Bret Easton Ellis is well known as a successful writer of many best sellers including American Psycho, Less Than Zero, Rules of Attraction, Glamorama… Few know that Bret Easton Ellis is also a film critic, a director and an actor. Above all, he is one of those intellectuals who lead us to think about major issues for the first time.
Bret created his own podcast in 2013 and has released over 60 hour-long episodes. Movies are the central subject of his analysis (see, for instance, his podcast with Kanye West in which they only talk about movies), but yet, many of his analytical and critical ideas may be applied to other art forms, including music.
Bret agreed to have a phone interview with me, and I would like to take the opportunity of these few lines to warmly thanks him for the time he granted me. Bret is, in my opinion, the most rock’n’roll writer of all time and it was a true honor to speak to him. You can find the transcript of our conversation just below.
You’ll also find an article which aims to analyze Bret’s podcast. Deliberately provocative and passionate, it integrates our series “Lester Bangers” because it is a starting point for unexplored thoughts on Still in Rock. It engages a discussion on elitism, on the distinction of Empire / post-Empire, on the usefulness of cynicism, on the “culture of singles” and on feminism, in short, most of the themes that have been discussed with Bret.
PART 1: OUR INTERVIEW
(transcript of our phone conversation)
by Thibault S.
Thibault: Hi Bret, thanks for taking the time to make this interview. How are you doing?
BEE: Hi Thibault, very good, thank you. How are you doing?
Thibault: Very good as well, thanks. OK, should we start?
Brett: I’m all yours.
Thibault: Alright. I first wanted to know if you think that rock’n’roll is something serious, and if it should be? Some, as Lester Bangs, said that it is just a joke, not a real serious art form. Do you agree with that?
BEE: I think it’s somewhere in the middle. I think that what is important is pleasure. What I liked and responded to about rock music was the certain kind of emotions it gave me. It wasn’t cerebral, it wasn’t intellectual, even if you’re talking about very smart lyricists like Elvis Costello or Bruce Springsteen, it still is an emotion thing that you’re responding to. That is why I do like things that music snobs don’t like. I like trashy and cheesy pop songs. Lyrics don’t really do it for me in rock music.
So, when I say I prefer a kind of dumb rock’n’roll aesthetic, which is what I talked about today on the podcast with Kim Gordon, it doesn’t mean that it is a joke, it simply means that music is emotional. And all art is emotional. This really ties in this notion of pleasure and this notion of craft. We do admire craft, I do admire a great guitarist or a great drummer, but you don’t want in rock to make it look like you’re trying to hard.
But anyway, it’s weird to talk about it because rock is dead. Where are the rock bands? You have to go to country music to find people who are writing pop or rock songs, but that’s all another story.
Thibault: “Rock is dead”… definitively something that you don’t find in the mouth of many… What about the idea of post-Empire rock’n’roll? In my view, it was created with the punk scene in ’77, this is the idea of underground music. You talked about the Eagles quite a few times in the podcast, and some of your guests responded negatively to it, as Stephen Malkmus. People who like punk music generally dislike the Eagles and this Empire rock movement. Do you personally like both, Empire and post-Empire rock’n’roll, or do you just go to one side or the other?
BEE: My taste is expansive, I like all kinds of music, I like country, I like hip-hop, I like soul, I like punk, I like new wave. I’m really not a music snob. I like most music, I really do. It is not one over the other for me. I do understand how punk was a reaction towards a kind of Empire musician in the seventies, against spending years and millions of dollars to get the sound just right, whether you are Pink Floyd, or the Eagles, or Led Zeppelin.
The punk aesthetic was a rebellion to that, a way to say that what’s really great about rock music is that you only need three cords and an attitude. The punks were absolutely against these rich hippies standing in a studio for years, trying to make the perfect record. They were against the fact that music had been co-opted by corporate needs.
But part of the problem with the post-Empire music scene is the democratization of music, the fact that anybody can make music, that you don’t even need to know how to play an instrument or write music in order to have huge hits. That’s a really unusual thing. I don’t know if anything really great has been made from that kind of aesthetic, but it definitively influences so much of the music today. I think it’s really interesting that the sales of electric guitarists have plummeted in the last 5 or 10 years. The idea about wanting to be a rock’n’roll guitarist is really evaporating. Whether it’s good or bad doesn’t matter, it is just happening.
