Things I Said on August 14

2017: Avoided facebook all weekend. Just signed on and got depressed again (for more than one reason.) Not gonna stick around, I don’t think. But seriously — if you’re equating neo-Nazis and KKK with Antifa, please unfriend me now. You’re a moron. (Here, from Elijah Wald, is a useful thread.) And by the way, I say this as somebody who, at a majority Jewish suburban Detroit high school in the mid/late ’70s — 40 years ago! — wrote an editorial about how neo-Nazis had a first-amendment right to march on Skokie, Illinois. Which they still probably do, big whoop. A 16-year-old dipshit trolling, before it had a name. But sorry, I’ve grown up and maybe you should too. False equivalency malarkey doesn’t impress much me anymore.

2017: Apparently the music critic topic of the day is “bad reviews”! Need to read that WSJ story — “What Happened to the Negative Music Review.” Meanwhile, I am happy to report I’ve never written any.

2017: So anyway. Which side of the race/culture/region war should I be on?? (Side note: I have 4 years military experience as an officer, dude! Once led a 25-man Signal platoon in an Infantry battalion, and the army begged me to stay in! But stupidly, I had more important things to do.) Taking nominations now.

2017: Guess I should go ahead and write this day off. (What the hell, I’m a few months short of 57, right? Might as well just get used to it, at this point.)

2020: I’d been getting a lot out of Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. No surprise that so much history in it rings true today, but I appreciate all the details. Then the Civil War happens. Page 172: “Hundreds of thousands of lives had been lost to redeem the political failures of the pre-war generation, and during the terrible fiasco of Reconstruction, it became clear that beyond the minimal goal of saving the Union nothing had been accomplished and nothing learned.” Not a word about slavery, and he doesn’t bother explaining how Reconstruction was a catastrophe; just assumes we’ll buy the claim. Myths of the Lost Cause clearly permeated even deeper into American thinking than I’d imagined. Coincidentally, the library finally had my hold copy of The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964) ready for pickup today. But now I’m wondering whether I can still trust the guy.

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4 comments

  1. via facebook (re: Hofstadter):

    Barry Mazor
    There’s a new Library of America volume with all of his major works in it–if, as you say, you decide to trust the guy.

    Ron Warnick
    As an old editor would tell me, that’s a hole in the story big enough to drive a Mack truck through.

    Karl Hagstrom Miller
    Yes. It was a hole in the American Historical Association big enough to drive a truck through. This was the standard interpretation of white professional historians of the time. So I am not surprised he didn’t feel the need to elaborate or explain.

    Graham Ashmore
    Hitchens (when he was good) described Paranoid Style as “endlessly consultable”. That rec lead me to read it and I agree.

    David Williams
    That was his way of saying it’s perfect toilet reading.

    Graham Ashmore
    That could be. So’s Christgau’s ’70s book. He says so himself!

    Chuck Eddy
    Every record guide ever (mine included.)

    Graham Ashmore
    For damn sure.

    David Williams
    Hey, it’s a time-honored method!

    Dan Williams
    Christgau guides are filed in my bathroom. And I mean no disrespect!

    Mike Freedberg
    One of our greatest historians. That one may dispute his theses does not — ever — allow anyone to not ponder them deeply.

    Chuck Eddy
    Well, I’m not sure that’s a thesis — it’s just a tossed off line, with no evidence to support it. And sure, there’s plenty to ponder there. But that passage leaves me wondering how someone so smart can be so stupid.

    Jesse Fox Mayshark
    It really is amazing. The more I read about the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the more perversely impressed I am by the success of their propaganda campaign. They dominated the South most obviously, but they really rewrote history in state curriculums from coast to coast. A whole century of American school kids were affected/infected, whether they (we) knew it or not.

    Dan Williams
    Read him anyway – that head-scratcher aside, he really was brilliant. (“Paranoid Style” could not be more on point right now, and you’ve now given me a reason to take another look at “Anti,” which I haven’t read in a couple of decades.)

    Nigel Richardson
    Are you say that Reconstruction wasn’t a fiasco?

    Chuck Eddy
    Are you saying it was??

    Eric Johnson
    The idea that reconstruction was a doomed and foolish effort (or “fiasco”) that did more harm than good was a long prevailing view. It’s not unusual to see it in a text from 1963. Most current interpretations I’ve read emphasize the way that reconstruction’s revolutionary and beneficial potential was sabotaged, undermined, and abandoned.

    Nigel Richardson
    It ended up that way as you say. That what I meant. And I’m being generous and assuming that’s what RH meant.

    Chuck Eddy
    Hmmm. That’s sure not how it reads to me.

    Graham Ashmore
    Chuck Eddy, speaking of record guides, I remember a couple that came out in, I think, the 1980s. Both were “greatest albums of all time” books. One had Every Picture Tells a Story at #1, the other Please Please me. Do you recall either?

    Chuck Eddy
    No, off hand, those don’t ring any bells.

