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When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 11:32 am
by Pete Fowler
When I was, briefly, a rock writer (1970/74), there seemed to be about a dozen of us who had been through University, dabbled around with History, Eng Lit or Sociology, and took 'seriously' the music that dominated our lives and began writing about it. Almost all of us were in the rather grandly called Rock Writers' Cooperative and all of us were involved in a couple of magazines (Let it Rock and Cream) and worked on particular projects as a group (Story of Pop, Encyclopaedia of Rock, Rock File etc). Charlie was Honorary President, so to speak, since he'd done the only 'serious' book with Sound of the City. He edited a few things of that list above; and, when he didn't - as with Dave Laing and Phil Hardy's Encyclopaedia stuff (a by-product of which is that Dave Laing is still used, to this day, to do a whole bunch of obits) - he was, nevertheless, a leading voice in the conversation involved in its development.

As you know, I myself dropped out, deciding it was more fun to make music than to write about it, and, at the same time, went off into a completely different direction at work. My tenuous links with my old world were largely through continuing to be mates with Charlie; but he, of course, was, by that time, not at all involved in the development of rock writing.

My ignorance became total, even though I ended up working in a University. And I had no idea that a whole industry was under development.

Today I discovered the kind of conference listed below - Andy, I see you're at one of these. My question is simple: when did this explosion happen? Looking cursorily through the topics, there is a distinct overloading of British Punk, a movement that seemed, to those of us in the sticks, to be a wholly temporary movement that flickered for a week and was then buried by its own contradictions. I know I'm in a small minority when I write that; but I've always thought that writing about rock - and now studying it - has been hopelessly skewed towards the viewpoint of those in their 30s and 40s; and that they themselves, like all of us, are hopelessly in love with what they loved as teenagers. (You can witness this when writers are asked, as a collective, to name the greatest records of all time...these invariably link to when they were young). This bias would suggest an explosion since the middle 1990s.

Anyway, I ought to shut up before I go off on one. But, the question: when did the explosion occur of the foci in University Media courses (or Cultural) on rock? I can guess its historical development, and I can guess that one or two of my old buddies were in the middle of it (Simon Frith, Dave Laing) and yes, I do know about Birmingham.

But when did it take off into a stratosphere that now sees people working away at incredibly arcane topics at a seemingly enormous depth?

http://www.reading.ac.uk/history/resear ... vents.aspx

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 11:47 am
by Adam Blake
This is why Lester Bangs had to die so young. If he'd lived to see this, it surely would have killed him.

(Dave Laing was my mentor when I was briefly a music journalist - 1988-91. What a lovely bloke. I have tried to coax him onto this forum but he will not be tempted.)

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 12:34 pm
by AndyM
Pete, there's no short answer to your question, and this forum isn't the place for a really long one, but just a few thoughts.......

The treatment of popular music within academia has really become a growth industry in the past couple of decades. There are now whole journals (with, inevitably, only tiny and exclusive readerships), conferences, courses as part of degrees and in a few places whole degrees. This is partly driven by new, younger generations of scholars who have grown up with the belief that if you're studying 20th century culture you can hardly leave music out, and partly by the changed realities of higher education where bums on seats is a key aim and it's recognised that courses in this area are good recruiters.

This work comes primarily out of the 'rock sociology' of which Simon Frith was the obvious figurehead, and out of the Cultural Studies work on youth subcultures in which Dick Hebdige's work was hugely influential. There are also historians who look at musical trends/phenomena as indicators of wider social change (especially in terms of race, gender, class etc).

What almost none of these folks do is look at the music AS music. Musicological knowledge is nearly non-existent (I plead guilty here!) and although there are a few Music degrees which look at popular music seriously, they are still rare.

The predominant focus on punk is, as you point out, striking. I blame Hebdige, or to be fairer on Hebdige's legacy. Also, for better or worse, a lot of the academics working in these fields are blokey straight men working to a rock=rebellion paradigm which suits some versions of punk really well. Recently, I have noticed an increasing interest in what I would call musically negligible subgenres like anarcho-punk and even Oi, as these can fit very neatly into that rather belligerent, macho thinking. (Or, more kindly put, that politics-emphasising take on rock history.) You can't move in certain circles for earnest young men being earnest about Crass.

Of course, there will always be those who regret/resent this academic 'takeover' of popular culture, but then there are Dickens devotees who don't much care for English Lit degrees.

