Friday, July 5, 2013

Dancing About Architecture

Manic Street Preaches have been and gone from New Zealand, they played the Vector Centre in Auckland, and apparently put on a very good gig, actually "trolling through the back catalogue" as Nicky Wire promised after their performance on X-Factor. Man - they did Revol. I'd have loved to have seen that.

But about that X Factor performance:

Something of a specialist already,'s travel/entertainment/lifestyle writer Owen Vaughan wrote this Tuesday "Rock's Dead, Manics, You Killed It", an article with a tiresome and ridiculous headline, but writers don't always get to choose the clothes their opinions get dressed in, I suppose. Obviously I take issue with the sentiment behind it and the article itself, that MSP have sold out by playing a populist show like X factor.

It's a facile argument, and classic bait-and-switch news 'blogging', designed to elicit a response. I'm not going to give Stuff the on-site response they might want, however, because I simply can't be bothered to sign in to their Stuff Nation 'community' to do so.I'm sticking to my blog, thanks. So about my issue with Vaughan's complaint - I can think of five reasons why this article isn't worth linking to:

1. Live entertainment shows on TV in New Zealand are not common, particularly when you try to think of a suitable format. Seven Sharp is still trying to firm up its identity as a sort-of 'infotainment' vehicle, and while Good Morning will host touring live spots, Manics probably weren't a good fit there, either. X Factor is almost the only prime time game in town. At least it wasn't Dancing With the Stars. Speaking of which...

2. This argument has been made before, or at least a more balanced version, which I strongly suspect Vaughan may have already read, and perhaps figured that it needed more 'bite'. Ben Myers wrote in The Guardian of Manic Street Preachers playing in an elimination episode of Strictly Come Dancing in the UK in 2010, and the comments on that page are in some part worth reading, because they themselves in places take a more balanced view, including the following:

3. Manics have some form playing populist shows. Even in their alleged heyday they played Saturday morning TV shows, chat shows, and almost anyone who'd have them. They were a band seeking attention, and if their heyday is some years behind them now, well I don't think we should be surprised to see them seeking what few avenues there are in New Zealand to promote their first live show there. X Factor, a high-rating series that Stuff features a running blog commentary on, is a pretty appropriate option. Is that really so different from, say, The Beatles playing on the Ed Sullivan Show?

4. Vaughan's argument (and some of Myers' commentators) seems in part based on a personal grievance that Manic Street Preachers have (gasp) changed from the young upstarts that they were, settling for a more populist approach and softening their early, rebellious image. There's nowhere for a band as old (or older) than Manics to go with this argument; bands age and their members do too, they change and often mellow. It's a natural progression, and in the cases where this hasn't obviously happened (AC/DC?), the alternative is being seen as something of a one trick pony, descending into self-parody. I think Manics (who made no secret of courting the mainstream from day one) made their decision some years ago, and maybe Vaughan just hasn't been listening? Finally, and in a related way:

5. Rock and Roll is already dead. It died decades ago. We have pretty much officially been in a post-Rock and Roll environment now for at least a generation, with most standard instrumental innovation now exhausted and the genre so schismatic and subjected to genre after sub-genre it's a diluted quantity. In that sense Rock and Roll was dead well before Manic Street Preachers came along and opted to posit themselves between a few already-existing sub-genres anyway. That said, I wonder whether the history of modern music may be something that Owen Vaughan, author of such articles as "Shetland ponies wearing jumpers. Everyone say Awww" and "Nine ways to turn Gareth Morgan into a cat lover" put in the too-hard basket for this article.

Look, I know it's only rock and roll. It's stupid, too-heavily weighted on ephemeral ideals (youth, rebellion, individualism without compromise), and it's entertainment and spectacle at best. There's a complaint in Vaughan's article that to me just epitomises the neediness of the immature music fan, who can't see past age and change and reality and just wants things to stay the same as it ever was. There are bands for those people of course, - Bon Jovi come to mind. My friend David and I often discuss the notion that in this rather absurd 'industry' there is no real retirement plan. Well, there is, but to expose the reality of living off the royalties of one's most fruitful years goes against the ethos of what rock and roll is apparently about. Instead, there's money to be made in reissues, reunion tours and associated merchandising, as bands from the Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones to Bon Jovi will acknowledge, but there's not always an obvious stepping-off point. Stuff music blogger Simon Sweetman went into this in his own way this week as well, and it's worth a read.

Owen Vaughan's opinion though? Stick to the ponies, mate.

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