The opening paragraph of your Year-in-rock recap [Hitsville, January 7] is one of the most brilliant bits of ass-forward thought I’ve seen in years. If I read your heavily parenthetical English correctly, you are making the case that Liz Phair, Urge Overkill and the Smashing Pumpkins are somehow unique in rock music because they are brazenly trying to sell records. Genius.
You also intimate that anyone having a gripe about these artists’ calculated and overbearing hype barrage is being merely parochial or petty. You dismiss this sort of discussion as “bullshit.” Since I like using words like “bullshit,” and I am one of the people who sees nothing of value in any of these three artists, I will gladly adopt the term as shorthand for the position you argue against.
In your rush to pat these three pandering sluts on the heinie, you miss what has been obvious to the “bullshit” crowd all along: These are not “alternative” artists any more than their historical precursors. They are by, of and for the mainstream. Liz Phair is Rickie Lee Jones (more talked about than heard, a persona completely unrooted in substance, and a fucking chore to listen to), Smashing Pumpkins are REO Speedwagon (stylistically appropriate for the current college party scene, but ultimately insignificant) and Urge Overkill are Oingo Boingo (Weiners in suits playing frat party rock, trying to tap a goofy trend that doesn’t even exist). You only think they are noteworthy now because some paid publicist has told you they are, and you, fulfilling your obligation as part of the publicity engine that drives the music industry, spurt about them on cue.
You attempt to validate your lionizing these frauds by referring to other music critics, after owning up to the reality that these artists don’t get much respect from anybody else. In their day, their precursors were considered (by tools like you and those you quote) to be the nuts. That nobody gives a shit about them now is evidence that their appeal was temporal, transitory and superficial, and further evidence that tools like you (and them) don’t know shit from fat meat.
Watching the three artists you moo about prostrate themselves before the altar of publicity these last 12 months has been a source of unrivaled hilarity here in the “bullshit” camp, and seeing them sink into the obscurity they have earned by blowing their promo wads will be equally satisfying.
The “bullshit” characterization concluded your argument that the music scene is tiny, and the perspectives of other artists, independent record companies, fans and the like are too insignificant to warrant serious consideration. Look at the shoes you’re standing in, big nuts. Music press stooges like you tend to believe and repeat what other music press stooges write, reinforcing each other’s misconceptions as though the tiny little world you guys live in (imagine a world so small!) actually means something to us on the outside.
Out here in the world, we have to pay for our records, and we get taken advantage of by the music industry, using stooges like you to manipulate us. We harbor a notion of music as a thing of value, and methodology as an equal, if not supreme component of an artist’s aesthetic. You don’t “get” it because you’re supported by an industry that gains nothing when artists exist happily outside it, or when people buy records they like rather than the ones they’re told to.
Though you wave your boob flag proudly throughout the rest of the piece, you did make one reasoned and intelligent statement. You stated your disapproval of those who would snicker at Liz Phair’s personal life in lieu of actually discussing her merits as an artist and her album as a work. Considering how easy a target Phair’s music is, it is a shame that some of her critics have nullified the discussion by using the leering mode you refer to. In truth, she and her album are probably the least offensive of the three you focused on in your column, which may explain why you think she is any good.
Artists who survive on hype are often critic’s pets. They don’t, however, make timeless, classic music that survives trends and inspires generations of fans and other artists. There are artists in Chicago doing just that, but you don’t write about them. You save your zeal instead for this year’s promo fixtures. Shame on your lazy head. Clip your year-end column and put it away for ten years. See if you don’t feel like an idiot when you reread it.