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 1:29 pm
by Adam Blake
AndyM wrote:What almost none of these folks do is look at the music AS music. Musicological knowledge is nearly non-existent


Thank you, Andy, for putting your finger on why I have no patience with 99% of it. Crass were about many things, but music was not one of them. I think another of the reasons why punk is so high on the agenda is that it celebrated gesture and posture over music and, in the process, wiped out the preceding 15 years of musical development virtually overnight. What would be far more interesting (to me) would be a few courses dedicated to just WHY for example nearly all prog is crap, despite its obvious musicality, and why, despite this, it remains so enormously popular where all those crappy punk bands are not.

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 2:31 pm
by Jamie Renton
I really hope that you bring the same sense of mischief to these conferences that you bring to this forum Andy.

I'd love to think of you arguing that the Michael Zager Band's Let's All Chant possesses greater cultural significance than the combined outputs of Crass and Discharge.

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 3:43 pm
by AndyM
Jamie Renton wrote:I really hope that you bring the same sense of mischief to these conferences that you bring to this forum Andy.

I'd love to think of you arguing that the Michael Zager Band's Let's All Chant possesses greater cultural significance than the combined outputs of Crass and Discharge.


That might be a stretch, even for me, but it's a hell of a lot better as a pleasurable listening experience than anything either of those dubious beat combos ever managed.

Re. your point on prog v. punk, Adam, I could attempt a rationale, but it would be about non-musical factors much more than the music per se. Fashionability, audience demographics and the treacherous concept of 'cool' would all play a part. One not very hidden subtext of 'pop academia' is that one of its driving forces is academics trying to prove they're cool.............whereas, as we all know, nobody cool ever became an academic.

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 3:56 pm
by Adam Blake
Simon Frith was cool.

What fascinates me, and as far as I know it has never really been addressed is what the hell happened to (particularly British) amplified music at the end of the 60s and the start of the 70s? I know LSD is the obvious answer and maybe the obvious answer is the right one after all but from a purely musical perspective, how does one explain things like Spooky Tooth's frankly unbelievable collaboration with Pierre Henri on a version of the Catholic Mass ("Ceremony" 1969)? Emerson, Lake and Palmer butchering a respectable piece of program music from the classical repertoire (Mussorgsky's "Pictures At An Exhibition" - 1971) and being praised for doing so. How could Yes have got away with music as unbearably pretentious as "Tales From Topographic Oceans" (1974) and genuinely thought it was good ? Similarly, Jethro Tull's "A Passion Play" (1973)

You could argue that these things are completely irrelevant but certainly the latter three of these examples were extremely popular. Punk was supposed to do away with such things but once the dust had settled, punk was done and prog was still there, making shedloads of money and pleasing untold thousands of people. In cultural terms, ELP's debauches were far more of a turd in the punchbowl of art than anything the Sex Pistols ever dreamed of.

One of these days I will try and write an essay about it and bore you all stiff with it! (It sure as hell won't get me any letters after my name...)

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 4:18 pm
by AndyM
Simon's cool.........for an academic. It's all relative !

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 4:38 pm
by AndyM
My (probably wobbly) memories of the faux-classical end of prog and what thrilled its devotees, among whom I was not but plenty of friends and relatives were, was the valuing of:

(a) instrumental dexterity as an end in itself (as opposed to musical complexity actually expressing anything meaningful -- a category in which you could put, say, Coltrane and Hendrix)
(b) reputational respectability through association with established paternalistic/bourgeois culture, which in asserting that OF COURSE Yes were more culturally complex than Pickettywitch meant a rejection of the unrespectable, non-establishment status that had given rise to rock and its magic in the first place. Deep Purple played a CONCERTO, look how far we've advanced from silly old Little Richard........

These arguments had particular attractions for particular people. Straight white grammar-school boys, for example (though not ALL of them and not ONLY them). Class, race, gender & the politics of taste ahoy!!

Blah blah, yada yada..........

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 4:51 pm
by Adam Blake
AndyM wrote:Blah blah, yada yada..........


Maybe it's boring to you but it's not to me. You have just illuminated something I hadn't thought of before: that the rise of this crap was a reaction on the part of the cultural establishment. In which case they surely got their fingers burnt. But can we blame it all on "Sgt Pepper"? Or "Days Of Future Passed"?

I've been listening to Faust again recently. Now that's some subversive music!

More anon, but I must get ready for work.

