Poetic Power Essay

Poetic Power Essay-84
And, in fact, a surprising amount of pop-music criticism is bottled nostalgia, owls that fly at dusk.In preparation for writing about “Equipment for Living,” I got a copy of “Shake It Up” (Library of America), an anthology of fifty years of pop-music criticism, “from Elvis to Jay Z,” edited by Jonathan Lethem and Kevin Dettmar.Partly it’s because pop-music journalism arose out of the intersection of early rock-and-roll magazines like , when they still had an alternative-press aura, and the New Journalism, with its promiscuous use of the first person, and that gave it a confessional tone and a voice that suggested that we’re all on the same side in the struggle, whatever struggle it is.

And, in fact, a surprising amount of pop-music criticism is bottled nostalgia, owls that fly at dusk.In preparation for writing about “Equipment for Living,” I got a copy of “Shake It Up” (Library of America), an anthology of fifty years of pop-music criticism, “from Elvis to Jay Z,” edited by Jonathan Lethem and Kevin Dettmar.

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“ has ever changed his life because of a poem or song,” he says in a chapter on metal, with reference to Blake, Milton, Rilke, William Empson, Peter Sloterdijk, Ozzy Osbourne, and Kant. (I think you can do both, in fact, and that putting the “then” together with the “now” is the point of doing criticism.)A writer with a playlist of culture heroes must also have a list of the undeserving, the fake, and the fallen, and Robbins does not disappoint us.

“Changing your life is for Simone Weil or the Buddha. He writes of the poet James Wright, “It is easy to feel that, if fetal alcohol syndrome could write poetry, it would write this poetry.” He suggests that Robert Hass “has made a career out of flattering middlebrow sensibilities with cheap mystery.” Of Charles Simic: “If the worst are full of passionate intensity, Simic would seem to be in the clear.”He calls Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” “wimpy crap.” He says that Patti Smith’s memoir “Just Kids” is “highly acclaimed despite her apparent belief that serious writing is principally a matter of avoiding contractions.” His reaction to Neil Young’s memoir is “It’s depressing to learn that one of your heroes writes like a composition student aiming for the earnest tone of a public service announcement.”The Jedi master of this mode of criticism—its presiding spirit, really—is Pauline Kael, the subject of an admiring chapter in “Equipment for Living.” Robbins calls her “the first tastemaker I trusted implicitly.” A lot of Kael’s criticism, like Robbins’s, is buildups and takedowns, but that kind of criticism can get interesting when the writer has to figure out why something that should be good is not, or why something that has no right to be good actually might be.

If you’re going to write about Skip James, it doesn’t make sense to strive for a judicious appraisal. By now, a lot of writers have done this sort of thing with Skip James and other old bluesmen, a sacred category for serious pop critics ever since those musicians were “discovered” by rock-and-roll (that is, white) audiences, in the nineteen-sixties, but Robbins can do it with seventeenth-century lyrics as well.

You also need to concede that the experience cools fairly quickly, and Robbins is alert to that, too. Robbins is more interested in the inarticulable or barely articulable sting than he is in reconstructing social relations in the Mediterranean gift economy.

The rest of us need German poetry and Norwegian black metal because they provide the illusion that we are changing, or have changed, or will change, or even to change our lives.” I don’t completely agree, but it’s a wise caution. I enjoyed almost all of “Equipment for Living,” but I found Robbins most clever and entertaining when he is trying to make sense of what redeems bands like Journey and Def Leppard, or poets like Dylan Thomas and James Dickey.

Another advanced-pop premise is that everything is happening now. E., but when you open it there is a letter inside, and it’s just for you. Those are artists who now seem obviously gassy or fatuous—“Like a mammoth wheel of Monterey Jack left in the sun” is Robbins’s description of Journey’s hit song “Only the Young.” And he often decides that what redeems such works is that they once spoke to him, even if they don’t anymore.

But his own politics are Occupy-era politics, and he naturally wants to put his views together with his tastes.

The teen-ager’s enthusiasm for Def Leppard must in some way belong with the mature man’s concerns about income inequality.

This is an echo of Dylan—“Songs are songs,” Dylan once said; “I don’t believe in expecting too much out of any one thing”—and it seems about right.

But what, in the end, do we get from poems and songs?

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