Just above, a photograph. A photograph that I took the liberty of flipping into black & white. I'm not giving credit to the photographer, which might (or might not) be deemed problematic seeing how the photographer slapped a copyright on the image. Which I can't help but find odd, since the image is a recreation of something someone else did fairly recently, which was itself a twist on something someone else did a good many years before that, which itself was slightly modeled after something that someone else had done far earlier.
The rabbit hole, such as it is, ends there. Perhaps if you were to turn this series of repetitions and permutations into an equation, the equation might run as such: A something being repeated -- the first time as history; the second time as semi-ironic hommage; the third time as highly-ironic parody; the fourth time as utterly fucking pointless, ranking well below a fart in the wind tunnel in terms of cultural significance.
At which point I feel tempted to double back and revisit Lester Bangs's "Who Stole Punk?" spiel for the first time in many years. But instead I was recently thumbing through a copy of Paul Morley's Words and Music for the first time in a long while, a number of things jump out at me, but most particularly this bit, which echoes a common geezerly complaint of recent years...
"The Strokes were great are re-creating moments but not as great at creating moments. They were conservative (they conserved); they weren't radicals (they didn't remake the world). Their music was a tribute to a radical spirit, while missing a radical spirit. Ultimately what was lacking was the sense of newness, the sense of coming-out-of-nowhereness, that gives essentially simple, honest bursts of communication a power beyond the immediate. If Television had not made 'Little Johnny Jewel' in 1975, and we had first heard it in 2000, it would still have been as uncanny a piece of music...but it would have had twenty-five years of other things that have happened to contend with...
If 1949 Charlie Parker had in fact first popped up in 1964, well, it would have been quite arresting but, really, pretty pointless. This is the problem I began to see at my age as rock music began to photocopy itself: what was lacking for me was the suddenness that must be attached to the sound, the suddenness of its appearance and its newness. The suddenness of sound when it sounds like new sound connected to but adrift from other sounds."
At any rate: Some blog-realm cross-chatter blahblah-ing, a few clearing-the-attic thoughts on some things I'd flagged for comment some weeks ago.
One being: Phil's recent yarn on the subject of older music outselling new, but more specifically talking about of eternal returns and revivalism in pop music. I'm intrigued -- unsurprisingly, I suppose -- by his introducing the idea of entropy into the discussion, particularly linking it to bygone notions of progress and dynamic evolution in music. (Yes, we know...postmodernism told us such stuff was a very dubious and distinctly modernist idea, right? Yet we still sort of believe in it, expect it, perhaps even desire it. That suddenness, that newness, that jolt of uncanniness, that creation of a moment.) Simon offers a brief aside musing that sometimes things progress by way of crabwalking -- laterally, sideways, not necessarily in any strictly linear, teleological way. Which may or may not overlap with Phil's later thoughts about change versus "progress" in broader socio-historic terms.
This condition, of course, partly provided the premise for Simon's recent book Retromania. But I say partly because Simon's discussion of the "atemporality" of certain stripes of contemporary pop music ultimately encompassed more; is is many ways bound up with the idea of hyperstasis, having as much to do with the influence of digital culture and the internet -- with its alinear and across-the-board, equal-access-to-everything-at-once character -- rather than the matter of mere sonic stylistic apery and recycling.
Of course, part of Phil's initial post addresses the music's diminished cultural status -- about it no longer being a "driver of youth culture." Which points to how pop music now (and long has been) just one commodity among many; in most cases signifying little more than any other lifestyle accessory, something that long ago spent its own artistic and "cultural capital" through sheer market-glutting, quantity-over-quality overkill.Much of which rings familiar, echoing certain critique about information culture; about how the democratized deluge of facts and opinions ends up being a scenario of one piece of information -- regardless or truth- or use-value -- canceling another out, on and on ad infinitum, resulting in an reciprocal and comprehensive nullification of content or meaning, leaving little but a diffusive pink noise across the spectrum.
And I suppose there's any number of angles one could take to analyze or explain this entropic state of affairs. For instance, extrapolating on stats: the increase of venues of distribution in relation to surplus cultural production and income, the proliferation of channels in an pluralistic media landscape and the increasing splintering and atomization of niche audiences viz market demographics, "narrowcasting," and etcetera, etcetera. Other possible models? Two come to mind, two that have less to do with pop music but (much like that image above) with music's connection with the the larger realm of cultural activity and "creativity"...
First: That of the interpenetration and eminence of design into every realm of cultural and material culture over the past few decades, if not the way it's become the essence of culture (as we now know it) itself. Or as Hal Foster has described: the all-eclipsing "value added" (ugh) manifestations of the "political economy of design," which and the way it bypasses the condition of reification in the ways that it articulates and embodies "subject-less" desire -- reducing its own essence and efforts to an endless perpetuation of cultural production "that is all image and no interiority -- an apotheosis of the subject that is also it potential disappearance."*
The second being a concurrent trend that arose and gather momentum over the same stretch of time -- that of the culture of curation and its accompanying archival impulse, the many ways in which the aesthetic of mixing and re-presentation loomed to the fore. This has not only run parallel to the first aspect but is closely connected as well, due to its obsession with an aesthetics of display and exhibition. And it's the aspect that's mostly responsible for the ouroboric process by which culture operates at present -- consuming and re-presenting itself, without having to signify much of anything outside its own culture-ishness.
The above two points being perhaps a little too tied to discussions of visual culture, as far as the whole matter of critical discourse is concerned. Still, I see them as being part of a similar critical enterprise, one that coincides with the sort of things that both Simon and Phil are addressing; although by different route. And the above probably amounting to little more than me daubing on a wall, a meager attempt at hammer out some thoughts that deserve far more time & space to address.**
At any rate, there are some other things Phil mentioned in his posts, concerning the notion and the nature of progress in all of this. Which is a slippery topic, and one that brings some other ideas to mind; but which will have to wait for another time, a possible part two. (But perhaps done a some point when I'm not so tired, and hopefully more lucid.)
* "When Surface Became Depth" was how Michael Bracewell summed up the decade of the 'Nineties. In hindsight, the '90s would seem -- as Warhol would have put it -- "very full," all-too willing and capable of delivering (as far as music was concerned, at least) its share of ecstatic or transcendent moments, compared to much of what has followed in its wake. Yet somehow Bracewell's dismissal has a ring of truth to it, if only because anyone who was paying attention could perhaps notice an underlying emptying-out going on beneath it all...a silence gathering beneath the masking din.
** Have been busy with other things lately, many of which has been siphoning of time and mental and temporal "bandwidth." Case in point, I think I started this post many weeks ago, and...well, here we are.