"Pop geek culture is characterized by many things, but one is its disproportionate preoccupation with the mechanisms that establish a work’s status and mythos, over the study of the work itself. Geeks lean more toward iconography and social history than formalism. (Of course, a geek can practice both, but when they speak geek they tend to speak in the former, more relatable language.) Our current culture of more-more-more, whether you’re talking about Marvel spinoffs or True Detective dissection, is a natural byproduct of geek culture, because geek culture is fueled by logorrhea and accumulation. The record collectors who picked up Death’s flag were enamored not only of the music but of the process of privileged dissemination and dialogue they get to participate in when such a work is unearthed."

Emily Yoshida, "Death and the Collector: The Blinkered Music Geekery in ‘A Band Called Death,’" Grantland

Though she doesn’t specifically call out critics, Yoshida’s point seems to align with Ted Gioia’s dismissal of contemporary music criticism as a form of “lifestyle reporting,” which I referred to in Cold Case Logic #15 and subsequently wrote about in more detail. (I even name-dropped Death!)

This is as good a place as any to mention that I’ve extensively (you might say obsessively) updated another recent post about the rash of accusations, counter-accusations, and self-reflection that has overtaken critical-industrial complex in 2014.

"[T]he ethos of the artist—someone who is willing to work around the clock with no security, and who will keep on working after punching out the clock—that attitude is more and more demanded of everyone in the economy. Maybe artists can be at the vanguard of saying no to that. But yes, there would have to be a psychological shift where people would have to accept being less special."

Astra Taylor, as interviewed by David Burr Gerrard in The Awl

The Means of Production, Gerrard’s ongoing series of interviews with leftist writers and thinkers, is a true public service. Lots to chew on.  


Double Feature: The Punk Singer, The Square

The Punk Singer & The Square sounds like the title of a dopey romantic comedy (starring Lizzie Caplan and Adam Scott, maybe?). But what we have here is actually a pair of documentaries about the guts and personal sacrifice it takes to stand up for a principle—and how a catchy tune can help. (Throw in Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, while you’re at it.) I doubt I have it in me, which makes me all the more grateful to the few who do. More on the indomitable Kathleen Hanna to come.



Conversation Overheard at the Barber Shop, 4/18/2014

[Coming out of the back room] “I got your book here, Ben Hur.”

"You messed this up. It was immaculate. Had a cover and everything."

"No, I just found it on a shelf and put it in a box."

"And then your kids took it out of the box?"

"No, they didn’t touch that."

[Taking a library card out of a pocket on the inside of the front cover] “Grand Army Plaza. October 13, 1961. I checked it out for a book report…Only one date on this. No one else ever checked it out.”

"No one had a chance."

[Reading] “‘Please return on the date due so your neighbors can enjoy. Five cents for adults for every day late, two cents for children.’”

"You better bring that back. You could just take it there and say you found it on the street."

"Naw. I heard they don’t even have books there anymore."

[Reading the author’s page] “Hey, it says he was from Brooklyn! Oh wait, he was from Brookline, Indiana.”

"Who, Judah Ben Hur?"

"You know, you better be careful. One of our customers works at the library."

[To me] “Are you going to rat me out?”

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One of my first literary heroes and the author of perhaps my favorite novel. What a life.


Today is the day you can purchase your very own copy of In the Course of Human Events, the debut novel by Mike Harvkey—raconteur, karate master, international man of mystery. Good work, buddy!


Cold Case Logic #15 Bonus Track: 5 More Mystery Albums

Following the (possibly ill-conceived) experiment that led me to write about Shea Seger for the most recent CCL, I felt an itch to keep hunting through my CD collection for the few albums about which I know or remember next to nothing. As I suggested in that earlier post, there aren’t many. I tend to obsessively research the music I acquire. Nonetheless, I was able to dig up five more that remain more or less a mystery to me after all these years.

To the hardcore fans of these artists who are no doubt lying in wait (like those quick-trigger Castilions!): I’m not saying nothing is known about your darlings. I’m sure a halfway rigorous Google search would yield plenty. They are not “lost”— the next Rodriguez, Death or Lavender Country. If they were, I have no doubt an enterprising record label like Light in the Attic, Drag City or Paradise of Bachelors would have championed them already—and nerds like me would’ve been all over it.

