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click opera - Retro necro
February 2010
 
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Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 11:55 am
Retro necro

At a British airport. What to buy with the few pound coins in your pocket, before you return to the euro-zone? Magazine rack. Glitz and bling and blondes. The music section seems ever-shrinking. Not just shrinking, but aging. Rock stars in their sixties on the cover. Or dead rock stars.

"Joy Division -- Love! Fear! Isolation!" cries Mojo magazine. Roll up! Roll up! Suicide! Archives! Free CD! "With two new films and a raft of reissues, 2007 will be the Manchester moodists' year." What a shame Ian isn't around to enjoy the misery!



What is this retro culture, this necro culture? Where did this death thing begin?

When did Mojo start? November 1993. The year before I left Britain for Paris, and three years after I bought my first CD player.

Mojo had an American look. Kind of cluttered. And it was mostly about old rockers and dead rockers. It was like Q magazine beyond the grave.

I'm not saying it wasn't good. We were all, at that point, drawing some inspiration from things retro. As well as buying new records, we were replacing old vinyl with CDs. They were parallel projects. That's what you did when you bought a CD player.

Ah, yes, the arrival of the CD. We have to blame that too. Suddenly record labels were reissuing everything. Why put out new stuff when you can make tons of money just putting out old stuff? Archive fever. The labels got it, and we got it too. For the first time, you could see the "history of rock" stretching out decades behind. You could have it on your shelf, organized by decade. You could appreciate how Oasis sounded like The Bea--

STOP! STOP THIS NOW! Let's not justify it! It was a horrific time, a time of horrific conservatism! Death began to creep over the medium I loved! What should have been covered with warm sperm started being covered with mold and worms and bacteria!

Mojo means libido. In the second Austin Powers film (1999), Dr Evil has stolen Austin's mojo. "The sexually wounded swinger must travel back in time and, with the help of agent Felicity Shagwell, recover his vitality."

So, late in the 90s, Bobby Gillespie -- a man who's spent most of his life impersonating older rock stars -- hits 40 and declares that it's okay, after all, to be old. "The young can't get it up," he says. Iggy Pop can. And, lo, Iggy's wizened face appears everywhere, and young bands just sound like Iggy wannabes. Or, you know, somebody wannabes. The weight of the past gets bigger, for some reason.



From a distance, for those of us less committed to rock'n'roll values than Gillespie, something looks seriously amiss in music. Why did we choose pop music instead of classical? Because classical was an academic art, an interpretive art, a conservative art, locked into a fixed roster of dead geniuses. But look, that's what pop music was becoming too! An undertaking for undertakers. In fact, classical was probably changing quicker!

Some of us started jumping ship. The art world seemed to be about now. It seemed to have a libido, a mojo rather than a Mojo magazine. It seemed to be about the deliciously confusing plethora of new names, contemporary production, flow, invention, novelty. Creativity was here. Rock, meanwhile, was set in stone, a tombstone. It was official culture, and even the new bands were just parodies of the old ones, the good old ones from the good old days.

So here's Ian Curtis on the cover of Mojo magazine. I read it on the plane. I like to read about death on planes, because I'm afraid of dying on a plane.

Love will tear us apart, but death will bring us together. You sometimes think, with these necro-retro magazines, that death is more like a debut than a departure. Death is the precondition of entry into their pages. Death makes you the readers' best friend. If you're dead you're an alright geezer. You've joined the club, you're in the archives. Here comes Syd Barrett! He's dead, so he's here with us! Good old Dead Syd!

The annoying thing about living artists is that they just won't lie down and be what you know them to be. Here's Ian Gittins, reviewing my Spitz show in The Guardian last week. "20 years ago he was a fey acoustic poet writing cerebral, lascivious songs of sexual opportunism. He was a tremendous wordsmith, yet his self-consciousness made his gigs distinctly underwhelming affairs. Two decades on, this hyper-literate cult artist has long eschewed the guitar in favour of barbed electronica and baleful glitch-pop. He has also taken the questionable decision to tackle the problem of his extreme shyness by turning his live performances into a one-man theatre of the absurd... At its best, this cracked auteur's music aches with a stark melancholy, and his erudite words can work as standalone poetry. Sadly, tonight is all about slapstick..."

For Gittins, I'm potentially Nick Drake -- if I'll just lie still. You get the sense that there'll be a great sigh of relief when the obituary can put everything in the past tense and the silly vaudeville routines, the awkward dancing, stops forever. But I REFUSE TO DIE! I like dancing! I like mixing the serious with the silly! I think I've got the balance just right! And what's all this about "extreme shyness", Ian? Don't you remember that party you threw out in Kew, when I started kissing some Irish girl and then dated her sister for a while? Was that the behaviour of a shy, melancholic bard, Ian?



