Friday, May 29, 2009

Conservatives and Music, Part One: Not Actually About Music Yet

The combination of an ongoing and growing obsession with The Kinks and recently reacquainting myself with The Modern Lovers has prompted me to think about (what I am choosing to call) the conservative impulse in music. I first started thinking about this a few years ago when this breathtakingly dumb list of conservative rock songs was being pilloried by lefty bloggers. The level of cognitive dissonance required to create that list really does boggle the mind. It also concisely lays bare the contradictory, confused mess of ideals, kneejerk reactions (taxes are tantamount to slavery and driving 55mph is oppressive, but it’s a good thing when the law “wins”), manipulative overemphasis on the cultural signifiers of class rather than economic reality, skewed perspective on and nostalgia for the Cold War—a war which we all know liberals were unanimously opposed to—and pasty Tolkien fanboyism that makes up the contemporary American conservative. Really, just skip to numbers 24 and 25, weep, and then just forget about it because it’s not even worth dismantling. Or read Jon Swift’s list, especially the comments section wherein anonymous outraged liberals repeatedly demand to know if he is joking (A: yes).

But what’s ultimately so pathetic about that list is that if movement conservatives weren’t so eager to co-opt music made by outspoken liberals like The Clash (for fuck’s sake!) in order to rebrand themselves as sexy rebels—who favor abstinence of course—they could very easily illuminate a much more stimulating tradition of conservative thought in popular music. Of course in order to do that, they’d have to come to grips with the basic incoherence of their worldview.

I have no desire to start writing about day-to-day politics on this thingy—in fact I’m trying to withdraw a bit from obsessing over politics in general—but there are certain conservative impulses that appeal to me. To take one example: if the way American empire has pursued its interests and expanded its power across the globe since World War II (at least; the Cherokee might want to extend that a bit further back) doesn’t make you angry, ashamed, and deeply dubious of the motives of anyone seeking to wield that power, then, frankly, I think you’re disturbingly, possibly willfully, naïve.

So, a conservative perspective that perceives that using the highly trained killers of the United States military for “humanitarian” purposes is a non-starter makes sense to me. The conservative who sees the project of American empire as largely spreading death and misery to other countries, rather than democracy and hope, is more convincing to me than the liberal who thinks the U.S. can still act with some kind of moral authority in the world, that as long as it’s Obama and not Bush dropping the bombs on Afghanistan, things are automatically better. Fictional Liberal interjects, “but Rob, conservatives don’t actually think any of those things. In fact many of them actively advocate spreading death and misery to the Muslim-y and/or oil-having parts of the world.” Okay, that’s true, and I’m hard pressed to think of a prominent conservative who has expressed these views who hasn’t also signed on to some other repellent, racist, or just crazy ass ideas (cf. Ron Paul). Even more damning: many, many conservatives are hell bent on destroying the natural world as swiftly as possible—you’d think it would be easy to convince conservatives to show a modicum of interest in conservation, but that’s because you’re a limp-wristed hippie.

I could chalk the relative nonexistence of a compelling, cohesive conservative viewpoint up to the intellectual impoverishment of our relentlessly binary political system, but it also speaks to the way the word “conservative” has become essentially meaningless today. I’m certainly no expert—I’ve never read any Burke—and many more learned people than I have explained how the right wing ended up in the ideological Chinese finger trap it is currently stuck in—a self-destructive cycle of bilious resentment that currently has them comparing Nancy Pelosi to Pussy Galore and alienating even more women (plus Hispanics! this is the Brewster’s Millions approach to electoral politics) with their lashing out at Sonia Sotomayor.

Ok, this ran a lot longer than I anticipated, so I'm making it a two-parter. In the next post: I get to the point!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Drowned World

Check out this stunning collection (found via Bookslut) of Penguin science fiction covers from 1935 to 1977: here. I've run into a few different collections of old Penguin paperback covers online before and this is one of the best. As James Pardey, the proprietor of the site (his commentary is worth reading if you're into this sort of thing), somewhat mildly puts it: "Penguin books and their iconic covers have a place in history that merits study and appreciation." These covers, their typography, the colors, the choice of images, are utterly of their time and place, evoking an era in Britain that has increasingly been on my mind for the past year or so; in fact, the chosen period here, '35 to '77, is almost exactly right: I would simply extend it through to Thatcher's reelection in 1983. I couldn't possibly sum up everything personal, political, and cultural that compels me toward that era here, but I hope to return to this with some future posts on a few of my current objects of fascination: the Kinks, Ghost Box, Powell & Pressburger, etc.

