Remember the early verdict on scratching’n’rapping—not real musicians, can’t play instruments, blah blah blah? Amazingly, this actually shamed some folks, and hip-hop got a series of abominations like Cool J Unplugged, session bassists, and acid jazz. It also got its only stumble en route to cultural dominion, and was temporarily displaced at that exact moment by the last flower of white noise, grunge (remember Cobain’s axiom: “Learn how not to play your instrument”? That’ll matter in a second). This wasn’t a complex episode, but part of a Thirty Years’ War, the same one featuring battles like (A) here are three chords now go start a band vs. (B) prog-rock; and (A) disco vs. (B) public burning of disco records, which are programmed and soulless and yadda yadda.
Look, you can learn from history: Every single time someone plays the “real musician” card, they’re wrong. They’re ideologically hobbled and behind the times. They’re attacking remarkable music, and defending shit because it replicates the rockist aesthetics that trace back to Clapton Is God etc. Indeed, I think analysis reveals that Boomers are the nightmare from which we cannot awaken, but that’s another column.
What bears stress today is that, though it may be hard to conceive of Britney in the same aesthetic bin as the Clash and Flash, the same damn dialectic is happening again: (A) teenpop; (B) Alicia Keys plays her own piano, Norah Jones is on Blue Note. Jeez, I’m really shocked she covers Dylan and Willie Nelson live; they’re old enough to be her demographic! You think you’re a noncombatant, but in the aesthetic marketplace there’s no such thing; if you’re buying Alicia and Norah, you’re buying into the avatars of an utterly perjured and reactionary position. You’re holding back the years, and it won’t work. History will judge you harshly.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 10, 2002