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Sunday Reading

[ 108 ] February 10, 2013 |
  • Melissa Gira Grant on the bad effects of criminalizing sex work. “It is not sex work that exposes sex workers to violence; it is our willingness to abandon sex workers to violence in an attempt to control their behavior.”
  • A compelling story about the brain-damaged former NFL star player George Visger.  “Don’t get the wrong idea. Pissing blood still hurts.”
  • Give Jay Bybee this: he’s consistent.
  • Pretty much what Maura Johnston said about Rick Moody.   The issue isn’t not liking Taylor Swift (which is perfectly fine; I don’t particularly care for her music myself, although I think it’s silly to claim that she’s untalented.)   The primary issue isn’t even misogyny, although I agree that apart from their gender I can’t figure out what Swft and Natalie Imbruglia have in common.   The biggest problem is that Moody seems fully immersed in nonsense about “authenticity.” There may well be good arguments against Swift’s popular and critical standing, but Moody’s arguments — “OMG, drum machines!”  “Studio musicians!”  “Marketing!” “Ambition!” — certainly aren’t those.   Again, there’s nothing wrong with contemporary top-40 pop music not generally being to one’s taste — I am also an old white guy, and I don’t listen to a great deal of my own volition either — but to call people who have different tastes “dupes” is really irritating.

Comments (108)

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  1. Cautious Man says:

    On “studio musicians” for Ms. Swift.

    Bob Dylan used studio musicisns. I don’t know if this story is apocryphal, but I’ve read that the trombonist on “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” was perplexed regarding what the song was about, but happily played.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I’ve also heard rumors that that CBS didn’t just deposit his albums in plain brown wrapping on the doors of record stores hoping they’d sell. But I could be wrong.

    • commie atheist says:

      Al Kooper was a studio musician who came up with the organ part for “Like a Rolling Stone.” Jimmy Page was a studio musician who joined the Yardbirds and later formed some band or other, I forget what they were called. Seriously, anyone complaining about “studio musicians” as a sign of inauthentic music should seriously just shut up.

      • howard says:

        it’s certainly remarkable to learn, here in my advanced years, that booker t and the mgs, motown’s funk brothers, the nashville cats whom dylan and a million others used, the muscle shoals guys whose nickname is escaping me, and loads of others were inauthentic. good to have that cleared up.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        You know, I used to like Let It Bleed. But then I found out that what seemed like multiple guitar parts were mostly overdubbed — by the same guy — with the supervision of a professional producer! And apparently studio musicians played keyboards and slide guitars! And they didn’t even write “Love In Vain”! Music died that very day.

      • Uncle Ebeneezer says:

        Not to mention Jimi Hendrix.

    • Uncle Ebeneezer says:

      Pretty much anyone who is known for their name rather than a band name: Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, James Taylor, Michael Jackson, Sting, Madonna, etc. etc. has made their living on the skills of studio musicians. Exceptions like the E Street Band are out there, but they are rare.

      • wjts says:

        There are a fair few “band bands” that made pretty extensive use of studio musicians, too – Talking Heads springs immediately to mind.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        And back up musicians on stage!

        “Made their living on” seems a bit odd. As I wrote above, a lot of people with tons of technical skills go into making a recording. The engineer matters a lot. Whomever’s doing the arranging and editing counts. Hell, the mastering matters a ton to the final sound. There’s skill and creativity in all these jobs. A good studio musician combines a particular form of musicianship with improv and on the fly arranging. But there’s usually a fair bit of input from the producer (and the composer/band, if they aren’t also producing) and the engineers.

  2. Hob says:

    The Maura Johnston piece is pretty much how I feel about most pop music criticism. But I have no idea what she means by this sarcastic bit:

    “Oh, and he also got in the fact that She’s No Lena Dunham, because Lena Dunham is the one woman under 30 who is depicting her generation correctly, which is to say with aspirations toward Importance that should be torpedoed by her self-loathing more often than they actually are.”

    It sounds like she assumes Dunham actually is the character she plays on Girls and believes everything that character says, and that even aspiring to do something “important” is automatically a bad thing for either a filmmaker or a character to do unless they balance it out by hating themselves. Those would all be odd things to assume— and would sound awfully similar to the self-righteous obsession with authenticity, and tendency to make differences of taste into personal attacks, that she’s criticizing Moody for. But maybe that’s not what she’s saying, since I’m not sure I even understand the syntax of the second half of that sentence.

