Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pretentious liner notes

Pretentious liner notes seem to be traditional for music recording. Here are two recent examples I've stumbled across.

First we have Richard Osborne, writing the liner notes for Karl Böhm's Beethoven: Symphony No. 6, Schubert: Symphony No. 5 / Böhm, Vienna Philharmonic Orch.:

But I find [Ingmar] Bergman's judgement of Böhm close to the mark in describing the kind of trenchancy and articulacy we invariably had from Böhm when he conducted Beethoven with the great orchestras of Vienna, Berlin or Dresden.
Okay, that's perhaps a bit over the top. But for truly outstanding displays of pretentiousness rock 'n' roll cannot be topped. Here's Donna Gaines in the liner notes to the remastered version of Ramones:
In the early 1970s, the dark ages that preceded the Ramones, music fans were shut out, reduced to the role of passive spectator. Rock 'n' roll had become an alienated labor - rock without the roll - detached from its roots. Gone were the sounds of youthful angst, exuberance, sexuality, and misrule. With the spirit of rock 'n' roll beaten down, the glorious legacy handed to us in doo wop, Chuck Berry, the British Invasion, and surf music was lost. If you were an average American kid hanging out in your room playing guitar, hoping to start a band, how could you possibly compare? With wanker guitar solos, expensive equipment, and million-dollar stage shows, it all seemed out of reach. The airwaves were ruled by crotchety old dinosaurs, rock 'n' roll radio was dead, and boredom had inherited the Earth.

2 comments:

reader_iam said...

Hm. I don't find either of those especially pretentious, especially in context of the genre. They're not even particularly convoluted.

But perhaps that says more about me than anything else. It's possible.

How would you rewrite each of those in a way that's not "pretentious"? It would be interesting to see an example. Seriously.

Icepick said...

To each their own of course. But "describing the kind of trenchancy and articulacy we invariably had from Böhm" seems like a reach. Was Böhm trenchant and articulate? Yes, and not only! He had a particular kind of trenchancy and articulacy! Plus how often does one here the noun forms of articulate and trenchant?

The second one actually seems much worse to me, though. The first quote is just an example of showy linguistic articulacy. But the second quote really seems to be "expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature."

First of all, there is the exagerrated claims of the death of rock 'n' roll itself. Second is the claim that the "crotchety old dinosaurs" ruled everything. Those "crotchety old dinosaurs" were people at most in their early thirties! More precisely it would have been those surviving British Invasion acts and their immediate progeny that were creating the music that these people were rebelling against. But you will never hear any of these critics point the finger at the act most worthy of taking any such blame: The Beatles.

Who started over-producing rock 'n' roll? Which act reduced its fans to passive spectators by absolutely REFUSING to perform in public? Which act had spent years and years letting everyone know that they were geniuses and not to be questioned? But the critics (and the writer quoted) act as if someone else killed rock 'n' roll. The "crotchety old dinosaurs" WERE the supposedly dead heroes they were lamenting.

(Besides, we all know that the critics were probalby quite happy that the British Invasion killed off the music of Chuck Berry, as Chuck Berry and Elvis had eliminated doo wop. Rock 'n' roll, at least on the critical side, loves to eat its own so they can later lament how aweful it was that none of those acts are still around.)

And to act as if the Ramones were revolutionary is itself silly. As Cal pointed out a few months back, the punk movement was entirely reactionary - it threw out any effort to take the music in a truly new direction. R/Evolution be damned, we're going to stand in place! Of course, many of these punk acts would later go down the same paths as the "dinosaurs" they were replacing, but why let that get in the way of the fun?