UPDATE: Good lord, obviously I need to get this!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Name

Richard wondered if I named Elephant Rock after the state park in Missouri. I did not, though it looks pretty great. As does this rock near Port Reyes, California that I found searching for Elephant Rock images. Apparently there are Elephant Rocks all over the world, from Nevada to Canada to Africa to India to New Zealand (just google image search elephant rock if you're curious).

I've also always liked elephants in general--gigantic matriarchal vegetarians with no real predators--but the name was taken from this Upsetters song, which to me really does sound like something elephants would enjoy.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hands Across the Internet

In direct contradiction to my semi-serious "computers ruined everything" theory (see here for a rebuttal to this theory from Harry J, but watch out for some wild volume switches on that link), here are a couple of testaments to what's great about the internet.

In response to my starting Elephant Rock, my friend Richard returns to his blog, The Stumpwasher!. There I learned the excellent news that even though he's in China, I can hear some of the beautiful music he's been making there by going to his myspace page.

And despite my having food poisoning just 24 hours ago, Rebecca's always mouth-watering Meals; For Moderns has a particularly tasty looking raspberry smoothie up today that has me very happy to be able to eat again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


The vaguely pathetic half-urge to start a blog has invaded my daydreams for a few years now. Suddenly wanting to type up Panda Bear’s list of musicians/bands from the liner notes to Person Pitch (see below; and I do hope to do something with that list in future) was the somewhat odd impetus to finally start. But back when I was actively looking for a reason, I entertained numerous project-type ideas thinking I needed some kind of discipline, or, more accurately, thinking I needed some kind of justification for such a narcissistic endeavor.

There were a couple of other internet projects I found inspiring. One was Noel Murray’s Popless column at the A.V. Club (actually there’s a few good ones there, see also the New Cult Canon, which recently featured the awesome Millennium Actress and My Year of Flops, which recently featured The Love Guru). While I find actually reading Murray’s column to be kind of enervating—our taste in music is extremely different—I admired its obsessive quality. Another possible model was the even more entertaining and much more hopeless Criterion Contraption, Matthew Bessem’s doomed attempt to watch the entirety of the Criterion Collection. He started five years ago and he’s on #91 (by the end of 2009, Criterion should be past or near #500). #91 happens to be The Blob, a movie I watched many times as a kid and those shots of that weird little boy are truly haunting.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Panda Bear List

Basic Channel; Luomo; Dettinger; Wolfgang Voigt; Cat Stevens; The Police; Scott Walker; Daft Punk; The Tornadoes; The Zombies; Moodyman; Erik Satie; Madlib; Jonathan Richman; Roy Orbison; King Tubby; Caetano Veloso; Black Dice; Sam Cooke; Pink Floyd; Sparks; The Beach Boys; Everything But the Girl; The Orb; Basement Jaxx; Vashti Bunyan; S.E. Rogie; Jay Dee; Phoenix; Ariel Pink; Robert Hood; Aphex Twin; Arthur Russell; SRC; Air; Tom Jobim; The Beatles; Michael Jackson; Benjamin Diamond; Syd Barrett; Jay-Z; Talk Talk; Black Flag; Hall and Oates; Lee Perry; Bjorn Olsson; Can; Isolee; CNN; Chris Bell; Kylie Minogue; Ricardo Villalobos; Ennio Morricone; Louvin Brothers; Metallica; Wu Tang Clan; Spacemen 3; Cindy Lauper; Nina Simone; The Clientele; Markus Guentner; Pete Rock; The Strokes; Dr. Dre; Carsten Jost; Notorious B.I.G.; Duran Duran; The Chills; Portishead; Nirvana; ODB; Echo and the Bunnymen; ELO; Kraftwerk; Enya; Neu; Everly Brothers; The Free Design; Skip Spence; Erik B and Rakim; Nico; The Kinks; George Michael; Salz; Bob Marley; Ghostface Killah; Grateful Dead; Doce; Horace Andy; Incredible String Band; The Equals; Joni Mitchell; Kaito; Linda Perhacs; Love; Maria Callas; Antonio Variacoes; Harry Mudie; Black Sabbath; Nas; Phil Collins; Queen; Ride; Gang Starr; The Stooges; New Order; Theorem