    • witless chum says:

      I’m at little unclear there, but I think Johnson is just talking about what Dunham puts on her show.

      In the original Moody just says

      she tells us true things about what teenage girls or young women really feel, as though she were the Lena Dunham of the pop world (which she is not)

  3. Bill Murray says:

    former NFL star George Visger.

    It’s a bit of a stretch to call Visger a former NFL star — 3 games for a 6-10 team is not exactly star-like

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Yes, corrected.

    • Alan Tomlinson says:

      Not a star, just somebody who’s dying because of a sick game. As far as I’m concerned, watching football is like watching a snuff film. If you watch that shit, you’re part of the problem.


      Alan Tomlinson

      • Bill Murray says:

        same is true of boxing, MMA, soccer and rugby. Baseball, basketball and tiddlywinks are probably OK

        • Ian says:

          boxing, MMA, soccer and rugby

          Do you really thing these are all equivalent? I would have thought the risk level of soccer was down in the basketball-tiddlywinks range. Rugby is higher risk, but it doesn’t have the constant head-head contact that North American football linemen experience on every play.

      • Meh, there’s an awful lot of physically demanding jobs out there that take a nasty toll on your body and create a rather miserable old age. At least (professional) football players get good money/fame/glory in exchange for it.

        • GeoX says:

          Well, a few of them do. But a discomfiting number are chewed up and spat out with essentially nothing, especially because of the NFL’s unconscionable failure to provide adequate health insurance to ex-players after having maimed them.

          • This is true, but that’s an issue the players have to decide they care about themselves first. I’m just saying let’s not act like long-careered NFL players are coal miners or something.

            • LosGatosCA says:

              Unless some of coal miners are ending up with brains like Kenny King after seven years I’d say not.

              I’m not sure people understand the state of mental debilitation players like Andre Waters and Mike Webster experienced. Sure folks like Jim Brown who retired at 30 are fine and QBs who did not experience the head trauma at the rate lineman and defensive hitters can sound pretty smart.

              Most professional athletes suffer from chronic physical conditions as a result of their athletic careers. That’s why being compensated for their talent, their short earnings window, and their post-career health complications is so urgent for them.

              Think of all those 49ers who were thought to have ALS from some shared environmental exposure or Lou Gehrig himself who did not see his 38th birthday after playing all those consecutive games.

              No, they aren’t coal miners. But the health risks they are running are greater than has been generally understood.

            • Karate Bearfighter says:

              The problem isn’t guys who have 12 year careers who end up with CTE, (although that should also not be an acceptable outcome); it’s the huge pyramid of players behind every NFL star. For every active roster spot in the NFL, there are 40 college players, and roughly 600 high school players, all of whom are at risk for CTE. Junior Seau had the money to pay for treatment; Joe Schmoe who played in high school and tried to walk on at Minnesota St.-Mankato probably doesn’t.

  4. sparks says:

    C’mon, who’s going to be the first to haul out that moth-eaten Zappa quote?

  5. Snarki, child of Loki says:

    “authenticity”? For pop music??

    Sure, if you’re talking Classical or Jazz, I can see it being a real issue, but POP?

    • Can’t speak to classical, but in jazz there are always arguments about authenticity. How someone could dispute Miles Davis’ bona fides is difficult to wrap one’s mind around, but there were plenty of people who did exactly that as soon as he went electric. Other examples abound, particularly with singers.

  6. JL says:

    I’m really glad to see the Grant piece on sex workers (though I wish she had been more clear that there ARE a lot of feminists, especially young feminists, who agree with her on this issue).

    When I was at Creating Change recently, I went to a panel on the issues of trans sex workers. So many of the people in the room, regardless of gender or trans status, were themselves current or former sex workers (including the nice trans college guy who sat next to me). It was very moving to hear their stories. Some of them got into sex work by choice, some were forced, some felt degraded by it, some didn’t, but none of them thought that criminalization was the way to address their problems. In fact, they thought criminalization was quite a bad thing for them.

