Saturday, March 31, 2007

Kid A, and Fuck U; Or, It took you nine days to come up with that?

I've been thinking, Diesel, and you should really come sit in on my Rhetorical Analysis class sometime. I think it'd be good for you. As anyone who's seen your wardrobe can attest, you badly need a woman in your life ...

(by the way -- you have taste in women now? How is that, exactly? I once smoked a Cuban cigar -- does that mean I can say I have taste in cigars? Have you been reading books about women? Looking at the pictures maybe? Does internet porn have a taste? On second thought, don't answer that last one.)

... and I think you would really have a lot in common with some of the freshman girls in my class. They're still trying to adjust to life out in the big bad world, far away from their parents' house, just like you. Just like you, most of them think they're the epicenter of the universe. I think most of them are nice kids, just like you, but I pity their thickheadedness, and often they annoy me -- again, just like you. They're a lot better looking, of course, and they smell nicer and are a lot younger and have more promising futures, but -- also just like you -- they have no fucking idea how to construct an argument.

I'm going to list some of your major claims, and address them in turn. Hopefully it won't come off as a cut-rate FJM ripoff, like all your posts of this nature. I'll go in order:

You wouldn't listen to four of the MM songs unless you were working out. This is sort of like me saying that I'll never wear a cowboy hat unless I'm riding unicorns with Wyatt Earp. I've seen your idea of working out, and it usually involves throwing picks and calling holding until you get tired and fake an injury. I know, I know: you threw 90 mph in Little League. Those days are gone, Rocket.

Songs 2 and 3 are horrible, four others sound like adult alternative, four are good, and the rest are presumably unremarkable. First, you claim not to know what adult alternative sounds like, yet in the same breath you say a few Modest Mouse songs sound like adult alternative. You can't have it both ways, chief: either you listen to adult alternative, or you can't start throwing stones. So take that Hootie CD out from beneath your mattress and embrace the fact that you like adult alternative. It's cool -- I own the entire Counting Crows catalog. Sometimes we all want to hear music that is catchy and unchallenging.

Hey, wait a sec -- did you see that? Did you read that last sentence? What is that I just did there? Oh, that's right -- I just attempted to define a term I was using to construct an argument. Isn't that great, how that works? Doesn't that make it more compelling?

See, we in the business -- the business of Rhetoric (and seriously, how great is this business, guys? Am I right, or am I right?) -- understand that if you're trying to convince somebody to agree with you, all you really need to do is support your claims with compelling evidence, in whatever form -- logic, statistics, source material, etc.

Unfortunately for you, and for my 102 students, feeling really super duper strongly about a topic is not a form of evidence. Your audience doesn't care how strongly you feel if you don't give them any reasons why you feel that way. Stridency makes for poor support.

And this, Diesel, is why your take sucks. To take one last page from ENGL 102, you really should have revised that last post before putting it out there. Normally you at least attempt to give some sort of support for your outlandish claims by citing complex baseball stats or Reason magazine or some other esoteria nobody but you gives much credence. Now, it seems, you've abandoned even the pretense of reasonability in favor of tossing out ridiculous and unsupportable claims -- see the next paragraph for a response to my favorite example -- and then pulling the old bait-and-switch by accusing me of gross overstatement and then hoping nobody will notice that you're one Olde English and a missed condo payment away from turning into the homeless street preacher telling everybody outside this coffee shop that he's Jimmy Hoffa.

Take, for example -- since I explain my reasoning, and give examples and shit -- your line of reasoning about music exposure, which is so dumb it's actually sort of awesome. Your main claims are the following:

Ten percent of all music is incredible. -- I realize it's somewhat ironic for me to make fun of you for writing like a 102 student and then drop a dictionary definition myself, but you seem to abuse the word "incredible" even more than most people. So much, in fact, that you seem unaware of the fact that the above statement relies on fundamentally faulty logic. So, allow me to give the definition of the sense of incredible you're using there:

So extraordinary as to seem impossible: incredible speed.

