29 May 2006

contEMPt and redEMPtion: day two

way overdue, obv., but i've still got it in enough my head to do this, with my notes. so, saturday.

the first panel i went to was a disappointment. i already the intriguingly titled "another darkchild classic: the role of forgery in shaping rodney jerkins' sonic signature" (or something like that) was not going to be presented, but i didn't find out until the panel started that cynthia fuchs, with her paper on "selling linsday lohan," was also a no-show. especially a shame because i think that would have been the only teen-pop-related paper in the whole conference, except for "girl groups in the modern mix," which i'll get to in just a minute. i tried to email ms. fuchs (this page seems out of date, but it still conveys that she r0xX - check out those syllabi) to see if she'd send me a copy of her lindsay paper, but i haven't gotten a response (should prob. try harder.)

the two papers that were left had some potential, but turn out to be that interesting. thom swiss is a cultural studies type who was just starting his exploration of "pop portraits," and it just wasn't very well-formed; basically a non-art historian using rudimentary art historical techniques (like juxtaposing contemporary images with reference 'source' images from 'classical' art or whatever) to try to say "something" about the way images operate. i guess the something was that they resonate in reference to other images in an established cultural context, and that we perceive them ("celebrity" pop portraits) as cultural artifacts and never as art. (also he misreferenced the title of john berger's book throughout, which was a little weird.) then courtney young, despite her enticing title, did an informative but pretty surface reading of political incorrectness in beyonce's (passive?) "passing" [not so convincingly unique - mariah carey seems like a more interesting case, as was discussed in the q+a] and gwen's (substantially more disturbing?) "cultural vampirism - w/r/t the harajuku girls (also earlier no doubt stuff, but to lesser extreme.) the discussion was a little better; her friend in the audience had much more insightful things to say. well, i wish i'd gone to the "listening closets" panel on the indigo girls and ani difranco, like skelly did. but whatever.

the next two panels were fantastic. the black composers one was just a pure joy, especially joe schloss on sly stone and janet sarbanes on p-funk. schloss dissected the complex rhetoric of sly and the family's highly deliberate ("artificial") self-(mis)representation based on the manipulation of contrast - the contradictory image of the black hippy or 'freaky wild man' vs. genius frontman/puppetmaster; the communally-focused aesthetic of soul music blended with the confessional mode of rock; and particularly the disconnect between upbeat, uplifting music and sardonic, often bleak lyrics. he pointed out examples of bizarre self-reference (the weird "look at mister stewart!" interlude in "life"; the great "living, loving, overdubbing" in-joke in "sing a simple song") and went on to examine how sly couched his personal desperation and nihilism in shades of deceptive redemption. well, i hope he makes it into a soul-sides post, as insinuated, because then we can read it and enjoy it instead of me trying to summarize it. janet sarbanes had somewhat less of an interpretive agenda, but a very engaging presentation that shed a lot of light on george clinton's project of "redefining the terms of transcendence" and creating a metaphorical cosmology that functions as a radically subversive political "poetics."

[whoa. i wrote this forever ago and never posted it, because i never finished it. hands-down the most memorable thing at the conference was the very next panel; this one:

>> Girl Groups and Yacht Rockers: Male Sexuality and Its Discontents*
Moderator: Craig Werner
Venue: Demo Lab
Heather Stur, "Nobody Knows What's Goin' on in My Mind: The Girls Tell the Story"
Mike Cepress, "Pink Taffeta Gowns: Girl Groups and the Iconography of Sexual Identity"
Leah Mirakhor, "What a Fool Believes: The Enduring Popularity of Yacht Rock"
Charles Hughes, "From Little Eva to Lil Kim: Girl Groups in the Modern Mix"

very briefly, since nobody's likely to read this - well, this was i think unique in being a pre-organized panel; all of the speakers (save one maybe?) were craig werner's grad students from wisconsin. being grad students they were less polished than a lot of the presenters, but they were also closer to my age, which made it more exciting for me. also exciting is that they were talking about girl groups. except for ms. mirakhor, who didn't so much "give a talk" as "show clips from the 40-year old virgin for no apparent reason." (which isn't to say i didn't enjoy her presentation.) but the clear highlight was charles hughes' polemic about modern girl-pop acts (not very many are groups) and how they occupy a directly analogous place to the 'classic' girl groups of the '60s, and should be valued comparably. actually, it wasn't even so much his paper (although his impassioned delivery was definitely inspiring) as the q+a firestorm that followed, wherein the choir bristled at the notion that they were being preached to. this included christgau calling hughes out and telling him to "name names" (including guralnick, as i've alluded to elsewhere), and some kind of nasty intergenerational sniping that i don't entirely remember. (popism may be approaching gospel but it's clearly still a battlefield and a sore subject...)

anyway, i wish i'd written about it at the time, but that's the gist of what happened. i'd still really like charles hughes to send me a copy of his paper, maybe i'll bug him again.

oh yeah, and after that i heard the much more relaxed and low-key (thank goodness!) panel that featured a fairly silly and left-field discussion of rock novels, an entertaining exploration of ELO's out of the blue album, and the consummately enjoyable greil marcus talking about nothing especially interesting, but you didn't care because he's just so articulate and intelligent and kindly that he's a pure pleasure to hear regardless of the subject. his paper was about commercials, but most saliently he talked about enjoying the kinks and the our new orleans album.

*wow, i totally don't remember that bizarre subtitle, i think they might have ditched that before the conference.]

No comments: