Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why I Read What I Read

I just had a sort of mini-epiphany that I thought I'd share.

Said epiphany pertains to why I read what I read. Executive summary: I read (mostly) the sort of books that I would have read when I was ten years old if I had had the attention span that I do now. To clarify: I first got heavily into the science fiction genre when I was about ten years old. That was the age I was when the first Star Wars movie came out; it was also about the age I was when I discovered the original Star Trek series in syndication. It was also about this time that I discovered that SF wasn't just a movie genre and a TV genre - it was a literary genre as well. I discovered in books like The People's Almanac and magazines like Starlog (both of which I still remember with enormous fondness) that there were actually books by people with names like H.G. Wells and Arthur C. Clarke that, broadly speaking, dealt with the same kinds of situations that my then-favorite movies and TV shows did. Here's what happened when I got my hands on one of those books and tried to read it, however: I remember being ten or perhaps a little older and getting a copy of Wells' The Time Machine and trying to read it (if you haven't read it, click on the boldface title you just saw - it will take you to Project Gutenberg's ebook version and you can read it there (seriously, do it - it's really good and it's actually a not-very-long and pretty fast-paced novella - if you just had breakfast you should be able to finish it before lunch time)) and saying to myself (keep in mind I'm ten here), "Oh my God! This is so long!" This is of course pretty laughable to me now, but looking at it from another perspective, you can say it was pretty good of a kid that age to even attempt a a classic piece of fiction like that at that age when it wasn't assigned in school or anything.

So - back on topic - why am I reading so much Wells and Clarke and Harlan Ellison and Thomas More these days? Because, like I said, they're authors I wanted to read when I was ten, but couldn't.

Just wish I could decide whether that's a good thing or not.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Why Rock Criticism Still Sucks

"...this essentially reactionary attitude became the prevailing orthodoxy in rock's critical establishment." And remains so to this day, I fear.

The dominant [critical] view came to be that of [Jon] Landau and Esquire's Robert Christgau, and it focused on two things: technical excellence and the primacy of the African American roots of the music. As Chrtistgau wrote, "the problem is that when poetry, musical complexity, and psychedelic basso-profundity come into the music, its original values - simplicity, directness, charm - are often obscured." This became code for limiting rock to three-minute songs with clever hooks, and the [Grateful] Dead clearly failed that test. That spring, Christgau wrote, "Most hippie rock and roll musicians exhibit the same in-group pretentiousness that characterized the folk and jazz purists who were their predecessors." Though Christgau himself would be more flexible in the future, Landau would not. In his defining critical manifesto, "Rock and Art," Landau declaimed, "Rock was not intended to be reflective or profound." Where this left Bob Dylan went unsaid, but this essentially reactionary attitude became the prevailing orthodoxy in rock's critical establishment.

- From A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead by Dennis McNally

(Art by Bob Thomas)