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 5:08 pm
by AndyM
I would place the emphasis slightly differently - I don't see it as a response from the establishment as much as evidence of how badly some of those 60s/70s prog-kids badly wanted to join the establishment, or at least please it. If I was a Freudian, I'd say it was all about wanting to please Daddy.

But as your Faust example shows, the really daring youngsters were less accommodating. Daddy could grudgingly acknowledge 'Pictures at an Exhibition' ('I wish they'd get their hair cut, but at least they can play their instruments'), but he was never going to cope with 'Tago Mago' or 'Lick My Decals Off Baby'. Or, for that matter, 'Double Barrel', but that's another avenue of the argument...........

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 7:14 pm
by Jamie Renton
I don't think the consumption of prog rock had anything to do with music on the whole (or much to do with Freud for that matter), it was aspirational cultural consumption. Just like rich business types purchasing modern art, just like wannabe yuppies purchasing Sade CDs back in the 1980s, just like Lawrence in Abigail's Party purchasing (but never reading) the complete works of Shakespeare in a failed attempt to impress his suburban neighbours, just like me purchasing (but never reading) 1986 Booker Prize winning novel The Bone People in an equally failed attempt to impress a certain someone...

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 7:42 pm
by Chris P
dear boy, one doesn't 'consume' prog rock, they 'listen' to it. I say listen & hear avant prog:

http://youtu.be/LDEuWOshTq4
http://youtu.be/8PX5KKQqN-c

or for the bolder traveller, the new Gong album sounds like a beautiful head fucker of the deepest floating anarchistiest best possible sort for the planet, also with Kavus on guitar:

http://www.planetgong.co.uk/bazaar/cd/iseeyou.shtml

anyways back to the pissing industry execs if we must, you guys hold them down & I'll kick them with my softest slippers on (so fucking subtley they won't know they've been born!) :)

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 7:58 pm
by Rob Hall
I bought 'Pictures at an Exhibition' the day it came out. There, I've said it. It was cheap, and even though I was very poor, it was a no brainer.

I also possessed records by Van der Graaf Generator. I saw Yes in concert and owned their first album (it featured a Beatles cover!) I gave up on Pink Floyd at 'Meddle'. By the time the likes of Greenslade came along, I'd moved on.

Re: When did this Industry explode?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 8:56 pm
by Pete Fowler
Great stuff (as I write that, I think of that 'forum' column in Private Eye where bogbrush - is that his name? - always ends a thread with that comment....sorry about that!)

A couple of quick ones: yes, Adam, Dave Laing's a good'un. When I knew him best, he was one of the 'Sussex crowd', three or four of the early writers who'd just come out of degrees there (Phil Hardy and Gary Herman were the others). I had my differences with him, I didn't really like his very early book on Buddy Holly, but he was one hell of a nice guy and I thought he 'found himself' with the Encyclopaedia stuff. He and Phil Hardy were absolutely right when they were hard-line on editing that....they made me do complete re-writes of the pieces I did for it (Orbison, Everly Brothers, Band and a few others) because it was obvious, I suspect, that I'd just got stoned and spewed the words onto the page. Dave tried, only a month ago, to get a book I've written taken on by Faber: he failed but the very gesture, to me, shows the nature of the guy.

Prog Rock: I really liked Jamie's Abigail's Party link, but I don't think it's right. In the early 70s, by which time I was teaching in Art Schools, Prog Rock was always associated, by me, with privately-educated kids - and with the occasional social aspirants in other classes. I deliberately asked, in 1974, in the FE College in which I worked, to be given a few General Studies classes with Engineering students: here there was a very clear divide. Status Quo were the Kings for the Crowd; whereas there was a smattering of those who wished to escape their background for other sounds: but this, even by then, was dominated not by Prog Rock but by David Bowie. Bowie was one of the few cross-over artists of the time - he appealed across the class lines, just as The Beatles and the Stones had.

Andy, I certainly agree with you and Adam on Crass. And agree with you on lots more, too: I hope you don't think I'm trying to demean the whole cultural studies movement, I don't have either the knowledge or the experience to do that.

And finally, Adam, again. I still have, in this very room, something of which I'm almost insanely proud. It's a couple of belting reviews of the one and only single I ever did by Lester Bangs and Robert Christgau. The single might sound more than a little weary by now; but, bloody hell, can you imagine the feeling I got when Bangs wrote me up in a positive fashion?

Because he had been a hero of mine.