Leave a nice corpse, leave a nice back catalogue. Thom Yorke will, I'm sure. His moaning style will sound even better from beyond the grave. Death will give him the ultimate reason to moan. But some of us like life. Some of us want to dance. Some of us remember Yeats' lines:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress

Don't get me wrong, I use death in my work too. It's the shadow cast by the sun, the black backing the mirror needs to reflect. I'm always going on about the beauty of museums and sobriety. In the mp3 of my Tate gig I stretch the word "death" over about 20 seconds. And I announce the second song as "a requiem for my libido". But "Ex-Erotomane" turns out to be a bit tongue-in-cheek: grief-as-celebration. And my reason for liking museums more than rock concerts or clubs is that there's more love of life there -- precisely because everybody who made that stuff is dead.

Then again, couldn't that be used as a justification for Mojo? Isn't that like saying the young can't get it up, and so you turn to the dead? They're rock hard, you know.

63CommentReplyShare

eustaceplimsoll
Eustace Plimsoll
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 11:21 am (UTC)

Well, Ian Gittins must have been about the only one there who didn't enjoy it. Was the Irish girl his gal or something?

I saw a butterfly in the cold London drizzle on the 11th of January; the same day that 'Nights in January warmer than July' was the morning's headline. I think death's going to be getting even more fashionable.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 11:35 am (UTC)

And yet you still bought the magazine...

Aren't you having your cake and eating too? Elsewhere you celebrate postmodernism and yet the retro culture is clearly an outgrowth of that same postmodernism. And its necrophiliac tendency is merely postmodern retro-romanticism. Elsewhere, you've accused people who want to ignore the postmodernity of our age as acting in bad faith, but here you seem to project an unreconstructed modernist stance, opposing the supposed "nowness" of the art world with the retro-ness of rock, bemoaning the fact that rock is now part of the "establishment". Surely your binaries are as retro as anything rock could throw at us?

By the way, I'm not convinced that the art world is any less afflicted by retro. The "quotes" may be marginally more subtle, but they're still there. Last year's Turner Prize didn't really scream "now", did it? It screamed myriad references to past artists and past movements. It did to me, anyway.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 12:10 pm (UTC)

It's a cleft stick I'm caught in as much as anyone else. Yes, postmodernism is "postmortemism", it balances its necrophiliac "archive fever" with its tendency to lock us into an eternal spontaneous present moment in which nothing has any weight. The synchronic and the diachronic meet in the vanishing point of "now" (if you want any more of this stuff, there's a postmodernism generator out there).

I think in the past I've distinguished between self-conscious postmodernism and naive postmodernism, rather than talking about bad faith. That largely comes down to intelligence -- Liam Gallagher is a naive postmodernist, Paul de Jong of The Books is a self-conscious one. And I think all I'm really saying about the art world is that visual artists are a little more intelligent, a little more self-aware about this sort of issue, than rockers.


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grahamshem
grahamshem
grahamshem
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 11:46 am (UTC)

just listen to hip-hop.


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ex_newironsh15
chris
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 12:24 pm (UTC)

wibbly wop it don't stop


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 01:17 pm (UTC)

You could pick up the latest Clipse album if you want to hear some postmodern rap. Since it sat on a shelf for the last few years at the record label, it's both brand new and archival simultaneously!

Scott Walker, for one, seems to have traversed both death and rock n roll. He also manages to get write-ups in rock magazines when his ghost puts out albums like The Drift.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)

The critics love the idea of death, talking on sort of aimlessly and complacently about it in the superficial pattern of the "tortured artist", but when they get bitch-smacked by actual fusion of death with art and creation, as with Scott Walker's work, they sort of unwittingly admit defeat in the way they always express genuine fear, as opposed to the "yay let's be scavengers!" reaction which sort of takes nothing in deeply about the unfortunate fates of their subjects.
With records like "The Drift" they have become subjects, and they have to acknowledge it, making them as it does, uncomfortable as hell.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 01:28 pm (UTC)

It occurs to me that what I'm complaining about here is epigone pop, and the problem with complaints that "things aren't what they used to be" is that it's precisely this feeling that produces the epigone landscape we're now surrounded by. People who hate epigone pop create the conditions that produce it. It's Catch 22: modern life is rubbish, and so you venerate the past, and so you make modern life rubbish.

Here's Paul Morley, writing in Arena last year about the same phenomenon. Or is he just doing a dry run for a possible column in Mojo?


