As I’ve mentioned before, I’m on the bleeding edge of the Gen-X demographic, having turned 45 a couple of days ago, and as I’ve also mentioned, I’m increasingly weary of the smirking, meta-meta ethos of irony that has metastasized through our lives, exemplified by the unaffectionate pastiches we see Jonah Goldberg griping about here. This isn’t a rejection of satire — it’s a rejection of smarm.
But I’m not writing today about Stewart and Colbert, played as they may be — I’ll leave that for Jonah. Instead I’d like to refer you to a blog entry by Evert Cilliers, in which he addresses the wasteland that is much of what passes for the higher end of popular culture these days:
For want of a better label, here’s a suggested honorific for this kind of art:
Urban Intellectual Fodder.
Neither original nor path-breaking, this art is derivative hommage; postmodern commentary around the edges of art.
It is art born of attitude, not passion. It is art that postures but doesn’t grip. It is art created by those who are more passionate about a career in art than about art itself.
Cilliers moves on from there, citing scenes and naming names, and more power to him.
At this point, you may ask, “But Professor, we know you’re fond of 60s garage and psychedelia, and even of the revivals thereof. Isn’t that just more of the same winking pastiche?” That’s problematic, I’ll admit, but the stuff I’m looking for, and the stuff that stays with me, was nicely described by Lexington Green at Chicago Boyz:
You play through all the history so that you reach something like the place where the original guys were. You play as if you were waiting backstage at the Ready Steady Go! Show, with Jackie DeShannon on stage and the Stones up after you, and you don’t know or care about the years before and after but only about the minutes and seconds of each song as you play it. Transcend irony and pastiche by not trying to be one of our heroes from the day, but aim at the same place they were aiming at. Don’t have 1966 ears, have the timeless ears of the Rock Valhalla where the Ramones are forever about to release Rocket to Russia and the Who are playing at the Marquee Club and the Prime Movers are coming on stage at the Rat in Kenmore Square. It is all here and now and forever at the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and even in a basement or a backyard in front of twelve people you are opening for the Velvet Underground, with the Modern Lovers up before you, and Brian Jones is in the audience. Play for him. There is always the Grandeur of Rock, even if you are the only guy in the room who can glimpse it.
It’s that ferocity that I listen for, and that’s what Cilliers accurately diagnoses as missing from too much contemporary art. I know it when I hear it, and it’s the difference between the truth and a smirk.