josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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8 Jan '02 08:14:46 PM

I am thinking about something. If you can decide, tell me who your favorite band is. Tell me anything else you want too, but at least tell me that.

Allowances made for pedants who will choose to say "but I have a favorite artist, not a band," or "it's actually a composer, even though you said band, so...".

P.S. Stevie Wonder is great. Do not consider this an injunction to answer "Stevie Wonder".

7 Jan '02 08:57:20 PM

And at the end when the other parts stop and the phone conversation comes in, the drones lose direction - they're louder, not telling us where the song's going, because it's not now.

7 Jan '02 08:51:20 PM

Hearing "Tracy" today I took notice of how important the shimmering drone that runs behind most of the song is. It changes, it's on different notes. That contributes to the dynamics of the song just as significantly as the more prominent guitar parts in the foreground. The drone acts like a cue: "the song goes like this". Or maybe a distillation.

7 Jan '02 05:21:35 AM

B-b-but "Laser Beam" is my favorite song on there! It's perfect! Oh well.

6 Jan '02 10:47:51 AM

My CDs are even harder to get to now than they were in my last apartment. I think this has had an effect on the diversity of what I listen to.

That doesn't explain everything, though. I also just haven't felt as inclined to hear a diverse range of things. For months.

6 Jan '02 09:30:32 AM

I listened to Things We Lost in the Fire for the first time in months. It still comes off about the same to me. It feels like the work of a completely different band, most of the time, which means, a band different from the one I love - not, a fascinating new side of a Low that I loved which I now love in a new and richer way.

If I wanted to put it succinctly (sacrificing accuracy) I might say that they sound like more or less the same band, only with the drone taken out.

Sacrificing a lot of accuracy.

I feel like I can already tell intuitively, but it would be nice to have a more careful comparison between this record and Secret Name so that I see exactly how I can like that record and not this one, despite how similar they seem relative to Low's previous records. (Secret Name is a lot more "songy" too, with Albini production.)

6 Jan '02 08:55:14 AM

"Have social conditions made punk obsolete?"

It seems to me that there are a few popular ways of thinking about this. I'm not sure if they are the only ways, but they seem good enough to start with.

At the very least maybe we can agree that punk was ("is" too but I'm going to talk in the past tense for some reason) against something. Lots of people seem to think so, anyway. I get the impression that some people will even try to defuse talk about punk's mattering at this point, by saying that if punk was "against" anything, it was only against it in some shallow way, say stylistically, like as a fashion statement. Oh well. Maybe. Let's just ignore that for now.

So, punk was against something. Just that by itself presents possibilities for our question, for saying whether social conditions made punk obsolete. Think of it like two people. One is "against" the other. So one can disagree with the other. One can just plain dislike the other. One can carry on in a way that's contrary to the other, even inimical. These things could be done implicitly or explicitly. They could be done (forgive the unnatural division) on a purely musical level, or on some other social level.

How could it become obsolete, then? Talking about the way "social conditions" could change to make this happen is just a shorthand for saying that people could change, or institutions could change, or whatever.

1. Whatever punk was against could have changed so that it just looked stupid or silly to be against it.

2. It could have changed so that there was no legitimate reason to be against it.

3. The way in which punk was against whatever could have been dethorned. The main candidate I'm thinking of here is something like the way nihilism or irony is said to have been co-opted or commodified. Or even just the punk sound or style (including fashion!). The obsolecence here would derive from the fact that no one would bother to take punk seriously because of this co-option, though I want to leave things open. This make it sound like punk has a separate message to convey besides the style in which it conveys it; maybe it does, maybe not. I said "against" above to try avoiding talking about punk "critiquing" or anything like that, which might be seen as making it a little bigger or more developed in its antagonism than it was.

4. Related to 1, sort of - social conditions could have changed so that people didn't even know about the whole antagonistic relationship.

When the musical landscape changes, that counts as a social change too. I think all these things could be cached out either in terms of the "purely" (meaning non-musical, what we usually will call the real world stuff) social things punk was against, or in terms of the music punk was against (implicitly, sometimes). This split is an important one deserving of its own careful thought, because it matters a lot where the music hooks up with the rest of the world. So of course I'm not going to say anything else right now.

I don't know why I feel the need to apologize lately for being more careful and making my reasoning perspicuous, but I do. If you don't think this question is interesting, then at the moment I don't have anything to say to you. If you do but don't like the way I'm answering it (it sure ain't punk to do it this way I bet), then I wonder how you could answer it without being just as careful. Maybe seeing all the work, as it were, takes all the fun out of it, but this is sort of my lab notebook after all. If I were you I wouldn't trust an answer handed out without some thinking behind it anyway.

6 Jan '02 07:11:49 AM

I referred just two entries ago to the idea that punk is no longer viable. Mike wrote in asking me, among other things,

Why is punk no longer viable? Has it been superseded? Have social conditions "obseleted" the music, or made it neuter, in spite of everyone's good intentions? Or... is just nobody bothering to make compelling punk? Or have all the possibilities within punk been explored, making any future attempts at exploration doomed and pointless? Or?

I want to note that I didn't say punk is no longer viable, just that people seem to say things like that a lot. Unfortunately I can't say who - I wasn't thinking of anyone in particular. It's just an idea you see invoked a lot. Sometimes it's done in social terms, so that punk failed because of its failure to achieve its social goals (and putting it in those terms is tendentious, I know). More often, I think, it's just done in musical terms - i.e. if punk had been more successful, music wouldn't be the way it is now (usually this means what's on the radio, or sometimes something broader, like what's popular among hipsters, or even what's taken as being progressive and akin to punk).

Mike is right, though, that just the idea itself bears more scrutiny. I'm not sure I'm the one to give it, but that's never stopped me before. Unfortunately I don't think I've heard much of the music originally called punk. Up to a point I don't think that matters for two reasons. A lot of the talk about 'punk' is talk about an idea that has a much broader application than one strictly referring to some bands or records from a set range of years. Most people pick up a lot of their thinking about 'punk', I think, in basically the same way I have. Thinking about questions like Mike's means thinking about this broad idea that people have picked up in this way. Second, I think that the questions are broad enough that having a good idea of how they could be answered (that is, asking about the logic of the concepts involved - what it means for a genre or social movement to be viable, or superseded, what kinds of social changes might be relevant to its viability, what the development of it as a music has to do with its continued existence, and so forth) is sort of preliminary to answering them, since no amount of direct experience of whatever records you think are important, or acquaintance with your favorite musico-social theories, will resolve the questions easily.

(This is called 'covering your ass' in philosophy. Yes that is a technical term. And oops, Mike also called me out for being too general.)

Obviously this has the potential to go nowhere or be dropped, but if I can I want to think some more over time about how to answer these questions.

6 Jan '02 12:15:47 AM

The New York Times pop and jazz critics picked their favorite "obscure" albums of 2001 and the Dismemberment Plan is on it. I don't think they're doing anyone any favors with the leadin about bedroom and computer recordings, though.