Well, if fully ten percent of all music is extraordinary, then there's no such thing as extraordinary. If ten percent of all music stretches the boundaries of credulity -- if ten percent, one out of every ten songs -- makes you think, "I cannot believe a human being made this sonic goodness," well, then you're probably not the best person to be offering music reviews at all, much less such strident and overbearing ones.

To you, and whoever else is reading: stop abusing the language for effect, especially when you're only doing it to shore up your own shoddy argument. When everything becomes "incredible," it only makes it harder for people who do care about language to describe something that's actually incredible.

The "average human being" -- your exact words -- will listen to five percent of all the music in the world in her lifetime.

Insofar as it's possible to imagine the average human being, she's probably a thirtysomething street vendor in a Mumbai (Bombay, for all you hegemonists out there) slum. I have no authority to make this guess, really, (See? Is that so hard to admit, Mr. Expert on Everything?) but I would guess that there are currently somewhere between five and ten thousand non-cover bands or solo artists -- people who create new music -- in the United States alone. There are thousands more in every developed country across the world, anywhere that has enough resources to allow a small segment of its citizenry to spent its time creating music. Even in places that don't fit that description, there's folk, traditional, and/or tribal music.

In other words, there's no possibly feasible fucking way the average human being will hear five percent of all that music, even if her street cart sells music. I mean, these people in all these "other" place are so poor, they probably can only afford Ipod shuffles! Only a few hundred songs fit! Can you imagine? Oh, the humanity. Let's go have a hamburger. We can hit the drive-thru.

Unless, of course, by "the average person," you really just mean the average white twentysomething middle-class American male, just like nearly everybody else who reads this blog means when they use that phrase. (Ding!)

Similar statements you probably should have considered before making: the new Bloc Party album is the worst of the year (so you've listened to every album released this year? Impressive! Lots of free time in the property management biz, I guess.); you don't want to say anything about the Arcade Fire album so you don't sound like other pretentious people, so you say that it's one of the few albums in your life that exceeded your expectations (apparently you're not pretentious, you just have unreasonably high standards and like to sound smarter/better than everybody else); "Who hasn't dropped Velvet Underground as a comparable..." (actually, lots of people -- but I'm glad you're not going to sound pretentious); lots more (really, the entire post, save for the "Shalom").

But let's not drift too far into a discussion of how retar... er, developmentally disabled your inflated rhetoric makes you sound. Let's just focus on your so-called review.

It's hard to talk about music when you're not a musician, not familiar with the terminology of music (the Rhetoric of Sound -- there's my next dissertation). I realize this; I'm in the same boat. And yet, still, I believe we can do better than what you've perpetrated in this space. To wit:

Fully a dozen of your "evaluations" are based on calling something either good or bad with no support. Everything "sucks" or is "good" or "excellent" or -- dear God -- "incredible." When you feel creative, you call something "a vapid piece of shit" or make up some half-assed baseball metaphor (because obviously baseball is what you know best, D-Train, you of the fabled adolescent heater and horrible fantasy squads). But I can't even keep going through your post looking for examples, because I don't want to be (more) pedantic, and because it's just galling.

The point is that you base everything you say on the same premise: because you said so. You are always right, so if you say something is good or fantastic or a vapid piece of shit, you're ipso facto right. (I think that's the second ipso facto in two posts!) This might work, if you were an accomplished musician, or perhaps an established music reviewer -- although even then, it would seem pretentious. It doesn't work so well here, because you're not an expert on music (or anything else, really, but that's another post). So you're going to have to deign to try to explain. Deign to explain -- that's kind of catchy. I might sell that to Stoops as his UA football slogan for 2007.

Take, for instance, your claimed Velvet Underground expertise. I won't discuss in too much depth the fact that a year ago you borrowed my copy of Loaded because you didn't know much about them and wanted to hear it. I also won't discuss the lengthening list of good bands I've turned you on to, at least in part (Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, Wolf Parade, CYHSY, Modest Mouse, etc., etc.), despite the fact that you've never introduced me to any band more significant than Dr. Octagon. (Oh, oh, and just one more thing: I showed you your first Tec, on tour with Large Professor!)