    Dan Williams
    ^ The EPTAS one was by my old pal Jimmy Guterman, who is sadly no longer with us…

    Graham Ashmore
    Dan, thanks! It’s been driving me crazy for years.

    Graham Ashmore
    I see he also did a book of worst singles and albums.

    Phil Dellio
    I read Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition a couple of years ago and loved it. The more things change, etc. The one you’re reading now is on my get-to list; from the title, an obvious influence on recent books I’ve read by Charles Pierce and Kurt Andersen.

    Karl Hagstrom Miller
    The historiographic interpretation of Reconstruction as a disaster was developed in the early 20th century by what came to be known as the Dunning School of historians (after Columbia prof William Dunning). The biggest challenge to this interpretation came when DuBois published the monumental Black Reconstruction inn 1935, which argued that Reconstruction was the most broadly democratic experiment in US history to that point, one lead by African American activists. The book includes a final chapter on the Dunning School titled “The Propaganda of History,” which is perhaps the greatest historiographical smack down of all time. Brilliant and scathing. The book was met by crickets from the American Historical Association, which did not even review it. Dunning largely held sway through the civil rights movement and was only challenged with the rise of social and cultural history in the seventies and eighties. In 1988, Columbia historian Eric Foner changed the game with his book Reconstruction, which essentailly restated DuBois’ thesis and supported it with tons of fresh primary sources. Only then did this thesis become the reigning one within the profession.
    You might be able to tell that I miss giving history lectures in the pandemic. lol

    Chuck Eddy
    Glad to fill in as a substitute student, Karl!

    Graham Ashmore
    I only recently read DuBois’ writing on Reconstruction. He should be taught everywhere.

    Alan Niester
    “The minimal goal of saving the Union?” Now admittedly, I’m no great student of American history, but that seems pretty important to me.

    Tom Carson
    There’s a story that JFK met with some liberal historians not long after winning the presidency. They were stunned when his view of Reconstruction just regurgitated Gone With The Wind wholesale.

    Matt Ashare
    Every historian has his or her blind spot, just as most critics of rock and pop music have blind spots. The Dunning School certainly held sway for a good chunk of the early to mid 20th century. I think it’s worth considering that as the centennial anniversary of the Civil War approached and one took stock at the state of civil rights in America, it would have been somewhat natural to conclude with great disappointment that the lofty goals ascribed to the Civil War, namely the laudable cause of emancipation, were nothing more than a diversion to distract from deep failures that had become painfully evident by the early 1960s. So I don’t remember taking issue with Hofstadter’s characterization, although I felt he was implying that the war and reconstruction represented an opportunity squandered. That said, I think it’s interesting that you managed to notice how little consideration he ultimately gives to slavery and its formative and toxic impact on the American political experiment. It’s possible that he felt that was ground he had already covered in his 1948 book The American Political Tradition, which is a real mythbuster as far as the founding fathers go. Have you read that?

    Chuck Eddy
    I haven’t. Maybe I should. So are you saying he didn’t, in fact, subscribe to the Dunning school?

    Like

  2. via facebook (re: Antifa)

    Jake Alrich
    More fodder for yr depression: no longer possible to enjoy this scene from my favorite childhood movie.

    Diane Aguilar
    i think this might end up being my favorite post of the day.

    J3nn1f3r C@rb1n
    I don’t equate them, but don’t support either. That allowed? There are a lot of things I detest or don’t like or support – many groups of knuckleheads co-existing. Before there was an ANTIFA, I found the KKK vile. Now they’re still vile, and we also have guys who claim to be progressive but worked it out that they have an excuse to throw heavy objects at people and wear helmets. They don’t help any, just fistfight a lot and burn new construction down.

    Gabrielle Jackson
    Do you think the fascists should protest unchallenged? Asking out of genuine interest, not to be snarky, but because I once held that view. I don’t anymore. Now things are so bad, I don’t think we should ever let a fascist protest go unchallenged. That will sometimes lead to violence but it is not Antifa turning up as a militia.

    Like

  3. via facebook (re: bad reviews)

    Don McLeese
    it’s a bad story. that’s my review.

    Alex Smith
    I think the bottom line is why waste column inches degrading something when that space could be better used evangelizing something else?

    Alex Smith
    I once wrote a not-terribly-charitable review of EMF’s debut album, only to have two members of EMF read it in front of me. That left an indelible impression.

    Andrew Hamlin
    Hehe…a vengeful performance artist once fed my bad review of his performance, to a goat, live, onstage. That was an interesting night…

    Chuck Eddy
    Ha ha, i bought that CD for $1 a few years back. It’s not bad!

    Alex Smith
    I know, which adds insult to injury… why was I such a jerk about it?

    Chuck Eddy
    Well, sometimes writing negative reviews HELPS you re-listen to albums in a new light, years later. (Happened to me a few times!)