Thibault: Oh well, it is probably bad, but that’s just my view.
BEE: You think it’s bad?
Thibault: For sure. For instance, Kurt Vile is about the idea of wanting to be a guitar solo player and that is why I love his new record because it is so much about guitar and there are so few albums now about the sound of the instruments…
BEE: I like Kurt Vile, too, but I wish he wrote better songs. I know that he’s been playing with a band called The War on Drugs, which is a great American band I think, or at least for the last record. The band really can write songs. I think that Kurt Vile has a great sound and I like the attitude, but I don’t know if he figured out how to write great songs. But then, when I hear myself say this, it sounds so corporate in a way, “Oh, you have to write great songs”. I guess that’s my need, because I like songs, but again, I can also listen to Kurt Vile’s jams for 8 minutes, so…
Thibault: Yes, I guess what is important at the end is the all experience, made of great songwriting and jams and guitar solos… That leads me to ask you about what Ariel Pink said in your podcast, that maybe we should forget about the best bands of the last fifty years, so young artists can create something really new. It was the first time that I ever heard about this idea. Do you agree with that? I think that the same goes for writers actually, the idea that young writers should not read any of the best authors so they can create something personal.
BEE: Well, I think that it is probably happening. I personally don’t think that it is a good idea. I don’t know why anyone would not want to listen to old music, or read old books, or watch old films.
I am certain that the millennial generation and the generation Z, which is about to emerge, is confronted to the problem that there is too much information. I remember when I was complaining to a younger person, “Why have you not seen that movie?” or “You haven’t heard that Rolling Stones record?” or “What do you mean you haven’t read Raymond Carver?” The answer was, “I wasn’t born then, sorry.” Well, I wasn’t born either when the first Bob Dylan record came out, but I’m interested in it. I wasn’t born when a lot of my favorite books came out, but I’m interested in them. At first, I was quite pissed, and I thought that it was a ridiculous answer.
But then, I realized that it was kind of a cry for help. I was kind of saying, “I’m drowning in information, I barely have time to get to the new information coming my way.” So then, how can you go to the past? How can you expect people to spend time going to 1975? At the end, I am really sympathetic to that. You really have to try harder than ever to make that kind of commitment to look in the past.
I think that everything arose from something else. I don’t think that it can just be a line drawn, and that you can not listen to anything and make new art. I think that everything influences everything, for thousands of years. So, I get what Ariel was saying, but I don’t know if it’s a realistic thing.
Thibault: I personally agree with that idea that there is too much information, I feel that all the time. I am then wondering if you believe in the notion of objectivity in art, as Oscar Wilde did, which basically lead to the idea that young artists are able to evaluate what they are creating without comparison with another decade, or another artist, in sum, without this massive amount of information. Every time I talk about this notion of objectivity, the answer is, “Oh, of course there is no objectivity in art, nothing is objectively beautiful or objectively bad”. I disagree with that, because for me there are some universal things in the best pieces which makes them great or not. What is your take on that?
BEE: It is all subjective, of course. There is no objectively great art, and thank God. I love when people have contrarian opinions about something that is supposedly great and good for you, that you have to read or watch. It is really healthy, and I love the idea that there is no objectively good art. Now, I think that millennials want to believe in that, that everything is good or that everything is bad if it doesn’t correspond to a set of values. This is a big problem in the society nowadays, in this kind of aspirational “like everything society” where just because a work of art is about something or has a kind of progressive feel to it, there is automatically a kind of positive embrace of it, no matter how shitty it is. It seems to be a certain acceptance of it, despite its aesthetic. That bothers me, but to put it simply, I think that everything is subjective, and I’m glad about that.
Now, I say that as a writer. I’m having a writer on the podcast tomorrow and you’ll talk about this notion. We’ve been writing for many years, and yes, we can take a book and say, “This is really bad writing, I’m closing the book now”. And so, in a way, I don’t know if I’m contradicting myself, but I feel like I can pretty much tell if a book is good or not, objectively. I can say, “This is not good writing, this is blowing, why are we on page 4 and this still is not interesting?” I say that, and yet, my reading of the book is subjective, even though objectively I know it might not be good.
