Shiori Darkship and the Revival Fires

The truth won't save you now.

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shiori singing, Shiori singing
The best art that exists in the world was made to both reflect and provoke intense emotion. Art can be bleak and horrifying, touching, uplifting, heartbreaking, all of that great stuff. Loads of people who are better writers than I have said this thousands of times. The great thing about art, of course, is that as well as all that provoking-emotion stuff, it's highly subjective, meaning that what is just a black line on a red background to some can be an example of devastating minimalism to others. Here, for example, is my favourite Rothko:

It loses something if you don't see it live. Anyway, No 14 is an expression of dull rage giving way to oblivion and despair, but to others, it's just a stupid square-on-square picture isn't it?

I'm going to risk a cliche and float the art vs commerce argument: that the art world constantly throws up works which are shocking to the public. The British artists, Tracey Emin and Damian Hirst, are obvious examples of this. Rewind further and you get Pablo Picasso or Marcel Duchamp. Over time, art gets commodified, either through tastes becoming more sophisticated, impact deadening, or art getting more and more far out. Gustav Klimt, for example, has never been more ubiquitous. Meanwhile, art continues to be produced in a commercial form: literally through advertising, but also through greetings cards, film posters, Athena prints and blah blah blah. The art world views this stuff with suspicion. Yes, it sells well, but is it art? Has Purple Ronnie ever done a major exhibition? Have Bubblegum's hacks?

Music, of course, has a similar debate raging at its core. I could go on about music's fractious relationship with art - from the Velvet Underground to Gorillaz via The KLF and Fat Les - but this is a whole different debate and we'll get sidetracked. What I want to talk about is the art vs commerce debate in music. While major galleries like the Guggenheim or the Tate Modern fetishise the new, huge spaces being given over to vast weird installations, music magazines and musos themselves worship the old. Art is - of course! - respectful of the old masters, its great history, from Michaelangelo to Bosch, but it's always looking for the latest hot new artist to lionise. Music worships its old masters in the same way that Hindus respect their gurus, or Japanese wrestling promotions respect their legends. Nothing competes with the Buckleys, Lennons or Floyd. 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was the best song ever and Muse's attempts to do, basically, the same thing are just pseudo-muso art-school teen-angst bullshit-wank. Let's not pretend that the generation that grew up in the 90s aren't doing the same thing with our fawning over Oasis or Radiohead as if they were the greatest thing ever. It doesn't matter if Oasis's lyrics are nothingness, or that Radiohead's first album is boring, because things were better then.

How does this relate to commerce? Let's for a moment leave aside the "I liked their earlier, less commercial stuff" cliche, not because it's not relevant but because there's a different point I want to make. Veneration of old music is compared favourably against modern music. Twas ever thus, of course, and not just with music. Yet nostalgia, or legislated nostalgia, clouds the senses, obscures the memory like an ether-soaked rag. The 60s and 70s, for example, were the era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, The Who and Led Zeppelin striding along like Godzilla with a string of Number 1 hits, each new album worshipped like a tablet from God. By comparison, modern music is just so many Biebers and Pixies and One Directions. Look how many people it took to write 'Baby Baby' compared to 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. How dare Ed Sheeran cover 'All Along The Watchtower'. Music really is in the doldrums. So the argument goes.

Of course, any dolt can see immediately that it's an apples and oranges comparison. The 60s and 70s had all sorts of dopey novelty garbage (1972 especially had 'Mouldy Old Dough', 'My Ding-A-Long' and 'Long Haired Lover From Liverpool' at Number One) and the 2010s have all sorts of interesting music going on. As for the integrity of multiple songwriters and producers, 'OK Computer' has six producers and five songwriters credited for every song, while, say, 'Survivor' by Destiny's Child has three songwriters and two producers, but this is of course overlooked (and songwriters and producers don't matter anyway, not really).

Yet this sort of tripe is bandied around Reddit and the likes as if such artistic snobbery is even remotely relevant. An example:

Regardless of whose music I'd prefer to listen to, my immediate reaction to such stupidity is to immediately take the opposing side. To this extent, I'd like to propose a new movement. We can call it Movement Against Rockist Shite and it can celebrate, say, how great a Whitney Houston 80s track sounds, or Madonna's vocal performance on 'Ray of Light', while sneering at the lumpen try-hards like The Kooks, or picking on the bloated esoterica of a later Radiohead (or, frankly, Muse) album. We can venerate Sugababes album tracks or vote in droves for silly pop albums in a way of undermining this stupid muso snobbery which, actually, feels almost as though it's worse for music than a disposable pop record from someone like Rebecca Black. It helps if you love music, of course, but the actual point is to tilt against and lampoon snooty attitudes.

I haven't thought it through fully yet, I admit. The manifesto only extends to this:

- The past was no better than the present is, or the future will be.
- 90% of all genres of music is rubbish. 10%, though, is amazing.
- It is harder to write a three-minute pop hit than an eight-minute artwank.
- Bieber hatred is acceptable providing that it can be matched with Oasis hatred, or a similar set of dullards.

I'd love you to join me; and if you still seriously think 'Sex on Fire' is a better song than, say, Beyonce's 'Sweet Dreams' then we really do have nothing in common (musically at least).
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(Deleted comment)
Yeah, exactly. People shouldn't have an opinion on Bieber. It's so teenage to be bothered about what silly pop singers are doing. It bums me out that there's almost never an indie-rock Number One, of course, but it's not as though, say, the Velvet Underground ever had hits. In the long run it doesn't matter at all.

Dudes need to get a grip - it's more harmful to have wanky four-chord stodge-rock worshipped as a masterpiece than it is to have a dumb bit of fluff at Number One for a fortnight.

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