Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sgt.Pepper and the Terminal Ennui of Gina Arnold

June 1st marked the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club album , and not missing a beat to raise the hackles of both baby boomers and subsequent generations of rock and pop music fans, Salon has decided to spark a debate whether the epochal album is The Most Important Album Ever Made or not. Or even if the disc was all that epochal. It's a cheap and easy way to get readers to focus for the few minutes it takes to scan the column, and I can't say I wouldn't have the same had I been the editor; the relative worth of Sgt. Pepper's forty years hence, and it might well be time for the album to go through a reappraisal. This, however, is not what Salon has set out to do, and goes the route of the cranky and formulaically contrarian anthology of anti-canon rock reviews Kill Your Idols
, a snotty collection of reviews where younger critics eviscerate many of what many older reviewers consider the core discs of rock and pop music history. For the book,
it's a blown opportunity for genuine revisionism, and one suspects the writers misunderstood editor Jim DeRogatis' instructions to write an alternative version of rock and roll critical thinking. The writers busied themselves with being young, loud and snotty and leveled the typical charges against the Beatles, The Beach Boys, the MC5, Joni Mitchell; they're boring, they're lame, they are over rated, they are old. Not much more elevated a dissent than what members of the typical Bakersfield Greyhound station might offer if so queried about what tunes they'd like to never hear again.

Salon brings in Gina Arnold , a nitwit hypothesizer and unfocused rambler who's idea of evaluating the worth of a band or its albums is by how often they slammed dope, how many band members died stupidly, and what were the cut of designer rags they wore when either playing in concert/discovered by a maid, dead in the bathroom, wrapped around the toiler, a needle or an empty vial shattered or spilled on the tile. "Sgt.Pepper" doesn't rate because it lacked all topical references and wasn't hug-gable enough, blistering enough, "real" enough. These are vague particulars, and Arnold, who writes as airily about music as Greil Marcus minus Marcus's elegance or occasional genius for making the far flung connections across historical periods and art movements, has little to say about those remarks should matter to us. She seems unable to talk about the music, the performances, the quality of the songwriting, elements that any music discussion comes down to, regardless of one's variety of nonconformist opinionating.

For me and most I know, the album is good if over rated, about half good to great, the rest arch and pretentious; some of the songs and lyrics are among the best in the Beatles body of work while the rest is as pretentious as anything the Vanilla Fudge or Moody Blues would contrive. It;s an album whose importance is both musical and one of style blazing and it's obvious with time that the better songs have survived because their substance is solid as craft and imagination, while all the fashionable studio tricks come across as several shades of hokey; nothing ages worse than yesterday's avant gard.One could go along this line, taking songs apart and putting back together through any number of filters, and much would , I wager, be worth reading. It depends on who is doing the talking. Meghan O'Rourke and Louis Menand , both first rate culture critics, would have have understood the disconnection in the Beatles' work and parsed the mixed blessing the album unleashed upon the audience and other musicians. Arnold isn't able to make distinctions and speaks in moldy generalizations, and mulls over Beatles v Stones and opines that God is a creep because most of the Ramones are dead while Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are still alive. Does one wonder if Arnold is even interested in the subject she's made a career writing about?

Arnold doesn't like the Sixties, she doesn't like rockers in their Sixties, she doesn't like to discuss music. But the obituaries. She's all over that with a ghoulish relish, and from what I'm able to determine from reading her in The San Diego Reader and Spin Magazines over the years is that she herself is that she's waiting for her own demise, perhaps a fantasy in which every album and CD she owns is cut up, snapped in two, smashed with a hammer into tiny pieces, all her books are in a pile, smoldering in a flame, and she sits there under a Kurt Cobain poster , waiting to at last to achieve what has yet to be done; to be bored to death.