Thibault: We just talked about this “society of like,” where everybody wants to be liked, where Facebook likes are all over the place. You expressed the idea that someone who expresses his opinion is often considered as being an elitist. I do agree with that, but I was wondering if you think that it also applies for someone expressing a positive opinion? Or maybe it is just the fact to have an opinion which is forbidden in a way…?
BEE: Here is the problem. We are in a corporate society. We live under corporations, whether you like it or not, and we live in a society where we advertise ourselves on social media, all the time, whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, whatever. We are putting ourselves out there, we are selling a version of ourselves. Everyone in the world is doing this. In corporate culture, you tend to stay positive, because you are selling things. You need to be positive, you need to be happy, you need to like everything. Who’s going to buy something from some angry grumpy troll who thinks that everything is a piece of shit and that society is a lie? OK, well, I might…
Now, overall, people now don’t like negativity because it contradicts what they are trying to do. That’s why, if you say something negative or have a contrarian opinion, God forbid, you are immediately attacked by the mob, because it is going against the the grain of what everyone is doing. That is very disturbing, this idea that we all must march in step with the corporate culture, follow the corporate rules, because we are selling ourselves. Pressing the “like button” is what you do in corporate culture, you don’t press the “not like button”. I think that people are attacking those who have minority opinions, when in fact they are just opinions. You can paint an opinion black or you can paint an opinion pink. It is just an opinion! That is what is happening, it is a fact that we live in a corporate society, and if you have a negative view on something, people will attack you.
Thibault: But then, what about comedians like Louis C.K.? He expresses negative opinions all the time and yet, people love him.
: Hmm, I don’t think that Louis C.K. has negative opinions. I feel that he is someone who has actually found a middle ground. When I watch his shows, it is one thing, and stand-up is another. His stand-ups are not angry comedies and it is not very cutting edge. Even on the show, as a family man, as a father, there still is a kind of sentimental quality to Louis C.K. Even when he did his bit on Saturday Night Live
about the pedophile, that was the harshest thing I ever saw Louis C.K. do, and yet, it is still caught in a positive questioning Louis C.K.’s style of telling a joke, which I thought made it even more shocking in a way.
I find very few people right now who are in the art and who aren’t changing their values and moving into corporate culture. I think that we are in a transitional moment where maybe people will figure out how to be themselves, be their contradictory-selves, a man made out of contradictions.
Thibault: You think this is happening, that people and artists moved away from their core values?
BEE: I think this is already happening, indeed. It really began when social media came into play, especially Facebook. It was the beginning of putting your best-self out there. This is happening when criticism began to seem elitist, because it didn’t correspond with the way people are presenting themselves.
Thibault: Well in fact, I feel like as a millennial myself, I can really see that. OK, now, I would like to talk about what Gerard Way said in your podcast. He explained that he is looking for some theatricalness in his performances. It is, for me, exactly what David Bowie was doing as well. I’m wondering if it is a good thing, because these artists are basically creating a fake identity to go on stage with. As you said in your conversation with Judd Nelson, sincerity is the most important thing for artists. There is for me a clear contradiction between the two, you either create a fake identity or you choose to be sincere…
BEE: It depends on what you like and how long you can sustain it. Yes, Gerard Way created a character for My Chemical Romance. And to a degree, he is doing it as well for his solo career, even though his is more of a transparent Gerard Way. I think of Nicki Minaj, too. I remember when she had characters she channeled. Now, she doesn’t, she is just Nicki Minaj, and I wonder if it is something you grow out of as you get older. And it also depends on the persona I guess. Sometimes, the persona is a very honest indication of who you really are. Sometimes that really gets the message across in a way, and to a degree, it depends on how much you want to play with it.
I think that people do demand certain kinds of reality. Or at least, whether it’s reality or not, they demand a certain kind of authenticity. I don’t know how well that plays for all the bands that I like now. I watched the MTV Video Music Awards and pretty much everyone is real, Miley is really Miley Cyrus, she’s not an act, Taylor Swift is certainly herself and Kanye is himself as well.