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 01:33 pm (UTC)

" ...the black backing the mirror needs to reflect." amazing line


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 01:32 pm (UTC)

Sounds like someone hit a nerve
mixu62


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 03:14 pm (UTC)

Sounds like someone spends their meaningless life as a troll in a blog.


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rroland
rroland
rroland
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 01:41 pm (UTC)

there comes a point when i just have to let my john the conquer root hang out and wag, fuck it, i know i'm old, i like to dance, at shows the young embrace death and freeze in coolness and fashion, i'll take on some of the fashion, so i can bed the young....yipee, "iree, iree give me a twirl i'll make a stern woman feel like a girl" (set to Tinnitus)


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 02:11 pm (UTC)

That gig is a fucking classic. I'm pissing myself laughing here!!!
You are the new Ivor Cutler!!!
mixu62


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 03:19 pm (UTC)



People are geared to find death fascinating. I don't see that as a bad thing so long as it is integrated into the cycle of joi-de-vivre.

I for one, find myself, at my happiest, having the perfectly paradoxical emotion that "I'm so happy, I want to kill myself!" Like, I love life so much, I am totally alright with the idea of dying--but not just yet.
But then there are the moments when I just plain want to die.
And it is then that music that sounds to some "deathly" actually puts me back on the frequency of converting it to something living on its own again. It's a beautiful thing, so I'd never knock people like Thom Yorke or Scott Walker for taking all those powerful energies and lifting them beyond their inevitable conclusions. That's what "art" is supposed to be, to me--and also, I don't mind something that's technically "epigone" if it sounds good. Almost everything is sort of inevitably a re-hash, or a derrivative of something else, but for me, that has no bearing on its ultimate listenability and admirability, if indeed I do find it good.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC)

I read your article more thoroughly, this time licking across the different textures of every word, and I felt it would be quite fitting to add that I agree with you about how maddening it is that people refuse to appreciate their fellow people who happen to be artists, until they are dead, so they can in affect be de-humanized; made safe for the procurers of verbose and erudite condescension, as no one can "fight back" or answer to them but the living, and who gives a shit about the living anyway?
Maybe these people who write about dead people as though they were mythological creatures are just expressing a frustrated, vicarious longing to be part of the pantheon of the dead, once they too are physically no more.
If only they realized that the spirit of the best music is what carries it--not the death of its Sire.


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friscobay
friscobay
friscobay
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC)

I am very glad, that you have written about it. When I have seen this cover, it would be desirable to cry - the free JD CD so ridiculously looked...


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juk
juk
Vanya Zhuk
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 03:40 pm (UTC)

come on, it was all just for the sake of mentioning those girls, admit it! :)
don`t give up, we`ll all die and they`ll want us


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
dead things, you make my heart sing...

Well, and here I was thinking my weird necrophilic passion for Marc Bolan was just because I'm a pervert.

Turns out I am a conformist YET AGAIN. OH, I just never win.

*runs off to grave_robbers *


PS: Stop making Mojo sound like it's full of interesting fanficion about corpses because IF ONLY IT WAS it would at least be a little interesting.


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freesurfboards
freesurfboards
freesurfboards
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 05:30 pm (UTC)

this is like the hellenistic period of rock/pop, that time near the end of a specific culture where it becomes obsessed with the tragic. major labels don't sell many really memorable and loved rock artists anymore, instead just pumping out poor copies of the indie rock music. The only thing that major labels are selling well is hip hop, soul, etc. So of course the magazines that take care of the advertising for major labels are looking backwards, since our kurt cobains have commited seppuku.

Your work is a different death. You portray the ancient as still relevent. Mojo's death makes singing rock like martyrdom.


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 10:04 pm (UTC)

The bold strokes have all been laid, and all that is left is to draw delicate calligraphy between them. Glorious days we live in!


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 06:12 pm (UTC)
Holy Catfish!

Well well, Momus, this right here seems to be a drastic and unfortunately spot-on symptom of this necrotic look at art you have pointed out.
It's a damn, pointless shame. I mean, man, did they really have to dump all their staff, new records (except for gospel, which doesn't count, because gospel isn't even art, at least not anymore, if it ever was at all) instead of just close down if they felt that way about it?--Are they trying to make some kind of point? It doesn't even make sense from a business perspective, not that said perspective is what I respect about record labels, but the vigourous fruitlessness of it has reached gigantic proportions.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 06:35 pm (UTC)

For fucks sake, leave the poor girl alone!

>>When he jitterbugs awkwardly to the sumptuous strains of Pierrot Lunaire, Momus evokes not Berlin-era David Bowie but footballer Peter Crouch doing his robot dance.

