My fattening, unfashionable Robert Lowell hang-up has drawn me to his recently published correspondence, which I learned of in the New York Review of Books
. Perusing the NYRB
archives, I dug up an old essay
, & found a passage that struck me as (vaguely) relevant to my last post. "It seems plain," to Irving Ehrenpreis
that "The Nihilist as Hero" through its eloquent coarseness conveys one-half of the poet's ambition, while "Reading Myself" conveys the other, and that Lowell illustrates by his technique a yearning to reconcile art as process with art as product.
Hmmm; I'm already pondering a nightmarish Hegelian vision of music history after reading this ...
In the July issue
, sci-fi author William Gibson traces sampling back to Burroughs, who was "interrogating the universe with scissors and a paste pot, and the least imitative of authors was no plagiarist at all." This collage esthetic--which worked wonders for Picasso, Duchamp, & Godard--found sonic manifestation in 1970s Jamaica, with King Tubby/Lee "Scratch" Perry's analog deconstructions, or "versions." (I'm reminded of American poetry's tradition of free translation, pioneered by Pound, burnished in Lowell's Imitations
.) From them DJs in New York & London cribbed their production approaches. It's a fin de siecle, music-historical agon: "the recombinant," associated by Gibson with the bootleg & the remix & the mash-up, will finally supplant the static physicality of "the record." In Gibson's democratic vision of music, viz.
the favor given to process over product, I see us sliding away from rockism. What, after all, embodies the static physicality of the record better than rock? That is, what is less amenable to street-corner bootlegging, DIY remixes & polygeneric mash-ups than rock?
LJJ's raison d'etre is pretty straightforward: to balance against the fitfully closeted, overly rockist esthetic conservatism of the indie press/scene. The margins--breakcore, screw tapes, dancehall, neo-drum & bass, even "New Weird America"/avant-folk, &c.--should be pulled toward the center, if not out of a sense of esthetic preference, then of esthetic diversity & experiment. And the best older music, from Kiwi pop to No Wave to kosmische
, should be kept fresh in our minds. With any luck, LJJ will help preserve exciting music from the dustbin, & in the process introduce a few people to new sounds & ideas. Warning, warning: I'll probably digress now & then into armchair art crit, political philosophy, & Robert Lowell worship.