I think that we moved into a time in which people do create a certain kind of authenticity. It doesn’t mean that you erased theatricality, I think for instance that rock shows are more theatrical than ever, they have to be in order to get people in. The idea of having just a band playing on stage without visuals everywhere simply doesn’t happen anymore. That doesn’t happen at Coachella, that doesn’t happen at any music festival in fact. Everything’s got to be a show. But I do think we do expect certain authenticity from the frontman, the singers, the performers, whether you are The Weeknd, whether you are Sia. I’m trying to think of a huge pop performer right now who is kind of hiding himself in an act…Justin Bieber certainly isn’t.
People are also looking for a certain kind of sentimentality, a victim narrative. You certainly see that in young musicians like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran. It does seem to be a lack of anger and a lack of lust, which are authentic things that seem to be missing with the new generation of musicians.
Thibault: Oh probably! Maybe this lack of anger comes from the fact that real anger doesn’t sell much. Maybe it comes from the fact that we want an idyllic representation of our artists. Everything has to be perfect, fast and perfect. Speaking of which, as you mentioned several times in your podcast, artists are using the “single” format more and more. The all album now is kind of a heroic performance. It does seem that very few people care about the entire album anymore, it is all about the singles, watching them on YouTube or listening to stuff on Soundcloud, without context.
There is for me a clear link with what Hermann Hesse was describing as the “society of speed”, the idea that we have so much information coming our way and that we must always expose ourselves more, we must accelerate the speed to which we destroy our private life. The impact on art is huge. What are you doing, as an artist, to fight against this, not to publish a book every year, not to make a new movie every year? Do you feel this pressure, do you feel like people are asking more from you?
BEE: Of course I feel that way! I feel that way everyday! I feel like I have to put pictures on Instagram all day long. I feel like I need to tweet all the time. I feel like I have to constantly update my Facebook profile. I don’t. But I feel the pressure. The pressure is everywhere to do this, to put yourself out there, to make your voice heard all the time. I’m tired. I don’t operate that way, and I can’t force myself to operate that way. I feel the pressure from social media all the time to publish another book. But writing a book takes a very very long time, so that is just not a possibility.
I’m actually doing many things in my business life. For example, this week, I am getting my podcast ready, I am updating a screenplay I wrote, I am writing a piece of journalism, I am writing a web series for a new web channel and I’m also working with an artist here in L.A. on an art installation that we are going to premiere in February.
I feel like because I have so many things available to cross over with, so many ways to connect with artists, musicians and film-makers, I am much happier than just being the novelist in New York. Before technology connected all of us, I was kind of in my apartment, writing a novel. I think this is a much more exciting time. It is sad for people who want a new novel from me, but I can’t force it, I can’t fix a new novel. And I also don’t even know where the novel is going anyway. I have my doubts about the novel in general.
So yes, I constantly feel the pressure to express myself, to be out there. I don’t know how everybody doesn’t feel that, and I admire people who simply walk away from it all. I admire people that just aren’t on Facebook, aren’t on Twitter, aren’t Instagraming all the time. I am in the middle. I like that I have it, even though I might not be using it correctly.
Thibault: Well, I think we’re done, it must be time to go back to our Facebook profiles! Many thanks Bret, I really appreciate the time you gave me.
BEE: My pleasure, Thibault. Alright, let’s speak soon. (…) See you.
PART 2: ANALYSIS OF THE PODCAST
by Thibault S.
I. THE CHANGE IN THE MUSICAL INDUSTRY
The relationship between music and “elitism”
During his conversation with John Densmore
(the Doors’ drummer) Bret formulates, for the first time, one of his favorite statements: someone who expresses an opinion is often considered as being an elitist. This idea, with which I fully agree, results from a change in the music industry as well as what accompanies it. The emergence of the “society of like” and the leveling of the criticism that actually led to it.
This brings us to the importance of criticism. Bret theorizes his “Generation Wuss
” during his dialogue with Ezra Koenig
, leader of Vampire Weekend. He describes millennial artists, which no longer accept the possibility of negative reviews. This generation is the one that Ian Svenonius also criticizes in his song “Reparations
” (“People talk about reparations, yeah, they do”). Bret juxtaposes it to Generation X (born in the 70’s), who were cooler, more detached and never truly challenged the importance of criticism.
