Sunday, July 03, 2011

Rants about hipsters never get old

WHET MOSER ON THE H-WORD ("hipster") in Chicago magazine. 

My response: 

First: Wow. That Harry Raab/Gibson video is a treat. 

But now here's a news flash for the kids. Hip is just a body part. Best (for me) when female, very round, and very squeezable.

When you get around 30 or so, you stop caring about being a hipster, or hating on them. Best, though, to stop caring about it long before 30. Get concerned about something real instead. Let them do them, and you do you. Or like Hall and Oates said: Do what you want, be what you are.  

I've probably been taken for a hipster a few times, but if you asked me, I'd call myself an eclectic creative guy who's always been into ideas and music and art rather than, say, cars and watching other people play sports. 

However, I don't wear it all on my sleeve since I'm an introvert, not a peacock, and also I just don't like shopping enough to spend countless hours gathering up fancy feathers and achieving that studiously-thrown-together hipster look. (Occasionally, I hit upon it by accident; or when I have a woman around to dress me.) I'd rather be reading a book or hiking in the woods or making music or something. But I don't hold it against people who do rock all the wacky getup. It makes the world a more interesting place. 

But as a black dude, here's my rant. The fact that white folks have always dug black music is great.* The fact that so many white people came to feel so empty and alienated and deracinated that they decided they'd rather be black is a dubious blessing. 

In particular, a lot of the pioneers of Hip -- like Raab -- seemed to be Jewish, perhaps not only because Jews  predominated in the culture business anyway, but also because it seems a lot of them in the mid-twentieth century desperately wanted to be anything but Jewish: in light of history, totally understandable, yet still unfortunate for them and for those whom they were trying to be. 

Since Raab and his jazz cohorts are now mostly mouldering in their graves, I'll move on to the group I find even more obnoxious – the ones whose cultural hegemony I grew up under: that is, the post-Sixties white hipsters who borrowed black music and created this orthodoxy and installed themselves as some sort of  official Keepers of the Flame. The folks who latched onto blues as some kind of signifier of authenticity, and then became rock music critics and then basically invented rockism.  

Yeah, Boomers: I'm talkin' 'bout your  generation.

“Holy” Greil Marcus comes to mind – the guy who said that because Anita Baker makes sophisticated music, she's therefore not really black.  

What? STFU. 

Rockist types also were always sneering at white artists who borrowed from more sophisticated black genres, such as jazz, soul, or post-sixties R&B, rather than from blues. I.e., yacht rockers Hall and Oates, Carole King, Steely Dan, the Doobies, Loggins, Rundgren, Toto, Ambrosia, Player, etc. -- phenomenal artists all. They were labeled “soft rock”  -- although "blue-eyed soul" is closer, since they weren't really trying to do rock; and it was always stated or implied that they weren't “real,” etc. 

Therefore, for a good long while, the hipster kids of the late '90s and '00s, who recognized the inherent goodness of the music, were forced to enjoy it through the screen of irony. Screw that. I like Zeppelin and Toto at the same time, sorry.

I'm glad the pendulum has swung back in recent years, and the indie generation has largely left that nonsense behind, embracing classic soul the same way the Boomer generation embraced blues and the beat generation embraced jazz. I think Amy Winehouse (where is she, anyway? Rehab? ** ) is a great talent, if not wise about her lifestyle choices. I'm loving Fritz and the Tantrums, though maybe they crib a lot from H&O and ABC. ***  

Middle-class or affluent white Boomers could afford to entertain primitivist fantasies about barefoot guitar-strumming sharecroppers in Delta shacks. Most black folks, post-Civil Rights, didn't find that lifestyle romantic, perhaps because many had only recently escaped that poverty.  My dad grew up poor (though not quite dirt-floor-shack poor) in Arkansas, went to college on a basketball scholarship, came to U of C to get his first Master's in 1965, and became happily middle-class. Mom's folks are from Alabama (a step up from Mississippi and Arkansas, they like to think). Lots of folks down south -- and up here -- are still living in the sort of rural poverty that the rockist cultural gatekeepers idealized. Those illiterate folks living in tin-roof shacks have no idea how "hip" they are.  

The point is not that you're bad if you are poor, or that a simple life does not have simple joys, or that I don't like blues (of course I do; I just don't fetishize it). The point is I'm rejecting the sort of cultural-Marxist notion of the inherent nobility of poverty and inevitable crassness of bourgeois life, and the somewhat connected notion that sophistication, education and craft are somehow less than "authentic." 

The punk purist version of rebellion-against-the-man could get kind of obnoxious too, but they don't strike me as ever having been as culturally dominant. I like punk rawk! I hate punk snobbery -- because, well, the whole point was you were  rebelling against snobbery, right?

There's a reason why one of the pioneers of the easy-listening revival (I forget his name) called rockism "rock 'n' roll fascism." Unfortunately, the totalitarian urge permeates the human psyche. Rebels depose despots, then become despots in their own right. The whole rock generation mistook aesthetic preference for ideology, even religion. Kids are still doing, that, although I think, much less in this generation than the punks and the hippies. It's just music and fashion, kids – really.  If you want to fill the hole in your soul, go find God.

** RIP. Shoulda gone to rehab.
*** One of my other favorite white soul-influenced acts is now old school, but they just don't get the play they should: Swing Out Sister, a bird and bloke from Manchester, who have a lot of Motown/Sixties pop influence, particularly their two early-oughts albums.)

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