    A lot of the same issues came up in the lunch that I went to (at the same conference) on police profiling of queer people of color.

  7. Jim Lynch says:

    Rhuby’s report of Visger’s tragedy is a brilliant piece of somber storytelling.

  8. Matt says:

    What would be wrong with using studio musicians? Richard Thompson was a studio musician for a while, even.

    • CaptBackslap says:

      So was Richard Hawley, for quite awhile.

      But yeah, no idea what his issue with that is; he surely can’t be saying that everyone should be a multi-instrumentalist like Zach Condon, but I don’t know what else he could mean.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Also, like Moody I like the recent Jolie Holland record. But I’m not sure how he can like it,since crucial to the sound is hired studio gun Marc Ribot.

  9. Aren’t studio musicians usually, like, several magnitudes more proficient on their instruments than many other musicians? Or is that the complaint? I’m confused. Wouldn’t most solo artists use them?

    Also, Taylor Swift is not really my bag…but I think calling her untalented is goofy. I think she writes or co-writes some of her stuff. That’s not nothin’.

    • Bill Murray says:

      It’s not Debbie Gibson, either

    • John Revolta says:

      Truth be told, it ain’t just solo artists using ’em. For a long
      long time, studio musicians have been “ghosting” for more well-known people, and I don’t just mean the Monkees.

      For that matter, I hear rumors that movie stars don’t always do their owns stunts either. That’s………..showbiz.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Aren’t studio musicians usually, like, several magnitudes more proficient on their instruments than many other musicians?

      Actually, from my observation, the key difference is that they are vastly more proficient at performing in a studio. It’s really quite different from live performance.

      On my dearie’s first studio album, we discovered that friends who could do amazing things on the stage would choke hard in the studio. Over the next three albums I’ve consistently observed that the studio pros typically come out way cheaper than friends giving the friends rate (or pro bono) simply because they eat up studio time, producer (my sweetie’s) will, and engineering time. The studio pros come in, listen, nail a few tracks, add some extra, then go. Awesome.

      (For example, playing to a prerecorded track is hugely different than playing with a group (e.g., no visuals, the other musicians don’t adjust, etc.)

      (Note that having done a lot of recording of your own stuff doesn’t necessarily translate into being a good studio musician.)

      A recording is a specific kind of work best thought as akin to a film. It takes a lot of specialized skills to make one even if some great ones can be made “live”.

      I only skimmed the Moody, but I don’t think he’s saying she’s untalented, in the sense of not having a level of proficiency. His claim is that she lacks ….”spark”? “life”? “authenticity”? E.g.,

      I respect Taylor Swift’s ability to steal from every available popular form of the moment, viz., “country” and pop and hip hop and electronica, but there is nothing in this music that does anything new besides fusing together a mandolin with a programmed drum track, and so I say it is inert, like the flattened squirrel, manufactured, ungenuine

      So, basically, neither her words nor her music speak to him. Which is fine, but it’d be easier just to say that. I think “Mean” is fun if a bit dippy and “22” is catchy enough and nothing else has grabbed me even a little bit.

      (And, really, what’s wrong with fusing a mandolin with a drum track? Surely the question is the quality of the fusion, not the novelty?)

  10. Medrawt says:

    Classical music criticism isn’t always bad. Jazz criticism has a bunch of problems. Pop criticism is pretty terrible. Pop criticism from people whose musical worldview is bounded entirely by a post-Beatles mentality and context of what “real” music is supposed to be is the worst.

  11. SatanicPanic says:

    Oh I hated that Salon article, starting with the title I Dared Criticize Taylor Swift– such bravery! Get this man a medal!

  12. CaptBackslap says:

    Taylor Swift’s lyrics have improved, but that’s not an Olympian bar to get over, considering that her first album included this:

    I was riding shotgun
    With my hair undone
    In the front seat of his car
    He’s got a one-hand feel
    On the steering wheel
    The other on my heart

    On the other hand, Dale Peck was mostly right about Rick Moody.

    • SatanicPanic says:

      That’s not all that bad. We all had those times right- enjoying the newfound freedom of a driver’s license, and the joy of feeling up the person next to us. Alicia Keys routinely comes up with much worse.

