Maybe, as this New Music Box article says in a hopeful manner. I don’t know if the traditionalists are still sanguine about the post-bop crowd and vice versa just yet (I don’t see the Vision Festival signed up at Lincoln Center just yet) but at least the article does point out that something of a détente is happening.
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Drawing on Rob Walker’s Buying In, philosophy professor Mark Kingwell, writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, postulates the existence of the “exceptionality fallacy”:
Most people believe they themselves are immune from marketing tactics even as they note the sad susceptibility of other people. I tested the EF on myself and it held: I drink Starbucks coffee because it tastes good; you drink Tim Hortons because you have bought into nostalgia and sham nationalism. Now you try.
A corollary to this is the idea that advertisers are shrewdly trying to persuade us that we are smarter than they are and we can fully resist them—they advertise their own futility as a way to actually enhance their subtle power. (Thomas Frank explores this in The Conquest of Cool.) So it takes ads to persuade us that we are smarter than ads, and everyone else. Then we are in that vulnerable hubristic state when we are most open to being persuaded.
Kingwell notes the futility of trying to stay ahead of marketing in pursuit of authenticity: “You can do the dance of sideways dodges, trying to stay cooler than the cool-hunters, savvier than the savvy-trappers. But however you dodge, you are done, because they’re already inside your head.” I relate this to the problem of a good’s actual functionality serving as the ultimate self-deceiving ruse—it’s what permits the exceptionality fallacy. As Baudrillard argues in several different places, the “use value” of a good is just an alibi; it anchors our ploys for status through goods in a kind of objective-seeming authenticity. To use Kingwell’s example, I have to find ways of justifying my love for Starbucks in the product’s alleged superiority, so I don’t come across as a phony, mindlessly consuming a brand that has come to signify membership to the haute bourgeoisie that I want to belong to. My defense of its quality, even to myself, becomes a ploy in a larger game of trying to seem as though I’m not playing the identity game. Of course, I’m playing the identity game at a more self-deceptive level.
This becomes a spiraling process which makes it harder and harder for us to actually access the use value of something; we have to instead consume the idea of ourselves being the kind of person who would find this sort of good useful. It becomes impossible to taste the coffee qua coffee.
Mr. Electric [MP3] (from The Thrush releasing 14 October)
666: The Coming Of The New World Government [MP3]
Singing to the Earth (To Thank Her for You) [MP3]
Blue Ridge Mountains (Live on Late Show With David Letterman) [Video]
Big Ass Love [MP3]
The Dead Science
Make Mine Marvel [MP3]
Flowers on the Stones [MP3]
Evident Utensil [MP3]
New Wave [Video]
Perhaps it is misleading that I am writing this under the banner of Pop Past, given that the band in question released their sole album less than one year ago, but it has nevertheless come to be sadly appropriate in the case of Georgie James. Principle members John Davis and Laura Burhenn quietly announced the band’s breakup on their website yesterday:
After three years, Georgie James is calling it a day. We’re proud of the album we made and everything else that we were able to do during our time together. We are both working on our respective solo projects (John’s can be found at www.myspace.com/titletracksdc and Laura’s at www.myspace.com/lauraburhenn) and hope to have albums out early next year. Thanks to everyone that helped our band over these past few years. And thanks to those who’ve listened to the music and come out to the shows. It is greatly appreciated. See you around soon.
—John and Laura/Georgie James
Their album, Places, was, to my ears, one of last year’s very best, a collection of infectious, gimmick-free pop songs that was astonishing, largely, for just how unassuming it was. Indie rock never seems to be at a loss for bands looking to evoke the virtues of classic rock and pop, but most of these acts are quick to reveal one particular musical fetish or another, whether it is for the iconic songwriting of Brian Wilson or Lennon/McCartney, or for the un-self-conscious maximalism of ‘70s glam pop. While recognizing the greatness of such celebrated retro-poppers as Sloan or the New Pornographers, or the playful Smiley Smile-esque innovations of the Elephant 6 collective, there is a level on which their music is as much about it’s very retro-ness as it is about the band’s own explorations of their craft.