    Alex Smith
    Also true. I gave a lukewarm review to Radiohead’s KID A upon its release for a website that mercifully no longer exists. Strangely, an article in SPIN by Chuck Klosterman about his theory of how that album predicted 9/11 made me re-listen and appreciate it in a whole new light. That’s not to say Chuck’s theory was sound nor that I espoused it, but that it provided a whole new perspective — and revealed my initial review to be prematurely dismissive.

    Ron Warnick
    I’m still mystified why people like “Kid A.” But I’ll support “OK Computer” until the world ends.

    Chuck Eddy
    I will support “Creep” until the world ends (next week)!

    Alex Smith
    Their finest hour, for my money, remains “Just” on THE BENDS.

    Daniel Durchholz
    I’ve dropped the bomb on some live performances. Trying to think of some bad reviews I’ve written of records. Oh, here’s one: An early Lenny Kravitz album for how transparently he ripped off his influences. I’ll certainly stand by that. We even discussed it later when I interviewed him. (To his credit, he didn’t deny that I was correct, and even had an explanation if not an excuse.) And I once suggested a drinking game involving knocking one back whenever Mariah Carey employed that dog whistle thing she does. Admittedly, that was a cheap shot, but her career seems to have withstood it. But both of those were a long, long time ago. No one pays me to write album reviews, good or bad, anymore.

    Ron Warnick
    I’ve written my share of bad reviews in my former life — Lauryn Hill’s two-CD “Unplugged” train wreck comes to mind. I’ve always used the most venom on indisputably talented artists who inexplicably waste or misdirect those gifts.

    Daniel Durchholz
    I haven’t read the article yet, so I don’t know if this is mentioned. But I wonder if the worm turned slightly when Christgau started reviewing only records he graded B or above? Also, how many snarky negative capsule reviews were launched by JD Considine’s famous review — “SHT” — of the GTR album? Fun to read if not particularly illuminating.

    Alex Smith
    I remember a review of Cher’s album LOVE HURTS — “yeah, but not this bad.”

    Daniel Durchholz
    Ha! Taking the long view, I wonder if making the reader laugh is worth the cheap shot. In the short run, though, it’s no contest. I can’t think of examples where I allowed such things as an editor, but I bet they exist.

    Alex Smith
    I wrote, in the early 90’s, for a freebie weekly paper on the Upper East Side, and delivered a one-sentence review of Sting’s SOUL CAGES album, which — amazingly — they ran. It read: “I wanted to hate it, but fell asleep instead.”

    Alex Smith
    This is not a boast.

    Alex Smith
    I mean, y’know, fuck Sting, but my clever-clever little snot-nosed review was just as strenuously self-indulgent as Sting at his worst.

    J.D. Considine
    I could be wrong, but I don’t believe I ever wrote “Stynx.”

    Daniel Durchholz
    BTW, J.D., I’m not trying to pin all the less-funny snark that followed “SHT” on you.

    J.D. Considine
    No worries, Daniel, I didn’t think you were.

    James Porter
    THE ROLLING STONE RECORD GUIDE (first two editions) had plenty of negative one-liner reviews long before “SHT.”

    Geoffrey Himes
    Thin Skinned Artists

    Daniel Durchholz
    It should have occurred to me long ago that Irving Azoff = Trump in the thin-skinned category.

    Steve Pick
    I think my worst review was when I gushed over an early Flaming Lips album. They didn’t need that encouragement, and then quoted me on the damn sticker affixed to the album.

    Steve Pick
    I really shouldn’t type on the phone – this has now been edited and may actually make sense. How do those young people do it?

    Joseph McCombs
    Pete Sears of the Jefferson Starship once called me to complain about a review I wrote of their Winds of Change album for the All Music Guide, because I criticized his wife’s songwriting.

    Edd Hurt
    I write plenty of mixed preview-reviews weekly for the Nashville Scene, because I review a ton of Americana and there’s usually a good song or two amidst a sea of good intentions.. I do also give some outright dismissive or at best, see-this-at-your-own-risk, preview action, but not so much.

    Dan Williams
    I wrote some bad ones when I was young and callow. I was not (mostly) wrong, but am now nonetheless repentant.

    James Porter
    Chuck Eddy: >bad reviews”! I’ve never written any<
    Unless you were being sarcastic, I distinctly remember you not being too impressed with a Living Colour album (either TIME'S UP or STAIN, can't remember which).

    Chuck Eddy
    I was being very very sarcastic. And I've written mixed ones, too!

    Scott Seward
    I don't feel bad about that Nine Inch Nails review I did for you, Chuck, but I do kinda feel bad in retrospect about that El-P review. I was just having too much fun to stop. That's the only time an artist ever e-mailed me and said that they wanted to punch me in the dick.

    Chuck Eddy
    That would hurt!! PS) I forget if I like El-P now. But I definitely do like some people of that "ilk" (I think)" Mr. Lif, for instance.

    Scott Seward
    i wonder if you would like the new divine styler/everlast rap group. i like them. more than run the jewels.

    Like

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