Sunday, March 21, 2021



Genres may or may not be vanishing--I am a believer in the cultural dialectic which would have old genres collide and synthesize into new genres, starting the cycle all over again--but I do find it somewhat intriguing to consider the critic who is somewhat behind the times and yet stays in the argument. Criticism considers the continuity and discontinuity of what consumers are amusing, enlightening or dulling themselves with; the critic who is slightly out of step is likely to be the one to puncture the more ridiculous claims of the most recent claimants of the spotlight . The older critic,the fogie still operating on values somewhat frayed at the edges, is often the one to think beyond the latest raft of buzz phrases. Genres are likely to remain with us, as humans love give things names, and there is something in the spirit of fanhood that desires that distinctions be made and claimed. They simply can't be wished away because a New Yorker Official Smart Person thinks they should. 

"History" didn't end , as Francis Fukiyama said it would in his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man; his thesis was that with the end of fall of Communism, history as a record of war , strife and struggle, would end, and as relations between nations relaxed, the world would transcend ideologies and other divisions and create a more harmonies planet motivated by cooperation. The complete triumph of the free market.That never happened, and the world is arguably more problematic than it's ever been. History is still with is, and the concept of genres will remain with us as well. I don't think musicians are thinking about "post-genre" concepts when they make music, as creation is a psychological process as much as a physical one. In such the act of creation, the artist (all kinds of artists) are thinking, I believe, less about what rules they can ignore or what boundaries they can transgress and more about what they can make use of, whatever it may happen to me, however unlike, dissimilar, glaringly awkward the styles, the parts of the creation, may seem to be. 

Their goal is bring things together, whatever influences them and strikes their fancy and the appropriate it, twist it , change it, synthesize to something new, a work of art in a representation that hadn't existed before. But whatever the result, critically praised or damned, the object remains connected to history and the genres from which it attempted to abandon. This new work gets identified, described, classified, catalogued, it gets a name , it becomes a genre who's particulars are known and yet malleable within each work the artist creates. It's an old story; in music, musicians have been genre jumping for decades. One of my first albums was EAST/WEST by the Butterfield Blues Band , in which an inter-racial blues band took on Indian-raga/Modal jazz improvisational methods , an achievement influenced by another boundry violating innovator John Coltrane, who stepped out of his bop lineage to change the way jazz was performed. The examples are endless. "Post genre", ironically, seems to be a genre itself.

We have to face the fact that as long as musicians continue to , by choice, write and record songs that fall into specific categories and sub categories--blues rock, metal, rap-rock, fusion, reggae, ska, country-rock, the whole shooting match--genres as we've always understood are not dead. There is an obsession that filters through the academic and critical universe that likes to announce that some particular form or medium is dead because times have gotten so strange and so many things have converged and technology has gotten so pervasive that genre distinctions no longer apply and that we are now free , implying we have been liberated from some horrible tyranny; this kind global pronouncements have little to do with what's happening in the trenches, as it seems consumers like their genres --with the implication that there are many genres they happen to enjoy for their differences from other forms of music they happen to like-- and artists, young and otherwise, strive to maintain the various traditions meaningful and moving while at the same time perverting the stylistic limits of the respective song forms by tweaking it with musical ideas from other areas. This, of course,creates new genres that will have cool names to describe their distinction. Nothing has died. However well specific approaches fare in the marketplace, it's not accurate to maintain we are in some area that has transcended genres. They are, in fact, thriving.

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