Just Because You Write for the Times Doesn't Mean You Don't Suck

Joe Queenan, Two Great Tastes (but Not Great Together), 9/6/2009, New York Times

Let's get right to it.

ON Sept. 12 Trey Anastasio, the lead guitarist of the jam band Phish...

Whoa! Hold it there, maestro, you almost lost me. Phish is a jam band? Good thing you qualified that for me, because, see--I just popped into being like 8 seconds ago. Maybe you can help me: what's this thing dangling between my legs?

ON Sept. 12 Trey Anastasio, the lead guitarist of the jam band Phish, will give the New York premiere of his concerto “Time Turns Elastic” with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.

I guess that I assume that Anastasio wrote a concerto for electric guitar and orchestra, and I also guess that I assume that he's playing the solo part and not, say, conducting. But I don't know. Because: you did not provide this information. Instead, despite a hyperlink [in the online version, of course], you elected to report [sic] that Phish is a jam band.

If earlier versions available online are any indication, Mr. Anastasio will be bringing New Yorkers not some gaseous reimagining of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” or Gustav Holst’s “Planets” — the route pop classicists usually take — but a recognizably Anastasian composition rooted in the style that made Phish so successful.


First: Titles of entire compositions should be italicized. If you're going to be--or pretend to be--a cultural elitist asshole (which is evident, in abundance, below), get it straight, or you'll look like an idiot.

Figure 1: Just a suggestion.

Second: Hey, mister editor at the New York Fucking Times? See above, and do your job.

As such, it is bound to be an improvement on what these escapades in cultural alchemy usually turn into.

Hey, asshole/idiot guy who writes words for a living? Your bizarre subjunctive-speculative sentence ends in a preposition. Again, a tip: if you're taking the cultural high ground (as it were)--or (again) perhaps, pretending to--try to follow basic rules of usage.

Figure 2: More of a necessity than a suggestion.

Okay, now, let's calm down. Maybe I'm being too harsh...?

Classical ensembles have been slumming with rock stars since the days of Frank Zappa.

Or not.

Hey, asshole? Go fuck yourself and your faux-elitist sensibilities.

Figure 3: "Most people wouldn't know music if it came up and bit them on the ass." --Frank Zappa

Anyone who really thinks (or, worse, says in print) that Frank Zappa was a "rock star" and/or that "classical" ensembles were "slumming" with him by association (no matter how tongue-in-cheek that remark was meant) is a moron of the highest caliber. Besides demonstrating a complete ignorance about what Zappa thought about, well, anything, but particularly music, it utterly misunderstands his relationship with so-called "high" and "low" art.

Moreover, singling out Zappa for this faux-slur is perhaps the second dumbest example you could have chosen, right after John Coltrane.

Figure 4: Unsophisticated pop musicians are best served avoiding pretensions of intelligence.

Bop and serialism were, in the late fifties and early sixties, aesthetically pretty close to one another. Further, not all "rock" music was made by idiots in their garages. "Real" or "trained" rock [pop] musicians making sophisticated and/or intelligent music did not begin with King Crimson. And minimalism deliberately blurred the "uptown" and "downtown" scenes; and Paul McCartney was listening to Stockhausen far before Sgt. Pepper was recorded.

Oh, but clearly, Queenan's an expert on both "classical" and "rock" music and/or culture in general. I assume this because his writing appears in the Times (evidence follows).

This year alone the Decemberists have performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and with a pickup orchestra in Chicago; the classical pianist Christopher O’Riley is offering tarted-up versions of songs by Radiohead and Nick Drake; and, most ominously, Sting is giving onstage readings of the letters Schumann wrote to his wife, Clara; meanwhile a pianist in the background plays Schumann.

Oh noes! My hegemony is being threatened! HALP!

Also: how is that last bit "ominous?" It portends the arrival of...your scorn?

Also: was there really no way to compose that last clause without using "Schumann" twice?

Figure 5: Pretty much the same thing as this article.

No matter how much of this cross-fertilization goes on, there is no evidence that it takes root with the target audience.

