“If punk means anything in 2014, it’s in empowering the Ashley Monroes and Isaiah Rashads of the world”

Scott Woods performs an invaluable service by creating a one stop shopping site for all things Greil Marcus, with the hopes of ranking with Robert Christgau’s as an online resource for an invaluable and essential rock critic. In 2002 I was obsessed with In the Fascist Bathroom and Lipstick Traces, going so far as to write an unpublished novel based on several ideas limned in the former; it was still a time when I clicked on Salon just to read the latest home of his Real Life Top Ten column. Now I no longer have to scrounge through microfiche at my university to read Pazz & Jop comments. I’ve paraphrased the following for years:

I realize word has it that they’re about pop music but I don’t hear it that way at all: for me they do what pop has always done, which is to at once make sense of life and heighten it. The music is alive on its own terms, which, if they are self-referential, don’t communicate that way: there’s a vocal interplay at the end of “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” that’s just bottomless in its complexity, in its pure delight in texture and mixing. Listening to “Rent,” I wonder where the melody came from–did they happen on it, say, My god, we’ve got an all-time pop melody here, what words can we write that could live up to it, or did they derive that all-time pop melody out of a serious lyric, sardonic wit, etc? And I don’t understand, just don’t get, the people who say the singing is flat, wimpy, pallid, emotionless, and so on. It’s anonymous–like all the best early punk voices.

This comment is, of course, about Pet Shop Boys. The mother lode is the last remark. That any man or woman could form or join a band and open a mouth and change an audience’s nervous system is central to the punk ethos; if punk means anything in 2014, it’s empowering the Ashley Monroes, Hayley Williamses, and Isaiah Rashads of the world.

But boy does he does dwell on the world historic part about anonymous punk voices. The Hegelian approach to grand narrative lends itself to easy parody. I wrote this one today based on his riff on Eminem’s good but not world historic “Lose Yourself”:

Then Charli XCX’s bit on “Fancy” starts, and in an instant it blows Iggy Azalea away. The music dissolves the movie, reveals it as a lie, a cheat, as if it were made not to reveal but to cover up the seemingly bottomless pit of resentment and desire that is the song’s true source. Again and again the piece all but blows up in the face of the woman who’s chanting it, Charli lost in her rhymes until suddenly people are shouting at her from every direction and the music jerks her into the chorus, again and again, which he escapes in turn.

Great criticism often means addled judgment. Example: his review of Bowie’s Lodger. He gets the artist exactly right and the album quite wrong. Rereading it, in fact, reminded me that I missed his toiling in the grind of reviewing hackery. He needs it. We need it.

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