Friday, March 30, 2012

the single greatest piece of pop writing ever?


(published 1969, written mid-1968)

Probably, it’s not been a bad time to write this book: pop is at its most important junction yet, it’s the gap between two major phases, and this has been quite a clean moment to make some interval notes on it.

What I’ve written about has been the rise and Fall of Superpop, the noise machine, and the image, hype and beautiful flash of rock’n’roll music. Elvis riding on his golden Cadillac, James Brown throwing off his robes in a fit, Pete Towshend slaughtering his audience with machine-gun guitar, Mick Jagger hanging of his mike like Tarzan Weismuller in the jungle, P.J. Proby – all the heroic acts of pulp.

Superpop? It hasn’t been much, it’s been simple always, silly and vulgar and fake, and it has been a noise, that’s all. In the end, specific records and singers have hardly mattered. Instead, it’s been pop itself, just the existence of it, the drone of it running through everything.

Myself, I was ten when it started, I’m twenty-two now, and it has bossed my life. It has surrounded me always, cut me off, and it has given me my heroes, it has made my myths. Almost, it has done my living for me. Six hours of trash every day, and it’s meant more to me than anything else.

Superpop, it’s been like a continuing Western, it’s had that classic simplicity, the same power to turn cliché into myth. It’s had no mind of its own. All it’s ever done has been to catch currents, moods, teen obsessions, and freeze them in images. It has made giant caricatures of lust, violence, romance and revolt, and they’ve been the most powerful, most accurate fictions of this time.

And then, beyond the heroes, beyond anything, there’s been the noise, the endless and perfect and changeless beat. Noise has been everything.

Anyhow, it’s finished now, the first mindless explosion, and the second stage has begun. Pop has gotten complicated. That was inevitable, everything ends, nothing remains simple. Pop has split itself into factions and turned sophisticated. Part of it has a mind now, makes fine music. The other part is purely industrial, a bored and boring business like any other. Either way, there are no more heroes and no more Superpop. It has all been reduced to human beings.

What’s left? In England, the industry is split roughly eighty per cent ugly and twenty per cent idealist.

The ugly eighty are mainline pop, computerized, and they hit a largely teenybop or pre-teen market, ages six to sixteen, plus a big pocket of middle-aged parents. They have a function and they sell records. They make money. When I’ve said that, I’ve said everything.

The blue-eyed twenty are hardly even pop stars any more. With very few exceptions, notably the Beatles and the Stones, they don’t sell records, and, after all, what’s pop about unpopularity? In ten years, they’ll probably be called by another name entirely, electric music or something, and they’ll relate to pop the way that art movies relate to Hollywood.

How good could they be? Logically, there’s no limit – amplified music is an obvious art form for this century and there’s reason whatever why it shouldn’t produce major works.

Very soon, you’ll have pop composers writing formal works for pop choirs, pop orchestras; you’ll have pop concerts held in halls and the audience all sat in rows, no screaming or stamping but applauding politely with their hands; you’ll have sounds and visuals combined, records that are played on something like a gramophone and TV set knocked inot one, the music creating picture and patterns; you’ll have cleverness of every kind imaginable.

Myself, though, I’m not interested. Not that I have anything much against masterworks in principle but I’m hooked on image, on heroics. It’s like films – the best in art movies have no doubt been the most sensitive, brilliant and meaningful works of art, and where have I been? In the back row of the Roxy, of course, gawking at Hollywood. The art movie carries the quality and Hollywood carries the myth.

Superpop is mass media, it is teen music always, it has to hit. Ideally, it has to do what Bogart and Brando and Monroe have done in films, Gable and Fred Astaire – it has to be intelligent and simple both, it has to carry its implications lightly and
it has to be fast, funny, sexy, obsessive, a bit epic.

The words of Little Richard still apply. They summed up what pop was about in 1956. They sum it up now and always:


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