Ezra Koenig disagrees, defending the idea that all generations have trouble accepting criticism. Both sides, however, agree on another point: it is easier to criticize art forms behind a screen than face to face. It is also, in a sense, what Kurt Vile tackles
when he denounces the readers of Brooklyn Vegan. He describes these “pseudo hipster dudes” as being particularly harsh. Bret raises the idea that the Internet is shining a light on these opinions, which existed before, but simply were less visible.
And I cannot help but ask: so what? Why taking a pen would be less legitimate than raising his voice? Isn’t, above all, the sincerity of the criticism the central point of it? Sure, the problem with criticism on the Internet is that they do not provide the artist an opportunity to answer, but curiously this does not discredit good reviews. The anonymity enjoyed by writers on the Internet is freeing them more than encouraging them to create outrageous content.
Back to the phenomenon of elitism. Elitism is propagated by a culture that is more and more focused on “niches” where everyone claims to be the specialist of a sub-segment. And this “niche culture” is the result of the society of over-information (the one of an “endless dream of content”, as Bret describes during his interview with Marilyn Manson). If some people are confused and end up giving up (i.e., radio listeners), others take the opportunity of exploiting the entire matrix of rock culture. In reality, can one legitimately say that there is something fundamentally wrong with the development of niches? Do we lament the demise of these giant rock stars who were filling stadiums, as did Led Zeppelin? Let’s not forget that this isn’t the vocation of rock’n’roll.
Bret puts his finger on one of the other essential features of such a society during his interview with Bruce Wagner
. The continuous flood of information tends to create young artists who are struggling to pay attention to what existed before their own birth.
Recall his conversation with Ariel Pink (one of the best of them all): maybe the sixties are not made to last, maybe we should and will forget the Beatles, the Stones and the Kinks. Maybe young artists should be left to create bad music, without father figures constantly hovering in the background, so they have the opportunity to stand on their own two feet and live or die by the mediocrity or genius of their creations. Here, the digital society of over-information has the advantage of hiding the genius of the past. Note, however, that such reasoning supposes the idea of “objectivity” in art, the idea that young artists are able to appreciate the mediocrity of their compositions without taking stock of musical history to find a basis for comparison. I personally believe in the existence of such an objectivity, the one that Oscar Wilde described so well, but I cannot help but think that the story does not end there.
In reality, can we accept the idea that the true geniuses of the past should be forgotten if it means that we’ll have more of the actual mainstream? Do we wish to live in a society where the word “Beatles” is a misspelling of “beetle”? Can we withstand a musical scene that no longer knows what blues music is? Perhaps these examples are a little bit too extreme, but they show limits on the reasoning of Ariel Pink. This kind of thinking is why Still in Rock does what it does, so we can (pretentiously) find what must be found. Great journalism must persist in warding off the overflow of content. The legends are necessary to the artists of tomorrow, objectivity of the art or not. The best artists will supersede or innovate on the work of their founding fathers anyway, and the bad ones, at a bare minimum, will still be able to copy them.
The distinction Empire / post-Empire
The conversation with Marilyn Manson
is interesting in several respects. Mostly focused on the film industry, we also find in it some relevant thoughts on racism, rap music and what it takes to be an anti-system. Manson says he is now stuck in the pop culture that he criticized in his early stages. He is, in other words, stuck into the Empire.
The Empire culture is the culture of blockbusters and stadiums. Bret focuses a large part of his analysis on the distinction between Empire / post-Empire during his meeting with Gerard Way
. The latter expresses a desire to integrate as much theatricality as possible in his music. David Bowie did the same. Bret is not opposed to such a move. But why (and how) would it be acceptable for an artist to create a false mystery around him by making a character, a fake identity? Again, Lester Bangs denounced these “empty” artists of the Blank Generation that managers could “fill” as they pleased. An artist who admits to seek theatricality confesses hiding his true identity. Can a pre-fabricated identity be interesting at all? The answer is very simple: no. Defending the opposite creates a rationale for the Empire culture where the enormous and stunning must triumph at all costs.