No, these are artists I encountered years ago on the basis of one or two skimpy facts and, after a brief dalliance with their music, never heard from again. I never encountered elegies to them in the media, never saw their names attached to new projects, never cultivated lasting memories for which they were the soundtrack, never even really wondered, “Whatever happened to…?”

I found that these albums had a couple of things in common: 1) I bought them all, along with Shea Seger’s May Street Project, at Disc-o-Rama, where the price was always right to take a flyer.


(Not this one, the one that used to be right around the corner from the West 4th Street basketball courts.)

2) With one major exception, they all share the same flaw, a kind of smooth professionalism that works against a lasting impression. It may be you need some rough edges, a few juicy peculiarities, to get people talking and wondering what you’re going to do next. (From Chuck Klosterman’s recent Kiss retrospective in Grantland: “There is just no group that’s more fun to think about. There are some that are more fun to listen to, but that’s a different question. Whatever Kiss did, they did it right, including the things they did wrong.”) 

Or maybe all it takes is some scrappy blogger with a dozen or so followers to spread the gospel. I believe that’s my cue!

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"I like to entertain myself by imagining what might happen if the equivalent of poptimism were to transform those other disciplines. A significant subset of book reviewers would turn up their noses at every mention of Jhumpa Lahiri and James Salter as representatives of snobbish, boring novels for the elite and argue that to be a worthy critic, engaged with mass culture, you would have to direct the bulk of your critical attention to the likes of Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer. Movie critics would be enjoined from devoting too much of their time to “12 Years a Slave” (box-office take: $56 million) or “The Great Beauty” ($2.7 million), lest they fail to adequately analyze the majesty that is “Thor: The Dark World” ($206.2 million). What if New York food critics insisted on banging on about the virtues of Wendy’s Spicy Chipotle Jr. Cheeseburger? No matter the field, a critic’s job is to argue and plead for the underappreciated, not just to cheer on the winners."

—Saul Austerlitz, "The Pernicious Rise of Poptimism," The New York Times Magazine

The other hand-wringing critique of contemporary music writing I cite in the new Cold Case Logic.

This is a tough one for me. I’m an enthusiastic consumer of big-ticket pop. Lorde’s Pure Heroine was, without question, one of my favorite albums of last year. Pharrell’s “Happy” has probably gotten more plays on my ipod in 2014 than any other song. And in general, I’m sympathetic to the project of making music criticism more friendly to art created by, and appealing to, women, black people, gays, and others marginalized by classic rock purists.


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Well, someday up in glory
I’ll weep and tell the story
To someone who will smile and say
“You’re a mess, but you’re my child.”

Goodness, is it really real
It would take a baby boy to know the way I feel
Oh my, floating in the blue
I would take the credit but it’s thanks to you.



Don’t Sweat the Technique

I didn’t intend to say any more about Ted Gioia’s take-down of contemporary music criticism (for a brief run-down check out the latest Cold Case Logic) but I kept coming across responses I wanted to post.

First and foremost, there’s Steven Hyden’s unsurprisingly cogent rebuttal in Grantland:

"I sort of see where these people [people like Gioia] are coming from, but I never understand what exactly they’re asking for. Do they really want record reviews to be more pedantic and inscrutable? Is their ideal for pop criticism ‘less jokes, more guitar tablatures’? Do they also hassle film critics about talking too much about the actors and not enough about the gaffers?”

This by way of introduction to a review of the Pixies’ new album, which Hyden uses as a convincing example of why Gioia’s preferred approach to criticism (all close listening, no reading of context) doesn’t always work:

"If all that mattered were the music, I wouldn’t even bother writing about Indie Cindy. It is thoroughly pedestrian, exceptionally unexceptional, and spectacularly slight. But I am writing about Indie Cindy, and the reason is, it is the first full-length album by the Pixies since 1991’s Trompe le Monde. Like that, Indie Cindy suddenly seems important. If lifestyle reporting didn’t exist, Indie Cindy would have virtually no reason to exist, either.”

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