Georgie James were instead much closer in spirit to such pop true believers as Aimee Mann and Matthew Sweet, crafting songs that sounded instantly timeless simply by virtue of never feeling the need to sound married to any particular era, past or present (the closest the band may have come to indulging in retro-ness was with their wispy cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)”, the b-side to single “Need Your Needs”). It was only when listening to this album the first few times through, trying to mentally contextualize it alongside what I assumed to be it’s contemporaries (Burhenn’s voice is not unlike Jenny Lewis’ and it would be all too easy to mistake Davis’ nasal rasp for A.C. Newman, and Places was released within a month of Rilo Kiley and New Pornographer’s 2007 offerings), that I realized that while I had heard countless albums in recent years that I had wanted to sound like this, I had heard very few that actually did sound like this this. Perhaps it was the casual nature of a project born out the experience of its players—most of whom are veterans of numerous other bands, with Davis having drummed in the spastic post-punk outfit Q and Not U—but Places had an assured ease that was rare for a debut album, fully capturing the spirit of falling in love with great pop music (how many albums contain an ode to the perfect pair of headphones?) while never seeking to be anything more than perfect melodic pop music itself.
I was looking forward to hearing the next five or ten Georgie James albums, but whether it had any relevance to their dissolution or not, Places had the misfortune of debuting amid one of the more dazzlingly eclectic years for music in recent memory, only to become predictably lost in the shuffle. 2007 was a year in which even the most celebrated guitar-based indie bands—Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes, the New Pornographers again—found their latest albums being met with a relatively muted critical response as the music press found sustenance in the rich genre-bending sounds of Justice, M.I.A. and LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead’s groundbreaking distribution methods, the Kanye vs. Fiddy hullaballoo and the inescapable gravitational pull of a certain “Umbrella-ella-ella”. If Georgie James were admittedly too unflashy to gain even minor critical attention in such a dynamic year, Places will remain a would-be pop classic ripe for eventual rediscovery. Give it a belated listen today on your own pair of comfortable headphones.
Despite being restricted to members of the British Commonwealth, the Man Booker Prize is a hell of a lot more prestigious than the Commonwealth Games is for sport. There are those who accuse it of being a B-league by omitting the United States and any number of non-Anglosphere countries, but it carries a remarkable amount of prestige, mainly because of the continued dominance of the United Kingdom in the literary world.
The other major difference with the Commonwealth Games is that in sport Australia runs rings around the competition but in books it’s not nearly as influential. Nevertheless, Australia has won the second most Bookers out of any country—with either four or six prizes, depending on whether you count J.M. Coetzee’s two. I don’t, because he moved here subsequent to his prizes, whereas Peter Carey, Tom Keneally and D.B.C. Pierre are Australian-born. Pierre is another strange case, having been raised in Mexico and the USA with only a short stint as an adult in Australia. I guess that’s what comes from being a nation of immigrants.
This year is a good one for Aussies, with locals Michelle de Kretser (for The Lost Dog) and Steve Toltz (for A Fraction of the Whole) both on the long list of 13. The odds aren’t good, however, with the bookies favouring Salman Rushdie, whose Midnight’s Children was recently acclaimed the best Booker winner ever.
Of course, the long-odds books do occasionally win over the judges and the big names can be overlooked. There were not a few critics that saw Midnight’s Children as a very safe choice for the Best of the Booker and the panel could be conscious of the need to give attention to some lesser-known writers.
The big surprise for the Australian industry is the omission of Helen Garner’s astonishing return to novel-writing, The Spare Room. Garner is one of the few “big name” Australian writers still residing here rather than in the UK or USA. In that sense, she’s clearly “one of ours” in a way that Carey or Pierre or Coetzee aren’t.
Of course, the Booker judges aren’t so interested in national pride and literature is (fortunately) less jingoistic than sport. I still can’t help cheering on one of my own.