Rather, let's discuss this nugget:

What makes bands like the VU especially prone to such abuse is how impossible it is to make a false statement about the music; they're a musical ink blot. Want to see post-rock in "European Son?" Sure! Punk, classic rock, post-punk, emo ... Lou Reed's little art band has become the biggest fucking cliche ever.

Actually, yes -- yes, I do want to see post-rock in "European Son." I want you to show it to me. I want you to show that you even know what post-rock means, beyond citing Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky, two more bands you probably first heard about from me. Talk to me about Tortoise or Slint, even if you only know as much about them as I do, which is essentially enough to mention them in the context. I also want to see "emo" in Velvet Underground songs. And I also want you to show that you know something about the term, beyond a cursory knowledge of whatever the biggest pop-punk bullshit is right now. Talk to me a little about Sunny Day Real Estate or Jawbreaker. Look it up on wikipedia if you have to -- I didn't, but then again, I don't know as much about music as you do.

That's why I didn't know Kid A was Radiohead's "second-best album in most people's eyes." See, here I thought a lot of people thought it was their best album, and even more thought it was their most groundbreaking album. You know, the one that got a 10.0 from Pitchfork, including perhaps the most fawning final paragraph ever written by Brent DiCrescenzo, whose writing is so loathsome, so snarky and self-absorbed, that he single-handedly gave that site a bad name. As he said, "Comparing this to other albums is like comparing an aquarium to blue construction paper." Sure, you could make an argument for OK Computer (which also got a 10), but it would be a hell of an argument. One that hasn't been conclusively decided, unless you want to actually try to support that claim. Otherwise, "most people" means you.

But goddamn it, I'm straying again. I wrote this post not to argue against your irresponsible use of language, nor to impugn your eminently impugnable music snobbery. I wrote this post to explain why the new Modest Mouse album is great. And to do so, I'm going to further explain my Kid A metaphor, which you were correct (happens to the worst of us; suns and dogs asses and what not) in saying needed further explanation.

And I'm going to try to actually give reasons.

First, it's like Kid A in that it's an album in which a band takes an emerging pattern evident in its previous album and turns it into a full-fledged ethos. For Radiohead, that meant taking the technological focus of OK Computer -- which was pretty transparently about technology, thematically, but wasn't really electronic music -- and going full-bore electronic, making music full of -- comprised of, mostly -- bleeps and boops and so on. The fact that Thom Yorke still sang on the album provided the perfect dynamic for exploring the theme -- his voice was a human sound amid a synthetic cacophony on an album about being human in a synthetic world. It was a beautiful album, not only in the quality of the songs -- their rhythms, the lyrics themselves, Yorke's haunting wail -- but in the quality of the statement it made. An established rock band making a purely electronic album took balls. To make an electronic album so good that everybody liked it was very nearly an incredible feat.

That last part is where the comparison proves problematic. We Were Dead... does take a formerly experimental sound (more on what that means for MM in a bit) and run with it, but it remains to be seen whether it will have the impact Kid A did. However, I hope it will, and moreover, I think it should. I think it's that good. I'm aware that comparing it to Kid A is comparing it to a great and groundbreaking and bestselling album, one of the best of the last ten years. I think this is that kind of album. Check bestselling off that list already: as I write this, it's the No. 1 album in America. Groundbreaking remains to be seen -- we'll have to wait years to see its influence on music.

So let's talk great. I’m going to tell you why I think it’s great. But I’m going to do it in another post, because we’re just over 2500 words already.


AnEasyMark said...

What does your rhetoric intructor have to say about ad hominem arguments?

(Oh, a rhetorical question about rhetoric, snap!)

Anonymous said...


What did Doyle do to warrant this? Call out Jonh Vukovich?

Pat said...

JOHN Vukovich! If poorly-constructed arguments get you reemed for 2,500 words, I shudder to think what a misspelling will do :) ....

St said...

Wasn't it you who called out John Vukovich? You're getting 5K for that one.