The debate of Empire / post-Empire reappears during his discussion with John Densmore, a conversation in which the marketability of music is central to their discussion. John Densmore explains that Jim Morrison had objected to having the Doors’ songs used in commercials. The rest of the band was more uncertain about it. Bret, for his part, seems to oppose Jim Morrison’s views, raising an analogy with his podcast. He explains that the existence of his very podcast would not be possible without support from advertisers. In my opinion, Bret mistakenly likens a podcast to a rock’n’roll band. The former may indeed need support in order to drive discussion and dissemination of serious topics; it can integrate into the system. The second should not need such support, rock’n’roll that takes itself seriously to seek out commercial support is dead rock’n’roll. In fact, the opinion here supported by Bret surprised me because of his typically opposite tendency to argue that rock’n’roll should not be a serious art form. All told, the opinions of Bret Easton Ellis on the issue of Empire / post-Empire are complex and multi-faceted. He rejects the Empire when he calls for more anti-system music, that’s him being punk and straightforward, but yet, he admits the marketability of music, which is, in my views, inconsistent.
Cynicism in art
One of Bret’s best podcasts is the one featuring Stephen Malkmus
). This episode demonstrates that Bret had the good sense to invite one of the greatest musicians and performers. Bret expresses his admiration for the band, as later Craig Finn
, pointing out the importance of Pavement which changed his perception on the concept of a being in a “band”, transforming it into a somewhat post-collegial DIY movement.
In his conversation with Malkmus, Bret expresses his esteem for several Classic Rock bands (as Led Zeppelin and the Eagles), a view that I do not share (see our article about Lester Bangs
). Yet, Bret denounced American Idol and all its sister broadcasts (The Voice, other similar shit) that seek technical triumph at the expense of the soul. These two factors seem contradictory, but make sense a little later when Bret describes Pavement as the first band to have imported a new sensibility into music, lo-fi, cool, cynical.
Pavement was the first band without an image, unlike the Replacements. In a sense, Bret describes Pavement as the symbol of Generation X, a band that did not take itself too seriously, a band that avoided sensationalism. When Pavement had a hit (“Cut Your Hair”), it was done out of pure cynicism. “You wanted a hit? There it is, but please know that it doesn’t represent us.” This anti-popular culture sentiment, the one that drove the band to stay with Matador and reject majors, is best embodied by Pavement. Bret gives his approval to it. They both agree that the eighties were a bad decade, because, in short, most artists were shaped by their managers. This is the Blank Generation!
Bret expresses similar thoughts in his conversation with Craig Finn
when he details his love for “dumbness” in rock’n’roll. He complains that there are no more anti-system bands. Many times during the podcast’s second season, Bret notes how the entertainment industry has stopped supporting small projects. He even wonders if, ultimately, making movies and producing albums should become a hobby (this is already the case for small independent labels that do a great job, i.e.
Howlin Banana Records) in order to rid ourselves of the Empire.
In a long tirade, Stephen Malkmus denounces these interviews where journalists describe Pavement as “a product.” He eventually challenges Bret about his relationship with fame, to which he replies that he always prefers to smile and politely answer journalists, aware of being a part of “show business”. This confirms the complex relationship between Bret and showbiz, because it is in constant flux.
II. ROCK’N’ROLL AS A MIRROR
The culture of “singles” as a reflection of the “society of now”
One of the most recurrent subjects of Bret’s podcast is the distinction between singles and full length albums. In his interview with Marilyn Manson, Bret points out that we live in a society where culture is fragmented. YouTube has become one of the major media outlets, primarily because the content it hosts is (very) short format. And the “culture of singles” continues to grow. Having to learn to play an instrument is seen as an obstacle because it prevents someone from quickly gaining fame.
In his interview with Kurt Vile
, Bret tackles the issue. Bret laments the fact that singles have become the main messaging form for musicians. The intensity of a good LP grows over time, while a single is limited (a mere piece of a bigger jigsaw puzzle). In his discussion with Ariel Pink, he adds that it is probably a major mistake to focus on singles at the expense of the entire album.
