here parts...)

I also think that in singling out Delong and Krugman, Frank, you're overlooking the vast number of terrible intellectuals that Krugman is "in conversation with" to the extent that he mentions them by name (and they mention him by name). Krugman and Greg Mankiw can't seem to sustain an intellectual conversation, in part because (as in the linked example) Mankiw rarely engages Krugman on the merits of an argument. Krugman's argument is (as I understand it, which may well be poorly) that Mankiw [EDIT: and other economists] are, perhaps knowingly perhaps not, linking to a bunch of crocks whose scholarship should not be taken seriously by those same economists' standards. In this case, Krugman blames ideology for a temporary lapse.

One thing missing in rock criticism is a shared barometer for the quality of ideas -- perhaps separate from the question of "quality of music," which is the usual debate -- that would allow someone to make such a claim. And yet when I think of the hypothetical form such a criticism would take, it would look like this:

"What’s been disturbing, however, is the parade of first-rate critics making totally non-serious arguments about X."

(That's "X" the variable, not X the band or producer X-comma-Richard.)

I assume Krugman can take these economists' knowledge of "serious arguments" in good faith because of their credentials. And I still wonder whether or not he's subtly suggesting that perhaps these economists, despite their credentials, are not first-rate after all. (But if he didn't think so, it doesn't seem like he would have any problem suggesting that directly.)

Historically there's no shared foundation for what counts as good and reasonable for rock critics to agree or disagree on something. "I think Celine Dion is great" and "I think Celine Dion is terrible" is one kind disagreement, while "I think Celine Dion is great" and "I think anyone who doesn't write their own music is terrible" is another entirely. The second one probably is not the basis for any conversation that doesn't end in the latter person saying "OK, I lied, I'm just applying that to Celine Dion because I think she's terrible for reasons I haven't been able to articulate." And to the extent that the person is unwilling to say that, there's no conversation to be had.

So Krugman can't have an actual intellectual conversation with Mankiw about the stimulus, because Mankiw is not agreeing to reasonable terms. (The only way they could have the conversation would be for Mankiw to address the actual claim, which is that he's linking to bankrupt scholarship, if this charge is in fact true.) But Krugman is able to call him out for disagreeing to those terms, on terms that other economists can recognize. That's one thing that a rock critic lacks -- shared terms that other rock critics recognize or care about. (And there are other rock critics who recognize the terms, but they aren't really much of a community.)

Edited at 2012-05-06 09:17 pm (UTC)

Re: Krugman vs. Mankiw

I also think that in singling out Delong and Krugman, Frank, you're overlooking the vast number of terrible intellectuals that Krugman is "in conversation with" to the extent that he mentions them by name

I'm not overlooking this; it's just not relevant to the point I was making. Micheal said, "I'm not sure I can point to anything in the whole history of thought that actually resembles the conversation Kogan wants." I was saying in response that Krugman and DeLong can sustain an intellectual conversation. Michael was misled by my term "the everyday."

Do Krugman and DeLong see a new world every time they look at the everyday? Well, as I understand it, they build models about macro-economics that, among other things, show how stuff on the macro level has consequences for the everyday, so they can connect layoffs etc. to what's happening macro; not just that layoffs are caused by what happens macro, but when layoffs aggregate they have macro effects. But I don't suppose Krugman and DeLong see a new world each time they look, once they've seen it the first time. But it would be a new world for someone learning macro. I probably shouldn't have written "see a new world each time you look, each time you act," the word "each" being far too total (maybe this is what Michael means by saying I'm relaxing my stringency). But the fundamental idea is that the normal, the usual, will contain whole hunks of things you don't actually understand but that will reveal themselves once you harass it, test it, discuss it. So the "new world" you see (once you start testing, harassing, discussing) is just that there are stories going on that you didn't previously have access to because, e.g., you didn't know macro or you didn't know music theory etc. These stories wouldn't have been available to anybody without intellectuals building up a body of knowledge, and they're not available to us if we're not willing think, test, challenge, re-word, re-phrase, to learn what someone else knows but that we don't, etc.

If there is a new event, but it's part of a story that we don't notice, because we don't have knowledge, then we won't see that new event, because today looks just like yesterday to people attuned to only see the usual. But yeah, each time we look, each time we act, is too stringent. I don't see a new world each time I read a record review, for instance.

I like the word "harass" here. I swiped it from Bacon.

Re: Krugman vs. Mankiw

Fwiw, here's Krugman praising someone who disagrees with him; he's praising the guy for seriously debating the issues, and knowing what they are.

I wish more economic discussion was like this, as opposed to the fraudulence that permeates most of the "debate."

Or to put it another way, I don’t think everyone who disagrees with me is stupid and/or evil; just the ones who actually are stupid and/or evil.

Okay, seriously though, what is an "intellectual conversation"? Maybe that message doesn't get felt because nobody knows what the fuck "[seeing] a new world each time you look, each time you act, but only by thinking, testing, challenging, re-wording and re-phrasing" is. What are you even asking people to do?

  • 1