I assert that this is totally untrue, partially because people keep doing it, and it must make some money somehow, or they'd quit. Moreover, your evidence for there being "no evidence" is comprised, both merely and utterly, of a bunch of baseless assertions.

Young people are not drawn to the classics by listening to rock stars moonlighting on their day off,...

Evaluation: baseless assertion. Is that an observation? Is there a study of some kind? Did you read it in a book?


No. You decided it, and wrote it. Well done.

...or by hearing Béla Fleck jack up Scarlatti on the banjo.

Again: baseless assertion. Also: "jack up"? I don't think this is an accepted use of this slang-y term. Who do you think you are, Jim Rome?

Figure 6: "Dude. Bro. Get that clarinet out of your grill and use your dome."

Can we just fucking say any bullshit that comes into our head, and, despite any supporting evidence (or lack thereof), get our mental Pablum published in the goddamn New York Times?

And classical audiences tend to loathe intruders: this is a genre whose enthusiasts initially turned up their noses at George Gershwin.

And then decided he was a genius. Also, there used to be a sign over the door in Symphony Hall in Boston that said "In Case of Brahms, Exit Here," but they figured it out. Also, Beethoven's early critics thought he was writing noise instead of music, which was (also) almost verbatim, the exact criticism leveled at Shostakovich.

The evidence does not support your, uh, "thesis." Moreover, your evidence is for crap. Moreover, your thesis is for shit.

Oh, but here comes the money quote!

So they’re not likely to welcome the guy from Phish with open arms. And in any case, reading David Baldacci doesn’t lead anyone to “David Copperfield”; it leads to Dan Brown.

Holy crap. Seriously? What?


Oh jesus christ on roller skates...

Basically, Queenan has just erected an iron wall between "high" and "low" culture, regardless of the interrogation and scrutiny that this distinction has been under since, for instance, the twenties.

That is at once both the most ignorant and most offensive thing I think I've ever read regarding music.

There's more to the article. Well--there are more words in the article.

But I don't care. I'm fucking done. Read the rest if you want. I'm out.

I'd rather fuck a bag of razors* than pretend this is worth a pile of gerbil shit.


*Yeah, thanks. I spent a while coming up with that one.


Empiricus said...

The hypocrisy remains: the audience will, most enthusiastically indeed, welcome intrusions if concocted by their classically well-trained composers, i.e., Golijov, Glass, Daugherty, Corigliano, Adams, Lloyd Weber, Dvorak, and so on ad infinitum.

Down with laissez-faire driven music institutions and the autocrats that consume them!

Or: down with...

[checks out Trey's Youtube video]

...Oh my! That sucks. That really sucks.

I never thought I'd say this but his orchestration is worse than Schumann, Stockhausen and Chopin combined!

Gustav said...

Empiricus makes a good point. Joe Queenan and his cultural hegemony aside, there is something to the "stunt" quality of these types of events -- a sort of Pros vs. Joes for classical music. I appreciate (and often preach) the view that music is all on one giant continuum argument...there is no good/bad, only a sense that a piece of music has accomplished it's own self-determined set of goals and expectations. However, jam band charts are not the same as fully composed works of "classical" music. Their goals are not the same (musically speaking), nor do the skills required to create one necessarily translate to the other.

I always look at events like this skeptically. While there have been interesting crossovers -- headed for sure by Frank Zappa who really did have something to say in the medium, but also by Rick Wakeman, Jon Lord, Procol Harum and others -- the vast majority of this music has been amateurish. Orchestras should always be looking for new and interesting voices in music (no matter where they come from), but these attempts at drawing upon popular music seem shallow attempts at best, and very cynical at worst...the audience aside, of course.

On the other hand, it is always important to keep an open mind and welcome the opportunity to experience a new, possibly innovative voice. Joe Queenan, however, is seemingly dismissive of everyone all at once...that's quite sense of superiority he's got going there...that's just super. Good for him.

Very funny, rage-filled stuff, SA.