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Distant Listening

This category contains 7 posts

Transcendental Synthesizers: “Subdivisions” by Rush (Distant Listening #7)

The detached, transcendent point of view of “Subdivisions” points toward a technocratic future for those analytically minded teens, toward a successful place in the universe of research consultancies and policymaking think tanks. They need not become bogged down in high-school popularity traumas as long as they can take the long view, can see them clearly from the outside, and can assume the ability to comment on them neutrally, as if they didn’t affect them personally at all. This subtle refinement catered to the nerdy teens’ sense of innate superiority in a new — and arguably dangerous — way. With “Subdivisions,” Rush taught the embryonic meritocrats among its fan base that power, coldly and clinically deployed, is the best way to redeem awkwardness.

True Sailing Is Dead: “Horse Latitudes” by the Doors (Distant Listening #6)

Morrison seems to have sincerely wanted to launch his drunken boat like a latter-day Rimbaud, but he neglected to register that little in the cultural zeitgeist could support such a self-image. The Whiskey-a-Go-Go was not fin-de-siècle Paris; the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (on which the Doors performed “Touch Me”) was not Le Mercure de France. As much as he may have wanted to will himself into becoming a poet from another age, nobody can make the era amenable by fiat. So he became a sad anachronism.

Distant Listening (5): The Sweet Authority of The 1910 Fruitgum Company’s “Simon Says”

Bubblegum at its best offers a carefully calibrated calculus of hooks and universally accessible lyrics — simple-mindedness elevated to kind of austere minimalism by egoless professionals who eschew personal recognition in order to make something limited and perfect, something that, if nothing else, apotheosizes the culture-industry commodity.

Distant Listening (4): Veruca Salt’s Existential “Seether”/Or

Veruca Salt existed only to consolidate the triumph of their indie predecessors as the latter came to savor the awareness that they had become the icons of the music-industry establishment. Their imitators now drove press coverage; A&R people now sought their avatars. Their backstage banter had now taken on the trappings of lore. Veruca Salt’s inevitably insignificant career was always already a footnote to the bands that managed to break out of obscurity and redefine “alternative” as a wholly integrated market segment. Even before they got national distribution, they were already destined to be that flash in the pan that signifies the complete reification of a once vibrant and organic artistic style, which afterward lives only in memory, in legend, even for the performers who have been therewith made legendary. Veruca Salt meant that from that point onward, the alt-rock vanguard could only go through the motions of their petrified genre.

Distant Listening (3): The Dialectics of Jonathan Richman’s “My Jeans”

Richman co-opts the function of ads and turns it inside out. He’s offering an endorsement that does no one but himself any good (I like them because they fit me) , and he’s undermining the premises of ordinary ads’ endorsements, showing that a product need not make you feel superior to others to satisfy — that a product should make you gloat about it, not about yourself for buying it.

Distant Listening (2): The Real Cheat in Mary Wells’ “Two Lovers”

What’s thrilling in “I’ve got two lovers and I ain’t ashamed” is the way that multiple, complicated, ambivalent desires are acknowledged and thereby simplified, naturalized. It extends the promise that simply being honest about the feelings could resolve them into the complacency that Wells so adeptly conveys with her voice. For that moment, you forget that this sort of honesty is not especially welcome, and it certainly doesn’t simplify anything, no matter how natural it may feel.

Distant Listening (1): The Laid-Back Labor of Starbuck’s “Moonlight Feels Right”

Starbuck’s “Moonlight Feels Right” encapsulates an entire generation staring down adulthood, waiting to see if it would blink, if it would reveal some gaps in which a sense of freedom could be retained in the face of its mounting sense of responsibility and disillusionment.

Anton Steinpilz

Rob Horning

Ylajali Hansen