Editor's Choice

The birth of the wrongness

I'm still thinking about wrongness, purposeful attempts to alienate an audience through a kind of puerile repetition or offensiveness that on its face contains no politically subversive content. Pop music has been a fertile ground for breeding wrongness, as PopMatters' recent list of Detours, unlikely albums by established artists, makes plain. Wrongness may be defined as the attempt to reject aesthetically or repudiate the constraints of popularity after the compromises to achieve it have already been made. (Think Metal Machine Music or Jim Morrison's Miami performance on March 1, 1969.) Since it is so self-referential, it tends to be politically and artistically sterile. The appeal of such wrongness is limited mainly to connoisseurs of disillusionment and cynicism, and more important, to those "true fans" of the contemptuous artists. By sticking with performers no matter how much hatred they direct at their audiences, these fans prove they are not dilettantes.

But the 1990s may have been the heyday for wrongness, as college rock became indie rock, which became alternative, which became profitably embedded in the established mainstream of pop genres. Efforts to preserve indie credibility and maintain integrity in the face of commercial success were played out at the aesthetic level at the very moment when what had first been seized upon as the sign of integrity -- grunge -- became a highly marketable and easily duplicated commodity. Elaborate simulacrums of lo-fi ineptitude became a calling card in alternative rock and graphic design. Grunge could connote integrity and/or authenticity without its purveyors needing to have any. But, of course, that has been true of many up-and-coming commercial forms emerging from various subcultures. What was interesting about the 1990s was that authenticity for the first time became the main appeal of the new style, its basic substance and message, the organizing principle for all its hallmarks. Hip-hop moved in the same direction, fetishizing authenticity as an end in itself rather than serving as an ex post facto description of a style that was ultimately "about" something else.

When grunginess became a mainstream cliche, something more heinous was necessary to demonstrate how alternative you meant to be. Hence, wrongness, or being "brown" as '90s alternative rock band Ween called it. Around the time the band made the quintessentially "wrong" move of putting out a straight contemporary-country record replete with the genre's cliches and lyrics full of derogatory stereotypes -- all the while insisting they were fully in earnest -- it would play shows featuring limit-testing 20-minute versions of b-side "Vallejo" and "Poop Ship Destroyer," an epic tribute to brownness. These were the antithesis of hippie jams (though Ween ironically would later become embraced by the jam-band scene), meant not to be expansive and pleasing to drug-altered minds, but to be abrasively tedious and mind-numbing, forcing observers to question when, if ever, it will end, and cleasing the mind of all remembered pleasures in the show, perhaps so the band could start fresh afterwards, trying to re-earn the audience's trust and approval. In this was an analogue to all indie bands' predicaments, having full knowledge of their own selling out and wondering if it were possible to regain integrity somehow, through some purifying ritual of awfulness.

Anyway, with the Family Guy's success, it may be that wrongness of this sort is in the process of going the way of grunge. What will the new oppositional aesthetic be now that wrongness and purposeful annoyance is losing its ability to repel?

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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