      • CaptBackslap says:

        It’s so sloppy. Of course, she was 16 when she wrote that album, so I’ll cut her some slack, but damn . It’s like reading Graham Greene; I want to grab a red pen.

        I’d agree that Alicia Keys has become progressively less interesting as her career has gone on.

        • SatanicPanic says:

          Alicia is a great singer; I wish she’d hire a lyricist. There have been some really good song in recent years that were marred by awful lyrics. Bruno Mars and Adele are two others who shouldn’t be allowed to write any more lyrics until they shape up.

          • Informant says:

            What’s wrong with Adele’s songwriting?

            • SatanicPanic says:

              Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead from Someone Like You drives me up the wall. Lasting and hurting are not opposites.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                That’s not really a good criticism. The song is a regret song about lost love told from a first person perspective. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in that situation, but it’s very natural and common to perceive the alternatives precisely in that way.

                The situation of the love (i.e., the relationship) lasting while hurting is an interesting one worth exploring, but I don’t see any reason why “Someone Like You” has to even acknowledge it.

                (In any case, it’s a quote of the lover:

                Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
                I wish nothing but the best for you, too
                Don’t forget me, I begged, I remember you said
                Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead

                I.e., it’s a dump line.)

                (If anything, what I have to fight is the notion that the dumper was a real schmuck and try to figure out why the hell the dumpee is still hung up on them, to the point of trying to find someone like them. OTOH, I can read the dumpee as a schmuck too…showing up sometime well after the relationship was over. Actually, I kinda enjoy that shifting interplay as it’s also central to a lot of people coping.)

                The bits of Adele’s discussion of the song on Wikipedia are worth reading.

                It was coauthored, but I don’t know how much Dan Wilson contributed to the lyrics.)

                This is hardly the foundation of an “Adele needs a lyricist” line!

                • SatanicPanic says:

                  Just because someone said it to her doesn’t make it profound. We were born and raised in a summer haze? Does she mean their relationship was born and raised? Who or what raised it?

                  Or Old friend why are you so shy?- uh, maybe because he’s home with his new wife and not pleased that you showed up at his house unannounced? FWIW I guess it does capture the awkward things people say after a breakup.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  It is supposed to be profound? It’s descriptive. And, if you’ve felt that way, it’s rather poignent. You do need to empathize.

                  This is like saying in response to a line like “I can’t live without you” to say, “Well obviously you can because you are alive right now.”

                  We were born and raised in a summer haze? Does she mean their relationship was born and raised? Who or what raised it?

                  Again, this is a strangely hyperliteral approach to reading the text. If we look at the whole verse:

                  You know how the time flies
                  Only yesterday was the time of our lives
                  We were born and raised in a summer haze
                  Bound by the surprise of our glory days

                  it’s clear that she is contrasting everything through there relationship as summery, joyful, alive in contrast to the implicit now for her which is winter dead and barran. I think there is some irony or wishful thinking on the part of the protagonist: Her lover isn’t in a lifeless winter but fulfilled beyond her. I think the protagonist is a bit aware about the hollowness of the cliches “time of our lives…glory days”. It’s not real, but what you say.

                  Or Old friend why are you so shy?- uh, maybe because he’s home with his new wife and not pleased that you showed up at his house unannounced?

                  Yeah, but it’s not a query, it’s a challenge. A slightly crazed challenge, but the feeling that you have a claim to some attention or at least acknowledgement is very powerful and perhaps not altogether wrong. And notice again, the protagonist recongizes the tresspass:

                  Old friend, why are you so shy?
                  Ain’t like you to hold back or hide from the light

                  So she runs into him. It’s not clear that she actively stalks him. The first verse (“I heard…”) suggests that they’ve had an encounter. There’s an ambiguity in how much she set it up and I think the protagonist feels it. You engineer such things under a delusion that you aren’t doing so.

                  I hate to turn up out of the blue, uninvited
                  But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it
                  I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded
                  That for me, it isn’t over

                  Now we have some excuse making then a real claim, and not a pretty one. She’s there because it still means something to her.

                  Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
                  I wish nothing but the best for you, too

                  This is the pulling back; the amends; the trying to make it not creepy while preserving the reality of the impulse. (So, forget her, she’ll move, if not on, then sideways.)

