Thursday, December 15, 2011

humbug

Humbug.
A consistent gambit in the postmodern bag of tricks and pranks has been the idea of pastiche, the piecing together or the layering over of unlike elements, a mix and match of contrasting aesthetics and purposes that, when rendered successfully, are supposed stun and bewilder the audience; the more grandiose hope, in a generalized apology from academic critics, is that an audience member is supposed to confront the limitation of the filters that. The suggestion was that consumers would become aware of how our popular arts present a conveniently small and cozy version of the world where there is structure and rationale for all events, but this is a reach, at best, for most of the practicing post-coders out there that have made the laziest of ironic art. 

It always occurred to me that all this pastiche making was producing were sometimes amusing, too often ugly and pointless poems, films, and artwork. It   seemed more the gesture, the offhand flick of the wrist instead of the stylistic signature of an intelligence that was shrewdly weight the materials at hand. Sometimes, of course, it is nothing more than two things joined together in willful defiance of whether anything makes aesthetic or intellectual sense; the result is more primal, cynical, and vindictive even, such as Bob Dylan singing Christmas songs.  The conveniently avant gardish in our ranks might claim genius for Dylan's scruffy vocal and equate it with the thorny rasp of the best blues singers, certainly artists in a style that has redefined the modern ideal of good singing.I wouldn't compare this to an old blues singer: they can at least carry a tune.Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Bessie Smith , even genius spawn Tom Waits can rise above the melody line with their rattled vocal equipment and lend the lyrics the qualities of nuance, texture, rhythmic interplay with the instrumental arrangement. What's most notable about Dylan's singing, once  you get past the oddness, is the flat reading; this is grudgingly workman like.There isn't a traceable sense of joy, spiritual uplift. Even the comfort of  ironic distancing, the Brechtian alienation effect, is lacking.  This is simply awful, sad coming from a man of his genius. This is something that was conceptually brilliant in 1970 when he released his four sides of deliberate schlock "Self Portrait", with different vocal affectations, orchestral arrangements, vocal choruses, odd song selection and a host of other purposefully non-Dylanesque elements.

 That was precisely the point, I think, as Dylan never had much patience for those who would make a religion and a political philosophy from his songwriting; it was like he wanted to confound his idolaters and see if they could perversely turn this mash up into a further message from the godhead. I understood that immediately when the album came out, but the listening stopped being funny long before side one was over with. It is a one idea that depends entirely on the ironic effect it's trying to sustain. It was a burden to listen to, MOR; it was a prank that did not pay dividends for taking it seriously. The concept has not aged well, and repeating the gimmick here just strikes me as a near tragedy. It is schlock, and it doesn't matter whose name is on it. Dylan, I think, is up to his old game of screwing with the heads of people who take him too seriously. He may love this tune, love singing it, but I still think his intention is to throw another wrench into the mechanics that insist he is something more than a brilliant songwriter.