It was not until we had passed Diamond Head and were coming in low over the reef for landing at Honolulu, however, that I realized what I most disliked about this incident: I disliked it because it had the aspect of a short story, one of those “little epiphany” stories in which the main character glimpses a crisis in a stranger’s life and is moved to see his or her own life in a new light. I was not going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life reduced to a short story. I was going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life expanded to a novel, and I still do.
– Joan Didion, In The Islands
Oh, Joan. Your politics are sour and your frailty aggressive, but as stylist of deep, insurmountable catatonia, you can’t be matched.
During one of our semi-regular, Youtube-fuelled Britpop reunion parties, watching Sarah Cracknell attempting to rouse the crowd during Hug My Soul at Glastonbury 1994 got me thinking.
For a time, in the mid-nineties, St Etienne flirted with being a geniunely popular pop band. Bob Stanley, Professor Emeritus of pop, probably shoulda known better. Their blend of Italianate house, the BBC radiophonic workshop and kitchen sink drama could never quite leapfrog out of irony, become the loved rather than the love letter. Liverpool band Ladytron attempted the same manoeuvre a decade later, noting the success – from the opposite direction – of self-conscious pop bands like Girls Aloud and the Sugababes. Ladytron’s attempt to make a break for it was roughly concomitant with the muddleheaded critical second-guessing and pseudo-broad church of popism. This critical stance attempts a straight-faced appreciation of pop music, in and of itself, and – like Jeff Koon’s puppy – ends up obscuring the problem. Not familiar with the term? It’s just one of a number of fairly pervasive and bad faith journalistic (UK-style) co-options of low culture which tend to masquerade as the daredevil flouting of cultural hierachy. Ask k-punk or Owen Hatherley; they’re most sane and heartening on the subject.