Sunday, August 21, 2005

More Theory Talk

This is from the comment section of the last post. Not everyone reads the comments, so I'll share it with you here:

Question from Henry:
I really enjoy the theory, but this post made me wonder about a few things.

Metal Machine Music seems very overt to me in the same sense as the John Cage silence piece. Does it seem overt to me because it is overt (in the same sense of Radiohead putting a lot of junky robot noises in the background is overt) or is it just so advanced that I can't even begin to approach it for some period of time? (The Russian critic George Starostin, at the end of his review of Metal Machine Music*, says "As I finished this review and, morally exhausted by the effort, went to the fridge to grab a sandwich, I heard the fridge making the exact kind of noises as captured on some of the album's passages. I swear I'm not lying.")

What is the relationship between advancement and commercial success? Isn't the advanced theory predicated on the fact that the public won't accept advanced artists or art because they're not ready for it/them? 'Walk on the Wildside' was a popular song, but seems really overt compared to like Coney Island Baby, which seems to just drip with advancement (at least in my limited understanding, which at this point compares advancement to some sort of ether). I remember a post a few weeks ago about R. Kelly's new closet thing and his Advancement status. How can it be advanced if it sells well at the time of its release?

Side Side Question:

When do Artists become advanced? In the Velvets, Lou was Overt, and the same seems to hold for at least Transformer and Berlin, but I don't understand the theory enough to pinpoint a specific time of advancement. You write "In fact, I would say once you achieve Advancement, everything you do will be Advanced." Well, ok, but what does it take to achieve Advancement? One album, song, Mingus's cat training method? A lot of people in shitty punk bands wear black leather jackets, but I wouldn't say they have the smell of Advancement. Regression, maybe.

Answer from Jason:
"Metal Machine Music" was Overt (though it is sometimes called an Advanced Irritant because it was a response to Reed's popularity), and I don't think that Lou Reed was Advanced just yet. I think it is a gradual thing (to answer your last question first) because to be Advanced, you have to have the potential to be Advanced (be brilliant not just good, be innovative not derivative, change the world of music in the next generation) and also have a long track record of brilliant music. One thing you have to say about "Metal Machine Music" is that it was incredibly audacious and sure to please almost no one, which are signs of Advancement.

As far as commercial success, you can be Advanced and be wildly popular, too, but usually it's an accident. Also, for a "cult figure" like Lou Reed, for him to cultivate a larger audience would disappoint his fans, who in their narrow-mindedness feel like he somehow belongs to them or that it's cooler to like something no one else does. Disappointing your Overt fans is Advanced, so if that means being really commercially successful, then so be it. Usually it doesn't last because somehow disappointing the masses is probably the next step. R. Kelly can't be Advanced yet, but some people seem to be excited about the prospect. I don't know much about his music so I can't say, but I will say that his selling a lot of records doesn't preclude him from being Advanced.

Oh, and just because you wear black leather doesn't mean you're Advanced, but it's not a bad start.


Anonymous said...

Well, ok, but what does it take to achieve Advancement? One album, song, Mingus's cat training method?

I think this is an important question. It seems to me that an artist can't achieve advancement by himself, but rather requires not commercial but critical acclaim in order to even be in the position to "upset" notions of his brilliance. This is why, I think, that in a previous post Echo and the Bunnymen were considered unacceptable applicants for the title--no critic ever went far enough in claiming their greatness (maybe they were immediately too embarrassed by the name or the fan base). If a band is simply great but doesn't garner critical acclaim or is even written off by the critics, then they will still be considered shitty--and not "advanced"--when they make a blues record after their second indie record.

Jason Hartley said...

It takes a lot to be Advanced. It takes many years, many great records, many stages, etc. And I would say that critical acclaim is a part of Advancement: Usually the Advanced are at first embraced by critics but not by many listeners, then they are embraced by both, then nobody knows what to make of them. Echo and the Bunnymen could be the greatest band in the world but not be Advanced (most great bands aren't Advanced). And just because they aren't Advanced doesn't mean that their blues record would be bad.

Anonymous said...

Yea, but the key piece of the puzzle seems to be the critical acclaim. If all the rock critics had been on board with U2, for example (a band with many great records, many stages of their career, seminal influence, etc., etc.) then a song like "The Wanderer" with Johnny Cash on vocals would have been considered ridiculously advanced. But since there were always those critics who dissed U2, their candidacy doesn't carry as much weight as Lou Reed's (with his past in VU, a band ALL agree was seminal). So I still feel like it all comes down to more or less unanimous critcal acclaim