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3 January 2011

Michael Jackson vs. Kanye West vs. Quincy Jones: a short attention span essay on pop history, real history & their relation to “blood & treasure”

I. THE BASICS

So you’ve heard Kanye West talking shit like he’s the next Michael Jackson, no? If not try this one on for size: “As far as rapping goes, how can I say this? Jordan, Michael Jackson – it’s what I do.”

His attempts to insert himself in a royal lineage are subtle, no?

Well, actually no, he’s not being subtle at all. One of the primary tenants in Kanye’s five-point plan to achieve greatness is his understanding that subtlety has no place in pop.

Here’s why.

1. Big H history is a matter of large forces — war, disaster, fortunes gained & lost. It is not determined by the people (as one of 2010’s dead would have us believe); rather it is determined by the fate of a nation’s “blood & treasure,” that poetic dyad which legacy-minded presidents and statesmen use to make war sound noble & necessary. It is a game of unimaginable resources; of living and dying; of a cast of thousands.

2. Pop history, by contrast, is a fickle bitch. It is usually a matter of memories (feeble ones incapacitated by the pop cult triad of sex & drugs & rock’n’roll); it is a matter of insistence via memoirs which depict all the fair weather friendships & alliances made in a pop art career; it is a matter of shadowy aesthetic influences cast forward arbitrarily a generation or two past their moment of initial fashionability. It’s a story of whispers, rumors and cross-generational games of telephone. Pop history may not be determined by the people, but it’s certainly chronicled in outlets like People (which, come to think of it, sorta does a guy like historian Howard Zinn proud).

At their best, pop stars learn a way to make their pop historicizing meld into real history. Read more »

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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9 September 2010

I published my first review in Bookforum. It’s about Kristin Hersh’s Rat Girl.


Apparently it’s the 90s nostalgia week here on Teenage Kicks.

This month I published my first writing on paper in quite awhile, this brief(ish) review of 80s/90s rock figure Kristin Hersh for Bookforum‘s autumn edition. It’s headlined “Sing, Muse.” (Not my idea, but I like it.) Apparently she likes it. Which, you know, while not my intent, is nice to hear.

What I’m imagining she liked about it was my appreciation for her lack of nostalgia about the past. Her story is a story-qua-story rather than an excuse to burnish the reputation of her circle, herself, her older musical material. In fact, my conclusion is that her writing maybe even better than her music — at least to my ears. (I’d somehow avoided knowingly hearing Throwing Muses until I wrote this review, reminding me of the inevitable holes in one’s listening during this era of the endless archive & the celestial jukebox and reminding me, also, of one of my college English professors, a specialist in contemporary fiction, who sheepishly admitted to never having read Catch-22.)

(PS – Registration on Bookforum.com site is required to read the review.)

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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