Bring the Noise draws from twenty years of your music journalism. Actually longer, as you started at the end of 1985 and the US version of the book has some extra pieces added from the last few years, on figures like M.I.A. and Vampire Weekend. In those 25 years of being a professional critic, what changes have you seen in music writing?
What has faded away, though, is a certain mode of address you used to get in the music press, one that I have sometimes described as “messianic”, but it is probably more accurately characterized as “oratorical”. You used to regularly get pieces, particularly in the UK music papers, but also in America with figures like Lester Bangs, where the writing had a sense of performance: as though the writer was on a stage, or in the pulpit. It was rhetoric, designed to sway the reader to the writer’s way of seeing things. It generated a certain kind of cadence, a rousing and soaring weightiness of the kind associated with the great political speeches of history, or the manifestos of artistic movements such as Futurism.
People just don’t write that way anymore. I don’t write that way anymore. It probably relates to an inability to “suspend disbelief”, which is to say, an incapacity to summon up within yourself, as writer, the certainty that an artist could be the Future, music’s Saviour. Expectations of this kind have long since ceased to be admissible; these are outmoded criteria. You’d be setting yourself and others up for great disappointment. You would also look foolish to make such claims. So that particular oratorical mode, with its cadences, is virtually extinct. The occasion for it hardly ever occurs. But more than that: the taste for it, on the part of readers and writers, has withered away. People these days seem to prefer a measured tone that weighs up ambivalences very finely and deftly teases out the nuances and ironies. So instead of being based on rock’s own renegade mode of criticism, music writing now aspires to the virtues of others forms of arts criticism.
Reading this kind of stuff, I appreciate the wit and the wisdom. But ultimately it is all a bit over-reasoned and reasonable for my taste. The writing is literally love-less. What creates sparks for me is when you sense the pressure of the irrational (passion, enthusiasm) on an intellect. When there is a struggle within the writing between analysis and the impulse to testify.