08 October 2009

Theory In Music Writing: The Will To Write Rock Versus The Will To Rock-Write

Taking a break from my vanity blog project of tracing the history of Noise in my "Is There A Noise Continuum" blog series, but still wish to point to anyone who is interested about the history of Noise that shortly after I have started writing about the Noise Continuum, the esteemed Art/Music radio/internet station Resonance FM, which is based in London, also kickstarted a regular programme on, guess what, the history of Noise, featuring some of more active Noise activists around the world today.

By the way, was ruminating for quite awhile about an article Simon Reynolds wrote and published online some time ago about Music & Theory. Basically he was tracing the history of rock/music journalism in the UK music press since the 1970s with some reference to the precedent and concurrent rock-write taking place in the USA as well. He is saying that there are two schools of music journalism, i.e. plain straight forward reportage/interview/review of rock stars, artists, albums and career of the trend setters and hip shakers of the moment or the canon OR the attempt to theorise and contextualise the scene, genre development, ideas and politics of the music and its protagonists. The former is about no-bullshit, non-academic and high-faluting linguistic posturing while the latter is all about reading between the lines, psychoanalysing, reading into the history and genealogy and coming up with an essayist conclusion or prediction of things past or to come.

<= Smarty Rock-write


Simply Write Rock =>

Well, it set me thinking about my relationship with rock/music writing for the past few decades: Too young to experience some of the polemical writings of some of the iconic journalist and writers mentioned by Reynolds in his article but a bit older than those who might not even be aware about the joy and importance of serious rock-write of the post Gen Y populace (who grew up with the Internet, which in many ways is responsible for the slow-death of music magazines and serious essay-length rock-write), but belatedly trying to latch on to the tailend of a declining breed of rock-write inspired millieu of the recent past, I am often caught in a inner dilemma about music, the writings and the people who write about it.

Personally I admire the eloquence and enthusiasm of the current writers like Reynolds, David Keenan, Tony Herrington and Rob Young. As for the older writers mentioned in Reynolds' article who started out in the late 1970s, Chris Bohn, Edwin Pouncey and Mark Sinker are key ones I can think of. As for the godfathers of rock-write in the 1960s and 1970s, of usually American stock, Lester Bangs and to a much lesser extent RIchard Meltzer, are the ones for me. It is a mixture of theory-driven type and the rock-as-pure emotional/expression style. I love theory but I have little patience to dive deeply into it as to come up all drenched from head to toe with jargons and relevant terminology to boot. However, I definitely am for the big-picture/zeitgeist/scene and genre essays. In other words, I like my rock-write intellectually powered but still coming across strongly in its vernacular articulation and musical joussiance. Kickass but smart.

But today, many people are just not interested to read beyond much, their career/academic fields, self-help manuals (just go and check out the top 10 lists of most chain book stores)and popular fiction (which might just be appearing in cellular form sooner than you think at the nearest big screen to your place). Even self avowed music fans are suffering from similar traits of habits and mindset. We simply have too much choices of entertainment (yes, pure and simple, down-to-the-lowest denominator kinda entertainment and not culture or food for thought) and not forgetting that almost every music genre can be downloadable (most of time illegally) in a matter of minutes via the Internet, why bother to read, understand and make an informed choice about what you are listening to? It's just muzak for most, anyway.

It is time to re-think: technology should help us to up the ante in terms of our ability, capacity and tenacity to understand the world around us, be it music, films, politics, social issues, global awareness, etc. This is of course a sidetrack from what I first started out to expound here though.

Anyway, yes intellectual rock-write vs simply writing about rock. The ability to read, understand and think about what we absorb is a unique human characteristic which, I think, should not be lost. Let us try to read a bit more into things, and in this case, music, which has the power to infect the soul, affect our emotions, deflect most dredgery in life and of course try to reflect what life is, to us.

Oh yes, Reynolds ended off his article with this line: "The quoting from philosophers over-indulged in by myself and my peers, and earlier by our role models, was perhaps closer to being a drug-pusher than anything else, the motivation less to do with impressing the readers than turning them on: 'C'mon, try it, try it... This will really take you places." and the fact that he entitled one of the parts in the paper with "The appeal of theory is precisely its power to intoxicate", though not presenting the whole picture does speak volume of the people who are always passionately yakking away or sending literary missives out to entice, to draw people in and to evangelicise the music they hold dearly to. Rock on, guys.

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