Momus encores with his arch, Pet Shop Boys-hued 1990 near-hit The Hairstyle of the Devil, but Currie's days as an outre chart contender appear long gone. Momus remains a remarkable talent, but as freak shows go, this was spectacularly silly.<<

Sounds ugly


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 07:22 pm (UTC)
I agree with all of that, but...

The art world has energy, but (in the U.S. at least) it's woefully elitist and annoyingly over-concerned with academic texts. Also, the art world (in the U.S.) only exists in the MAJOR cities. A rural kid like my former-self wouldn't get to have the shock of discovery through art simply because it isn't available.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 08:39 pm (UTC)

Nick, I'm perhaps not one of your most affable posters but this is one of the most interrogative, vital posts of recent weeks.
Pop music may not mean as much to me personally as it once did, as one gets older other music genres, art forms, etcetera tend to displace pop once formative status.
That much said I still listen enough and still care enough about this disposable yet essential medium to applaud and enjoy questioning criticism of the music press and the trends they choose to orchestrate.
I think the pre-millennial, surface-scratching, retrospective eclecticism
of the plethora of 'Best Albums Of All Time' articles-- repeatedly varieted on a theme by Mojo and it's counterparts-- precipitated much of the decomposing rock star necrophilia that you refer to.
It is only a bonus that you in this quite excellent article reserve particular well-deserved scorn for Thom Yorke; how his whingey, dreary, tinny, insipid, miserabilist angst-lite has garnered the currency it holds is beyond my comprehension but then groundless, witless, solipsistic whining is strangely equated with a certain profundity by music critics and those who choose to believe everything in Times Roman through the music press.
Kudos..
Thomas Scott.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 09:01 pm (UTC)

I see nothing whiney in Thom Yorke...Paranoid maybe, but still ultimately overshadowed by one of his own admirers--The eminent Scott Walker, who actually manages to perplex and frighten the same critics who give every Radiohead album like 10 stars.
And it's that extra edge, that extra dimension of unbridled, unrelenting terror that is both worldly and otherworldly that does ultimately make one question one gets passed for "deep" these days.

I think music reviews are pretty pointless, depressing affairs in general, anyway; as if "taste" could somehow be transmuted by all verbose justifications for what a small collection of individuals thinks is "important" for reasons that are perverse to me in that they are not rooted in aesthetics, but in some dettached principle of what it would be most seemly for them to approve of, vs. how stingingly it can be taken apart.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 10:14 pm (UTC)

LOL


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 10:17 pm (UTC)

Many years ago a friend of mine, remarking on my musical taste, said "you don't like any body unless they're dead or insane". He was referring to my love of nick drake and syd barrett. It wasn't really fair because I liked lot's of bands that weren't dead yet. And I was a nick drake fan and had his records when he was still alive. I'm old.

What's really sad now is that the insane ones are dying off. Syd and Arthur Lee and Skip Spence. Dying of natural causes isn't sexy.


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fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 11:20 pm (UTC)

your bland anticritical stance was expressed a lot better in the cartoon.


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peacelovgranola
-
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 11:18 pm (UTC)
do not go gentle into that good night

fuck the critics--they're like ants at a picnic.

keep rocking, fucking, shouting, typing
and dancing, momus.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Tue, Jan. 16th, 2007 12:31 am (UTC)
Re: do not go gentle into that good night

Right on! Long live his spastic, vibrant Scottsman dancing and dangerously thoughtful tendencies! :D ♥


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Mon, Jan. 15th, 2007 11:57 pm (UTC)

Gittins wouldn't have appreciated Thelonius Monk, either what with all his funny hats and jigging around his piano.

Critics for you--always berating spheres for not being good little cubes.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Tue, Jan. 16th, 2007 12:30 am (UTC)
"no synthesizers"

Odd. I was just listening to the UK charts for the first time in ages and I couldnt figure out if it involved mp3 downloads yet.

http://niddrie-edge.livejournal.com/53986.html

Hail Thanatos!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Jan. 16th, 2007 08:37 am (UTC)

Bill Drummonds 'Julian Cope is dead' springs to mind.

ƒ


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Tue, Jan. 16th, 2007 09:19 am (UTC)

I've been reading Houellebecq's H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. It's really quite riveting. I like this bit:

... as despised by critics as they are loved by the public.

Who cares? In the end critics always recognize their mistakes; or, to be more exact, in the end critics die and are replaced by others.


I'm beginning to hate The Guardian.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Tue, Jan. 16th, 2007 10:44 am (UTC)

Its the new Channel 4.
The Independent is coming up on the back straight like the new Channel 5. A Guilty Pleasure in its rude obviousness.
Kirsty or Jon Snow...you choose.

I am a Glasgow Herald man myself. Gotta keep in with the Mafia.


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