A Review of Jennifer Moore's Review of Thomas Morton's Review

Post Author:
Matthew Friedberger

I think there is a problem with the tone of most discussions of rock music–and its associated musics. I'm referring to the style, the register. (I'm not referencing it.)

You might admire the prose you find in Billboard magazine ad copy from the 70's. For instance: smart programmable wax; strong wax; vans to rush LP's directly onto campuses; a concept album unlike any you've ever heard. Based on an unforgettable character named Willie–who will actually appear with the group on their forthcoming tour. The sound? Rare Earth all the way. And my favorite: This is John Batdorf. This is Mark Rodney. And this is their new Album.// Batdorf & Rodney write and play music that's filled with things that remind you of smiles and happy moments./ It's music that makes you feel good when you listen to it. Music that's filled with well-blended harmonies and tight musicianship that's really very nice to hear./ And that's what music is all about anyway, isn't it? Batdorf and Rodney. On Asylum records and Tapes. (There were photos of B, R, and the album cover, which featured photos of B and R, in the ad.)

I'm sorry I'm not giving references for those; back issues of Billboard (used to be?) available on google books. You might enjoy having a look at them yourself.

Again: one(I'll switch to 'one') might admire that sort of thing: but it only takes one a part of the way: no?

Mentioning Billboard reminds me of a previous piece or post in this series, “On why Vice's review of Grass Widow wasn't just a dis, but something stronger”, by Jennifer Moore. (Maybe that wasn't her title.) Which I just read, along with some other ones. Of course, Vice is not really a magazine (or website? would you look it up for me?) so much as an advertisement for the general consulting and branding expertise the proprietors would like to sell to people: or at least to their fellow wheeler-dealers. That being the case, I don't “imagine” the writer of the review Jennifer Moore comments on was joking, or that “humor was the goal” as JM puts it. He was doing exactly what he said he was doing, fantasizing.

Aspirational publications like Vice ('Aspirational' like David Cameron, for instance, talks about) no doubt encourage (though do they have to? I doubt it) their male writers to aspire to fantasize what it would be like to be able to imagine what it would be like to be a “lady”. And to type out the results.

For our entertainment? That might be entertaining. To help us (this means you) with our further fantasizing? In all fairness, you might just guess that the problem (if there is one) with the Vice review is the tone. And if that is obvious, then what I mean is: the culprit, if there is one, is the tone itself: the tone, the style, tempts the poor, or not, writer into conjuring up the Disturbing Content. The Unfortunate Implications. In the same way that tone of the Batdorf & Rodney ad produces, unwittingly or not, such a frightening effect.

Again, for our entertainment? But I don't actually think that. I'd much rather take the review (by Thomas Morton, so it says), as knowing and quite sad. There's no reason not to think that when he writes “Girls got it pretty fucking made” he is trying to remind us that this is exactly not the case. The fact that the review appears in that particular lifestyle magazine, where pseudo-adolescent affectations such as ending sentences with “some shit” count as shibboleths*, makes it all the more poignant and effective.

That's what I actually think–say I. If They can use a record review of a Grass Widow album (I don't know what that is) to help them, as part of a tightly coordinated, without even having to plan it, media conspiracy, in conjunction with News Corporation tabloids, the Romney ads that run on Pitchfork TV (so I'm told), the lesser advertising budgets Sarah Polley's films receive, and etc and so on–to help them, as I said, keep women feeling marginalized, even or especially in quasi-alternative cultural or entertainment…sectors—-well, if they can do that, why can't I use their review to my purposes? And read it, therefore, as agreeing with me (and JM too, I would imagine). (The thing that surprises me is that JM would read or see an album review in Vice, or not even explain how she came to do so. I mean, neither Madonna nor I sit around puzzling over how to make translations of Marine Le Pen's latest speeches. But what do I know?)

Now, you (back to you now) might even try this sort of thing out with any aspect of popular culture, or not popular culture, you don't enjoy–I mean: that you had to totally mis- or re-interpret to suffer through at all, or that: What are you talking about? I always liked it. It goes like this: (whatever you say). (And you know that that's not subversive or anything like that, don't you? Taking things out of context and the like and putting them to use for you. No; that's exactly the way they sell dreams for cash, to quote the voiceover in Casino. ) So it's all even and no harm done. Well, enough about that specifically and good luck to everyone involved.–Sincerity is a problem here. Joking or not? Joking's not the half of it. I know that when I had to do press for my band I was invariably insincere in my responses. I wasn't pretending to be pleasant (if I was pleasant) or necessarily saying I liked something when I didn't, or the opposite. Instead, the whole tone of the discussion was insincere. (This varied, obviously.) Of course–that's the way it goes. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. (A problem, to the extent it serves to complicate things, is not necessarily undesirable.)

Now, I don't associate insincerity with adolescence. (I associate adolescence, as a general category, with outright lying and the the sort of pretending by which the agents of which are themselves convinced or 'fooled'.) Nevertheless. I think it's appropriate to counter-balance the desperate, honorary-adolescent, identify-with-the-aggressor*, Id-iots only whatever the cost, sort of thing, with…. Another trait associated with teenagers, and the teenaged-at-heart.

I mean pretentiousness. (By the way, I don't hold certain aspects of an ethos that I suppose Vice magazine reacted to and attempted to promulgate in turn responsible, overall, for, for example, a Bard college student saying to my sister that Pete Doherty was (or is, I guess) a poet. Do you?) People have, I dare say–yes, I dare say–, very little idea of what this word might mean, and what then that would mean. But I don't have the time to go into that now. Incidentally, it seems to me that people sometimes call something pretentious nowadays because they can no longer use the f-word (me neither). (Can Vice?) Of course, the two words often went together in the past.

Speaking of French, then. Here I was going to include a long thing in verse, written for a French audience, an edited version of which appeared in French at the beginning of the year, in an issue of Chronic'art about the end of the world, on “The End of Music”. (The piece is negative concerning “the end of music”.) I'm not joking. But I've run out of space. You'll have to imagine the rest, by which I mean you can, you don't have to, and not that you need permission. But there's “never enough permission.”

*They tell me. Or: maybe yeah. I don't think there is anything wrong or right with writing some shit. And I don't say pseudo-adolescent in a disparaging manner. People disenfranchised and not-at-large, as the opening of The Prelude doesn't say, are expected to express themselves in a fashion that counts as correspondingly immature. Folks who see themselves in such a situation might then exaggerate that aspect to some supposed oppositional, solidarity-making, or consoling purpose. And an individual might code-switch as much as possible. And to what end, in that case? But what the fuck do I know? I imagine the intimacy this sort of thing has with the young-at-heart, and most importantly with the desirability of the young-at-heart and how they go about being as such, has to do with it appearing in the pages of etc. –Of course that's not true: what it is is that that's how people really talk. Yes: that's the reason: it's as simple as that.

*Do you know what I mean by this? I am not saying it's crypto-fascist or some such thing–I'm saying you don't need the crypto-. (But you are not required to read it that way….)”Youth Movement” after-effects and operations very often fed into…. In all seriousness, I will say the following. I do think that these two interactions, one hypothetical, one actual, have a great deal in common spiritually: a 24 year-old boy reading a Vice magazine outside a shop in Fitzroy, in Melbourne; Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron talking by the V.I.P tent at an outdoor Elvis Costello show in Bucks. (The hypothetical one is very plausible; and a few years ago and this past year, respectively.) But is that Vice's fault? Is it the boy's? Well: is it Elvis's?