This “society of singles” also comes from the all-digital world in which we (almost) live. Social networks allow a very rapid diffusion of music… Bret then introduces the idea of a distinction between the analog world and the digital one, mostly in terms of mysticism. The first, slower than the second, tends to preserve the mystique of artists. This is also what John Densmore defends
, and what theorized Hermann Hesse more than 50 years ago when he blamed the “society of speed”.
After all, isn’t art only a matter of context? James Grey thinks so
. As he said on the podcast, art appreciation actually depends on many elements, where we experience it, and the nature of the artistic medium. Is the experience as powerful when I click on “play” as when I put a record on my turntable? Certainly not!
Yet, as the Nic Hessler told us in our interview
, who has never enjoyed listening to an mp3? Moreover, how to complain about this culture of abundance where it is more or less possible to listen to any band on earth? At the same time, how many people are taking advantage of the possibilities of the open Internet, how many are those who do not simply follow the culture of radios? The fact is that if the digital world allows an easy access to music, the importance of shows is growing as a protest movement (just look, the number and size of summer festivals is exploding). The reason is simple, the music is analogical.
Watching a clip on YouTube will never supersede the experience of going to a show. At this point, I do not believe that the digitalization of music can grow much more. What remains of analog reality belongs to venues, the smell of a crowd, the feeling of a room plunged into darkness and, also, the joy of using an object (vinyl, K7) to listen to music. The process is unique and personal with analog reality only. It allows the listener to come out of the repeatable experience created by a video clip on YouTube.
Rock’n’roll as a reflection of social issues
In the words of Lester Bangs, rock’n’roll is a reflection of the society, not one of its engines. But what great reflections! The reflection on feminism is probably the most obvious of all.
In his interview with Ariel Pink
, Bret discusses feminism in the music world and elsewhere. Bret argues for moving in a post-feminist society, as he often calls for a post-gay society where homosexuality is no longer the central subject but one of the many elements. This post-feminist society, he says, is the sine qua non
condition for feminism objectives to be met. It is, therefore, incorrect to say that we are not yet entering a post-feminist society because the goals of feminism are not met. This discussion raises the question of sexuality in music. The Riot grrrl movement, born in Washington, D.C. in the early 90s, was an expression of the feminist punk scene in response to the much higher testosterone scene of the Fugazi & co. It was salutary. But is it necessary nowadays? Should the issue of sexuality be transcended in music? “Few” fashion models are transforming into underground rock stars, proof that the independent scene is extirpated from the clichés of society of “women’s magazines”, right?
This discussion continues in his interview with Peaches
. Bret completes his theory: women such as Miley Cyrus use sex to sell their songs, men do not (or do so very rarely). Peaches replies that both use it, but differently. According to her, women embody sex while men speak about it. From a personal point of view, men and women both speak about sex while way more women embody it. Furthermore, men are also using the sexual images of women, see 80% of the videos on YouTube. So, there is an issue related to sexual identity, but mostly in mainstream music, far from our independent scenes that seem to suffer less from it. It is undeniable that the problem of the use of a woman’s image is much more extensive with the majors than independent artists. Therefore, when I hear that independent music no longer exists, I can not help but raise this fundamental difference with the one of television.
The debate on gender identity continues in his conversation with Rose McGowan
. Bret explains that movies are showing women in the way that others think about them and how it will actually determine their future. Conversely, they reveal a different picture of men, where they are taught that they are masters of their own destiny. If that statement is proven, it is, in my view, the difference between the very best female rock star, as Kim Gordon (leader of Sonic Youth) and the (very) large majority of others. This “others” includes Madonna who, like Ariel Pink said, “has never been free” because she couldn’t create a real connection with her audience, because she’s too professional and too ambitious, and in short, too fake.
FEW CONCLUSIVE WORDS
Our admiration for Bret’s podcast is not shared by all
. Some others have fallen in love with it
. Although I note several points of disagreement with his views, I can not help but think that it is one of the most intelligible and clever dialogues in terms of art. Anyone who has any interest in music, cinema, literature, painting or any other art form should try the experience of this podcast, because, you will think about some subjects that deserve to be thought about for the first time.