                  Don’t forget me, I begged, I remember you said
                  Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead

                  There’s another ambiguity there…what’s lasting. The memory? The cherishing of a love past. In another way, you can read the line not as a callous dick move, but as the choice of how to live after the break up. Holding the love part, if only in memory, or ripping yourself apart. The protagonist is struggling with that choice, but also feels the dickiness of it.

                  FWIW I guess it does capture the awkward things people say after a breakup.

                  And feel. Plus, they marry well to the music so they become more and that presses all the ambiguities of shame and self compassion and futility.

                  I think it’s a great song. There’s not a lot of imagery in it, but it tries to capture the shape of the feelings. The words fit in well to that, at least to my ear.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Plus I just love the internal rhyme which is skipped in the second line to punch up “days”. I’d be willing to go for a bit of incoherence in return for that, esp. given the music. (Interestingly, when I listen to it, given her sometimes odd intonation, I here, “time of our lies” instead of “our lives”, which makes the “haze” stronger as well as the binding. On that, the “surprise” of their glory days could well be that their love didn’t last or, indeed, that their glory days are small and not particularly glorious.

                  I don’t insist on it as going from “time of our lives” to “haze” to “bound by surprise” also works well as the embittering progression of enlightenment.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  That being said, obviously if it annoys you it annoys you. But I don’t think these are non-deliberate nor that make such decisions represents a deficiency of craft per se.

                  So you may not like her lyrical style (in this song…or you have beef with others as well?), but that doens’t mean she “need to get a lyricist”. The lyrics are perfectly competent and arguably very fine indeed, even if she made choices that annoy you.

        • John Revolta says:

          riding shotgun………in the front seat

          Gotta give that a meh.

    • snarkout says:

      Dale Peck also called Ulysses a “diarrhetic flow of words” and blamed the “sterile inventions of Nabokov” and the “reductive cardboard constructions of Barthelme” for Rick Moody. I hope thinking that Rick Moody is being an idiot — or even that Rick Moody’s books aren’t very good — doesn’t mean I have to sign up for the Peck Plan for Aesthetic Brawndo.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Yeah, I have to say I’ve heard a lot worse.

  13. Origami Isopod says:

    Oh, gawd, Reason mag and its skeevy commenters.

    If we are going to call attacks on reproductive and sexual rights a “war on women,”

    There really needs to be a new term for this. The ability to have sex and make babies is not a “right.”

  14. Carbon Man says:

    Sometimes I get the feeling social/sexual liberals think Brave New World is an instruction manual.

  15. “OMG, drum machines!” “Studio musicians!” “Marketing!” “Ambition!”


    Totally inauthentic.

  16. Jon Hendry says:

    “I respect Taylor Swift’s ability to steal from every available popular form of the moment, viz., “country” and pop and hip hop and electronica, but there is nothing in this music that does anything new besides fusing together a mandolin with a programmed drum track, and so I say it is inert, like the flattened squirrel, manufactured, ungenuine”

    I await Moody’s opinion on Iron Maiden adding synth back in the 80s.

    • witless chum says:

      I’d like to hear him on Amorphis’ introduction of the Moog into Scandinavian death metal, just because I’d like to force Rick Moody to listen to Tales from the Thousand Lakes a few times.

  17. LeeEsq says:

    Elijah Wald made a pretty convincing argument that the need for “authenticity” is actually directly linked to mysogyny in his book How the Beatles Destroyed Rock N’Roll:An Alternative History of American Pop Music. Before the 1960s, nobody really cared about authenticity in pop music. The big issue was whether it could be danced to and a particular song wasn’t strongly linked to particular artist. Frank Sinatra or Ellen Fitzgerald might have sung the most famous version of a song but it wasn’t there song.

    Rock music changed this. In rock, for the first time, a particular song is linked to a particular artists regardless of whether they wrote it or not. Eventually it became expected that artistis would right their own material. Than you had mainly male rock critics who argued that rock should be music you listen to like art music rather than pop stars you dance to. When women drove the popular music market, it was mainly about dancing. The turn towards more complex music changed this. So in short, the desire for authenticty is actually strongly linked with mysogyny.

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