Tuesday, November 21, 2006

From Perry Meisel's The Cowboy and the Dandy (Commonplace Book)

Rock and roll is the crossing of the cowboy and the dandy. If you grew up on Westerns and Sherlock Holmes, your destiny was rock and roll. And if the outwardness and aggression of the cowboy had a historical counterpart, it was, not surprisingly in retrospect, the inwardness and languor of the dandy. Dandy foppishness relieves and controls what strength there is in cowboy panache. Each leavens the other. You can see both at play in the semiotics as well as the music of rock and roll. Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Prince -- all balance in a single style the cowboy's strength, the dandy's charm; the cowboy's rage, the dandy's melancholia. Like Elvis before him, Dylan, too, combines country with urban -- a double lineage of Woody Guthrie and white folk on the one hand and Muddy Waters and the blues on the other. With their cowboy boots and dandy scarves, how like Oscar Wilde in Colorado [where he visited once] both Dylan and Elvis are! Simply put, the blend of cowboy and dandy is suddenly unavoidable in rock and roll. Group monikers like Guns 'N Roses or the Sex Pistols [or Iron Butterfly] only formalize what is already at play in the prehistory of a discourse so overdetermined as to produce both the Beatle boot and an extended meditation on the leopard-skin pillbox hat.


Ping33 said...

wow, I was going to post my comment in the last Free-Form comments section but damn if you didn't give me the opening here. This morning's Slate Podcast was a piece for which the text is here: http://www.slate.com/id/2153313/?nav=tap3 and is about using Google's book search to discover instances of plagiarism from hundreds of years ago. I listened to it and thought to myself: hmm I wonder what Geoff would think about this. We seem to live in an age were (most) people accept that the "remix" is capable of being a valid form of expression. In each issue of Casanova Matt Fraction details the sources he remixed into each issue, The Homage is a time honoured practise in music and moves. The two places where it's taboo to reappropriate someone else's material seem to be in writing and comic book art (google "swipe") Is this right?! I accept the idea that you put yourself up to a greater level of scrutiny when all the ideas contained in your work aren't all your own... but I don't understand how Melville "Plagiarizing" technical manuals about sailing does anything to invalidate his work or even detract from it.

On the main post- I just said to my wife the other day after watching Bon Jovi (ugh) get inducted into the UK music hall of fame that Guthrie begat Dylan who begat Springsteen who begat Bon Jovi on American popular music's rapidly increasing journey towards mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

The first thing I thought of when reading this was The Kinks' 1971-1972 output. After six or seven years of good old '60s style Britpop in the Beatles tradition, in 1971 the Kinks released Muswell Hillbillies, an album of songs very explicitly aping the gritty American country Western idiom.

In 1972 they followed up with the double album Everybody's in Showbiz, the first half of which was a studio album containing glitzy showtune-style songs that would be right at home in a music hall, and whose second half was a concert album containing mainly live versions of Muswell Hillbilly songs (and with the very effete, dandyish frontman Ray Davies speaking in an American southern accent and jokingly introducing himself as "Johnny Cash" during one bit of stage banter).

All in all, a very explicit "cowboy meets dandy" package.

Just one more reason why The Kinks are the ultimate pop band.

(They also did a song called "Dandy" on their 1966 album, Face to Face.)

-- Jason Powell

Geoff Klock said...

Ping: yeah, I am all about remix aesthetics, in part because I am a person who values style over substance -- make it look good or sound good and I am 90 percent there.

Jason: Meisel, who was a teacher of mine at NYU, was obsessed with the Kinks for that reason, I imagine.

Marc Caputo said...

The catch is that there is a fine line between remixing and flat-out stealing. True hip-hop (which for the most part, died in the early 90s) uses the source material in a fresh setting, exploring aspects of itself that the original context didn't (or couldn't). It's the difference between artist like De La Soul and Public Enemy and MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This".