Friday, August 7, 2015

Because order sucks: Dave Hickey on rock and roll (briefly)

Dave Hickey
I like this passage from Dave Hickey's "The Delicacy of Rock-and-Roll," an essay that first appeared in Art Issues magazine in 1985 and was collected in Hickey's book Air Guitar (the cover of which is so lame I can't share it; you've seen it). In the piece, Hickey makes characteristically loose and casual denunciation of the dichotomy between high and low art, and lands on this great working definition of rock and roll:
Rock-and-roll, on the other hand, presumes that the four of us—as damaged and anti-social as we are—might possibly get it to-fucking-gether, man, and play this simple song. And play it right, okay? Just this once, in tune and on the beat. But we can't. The song's too simple, and we’re too complicated and too excited. We try like hell, but the guitars distort, the intonation bends, and the beat just moves, imperceptibly, against our formal expectations, Whether we want it to or not. just because we’re breathing, man. Thus, in the process of trying to play this very simple song together, we create this hurricane of noise, this infinitely complicated, fractal filigree of delicate distinctions.
He cites prime-era Rolling Stones. Good call. "And you can thank the wanking eighties, if you wish, and digital sequencers, too, for proving to everyone that technologically 'perfect' rock—like 'free' jazz-—sucks rockets."
Because order sucks. I mean, look at the Stones. Keith Richards is always on top of the beat, and Bill Wyman, until he quit, was always behind it, because Richards is leading the band and Charlie Watts is listening to him and Wyman is listening to Watts. So the beat is sliding on those tiny neural lapses, not so you can tell, of course, but so you can feel it in your stomach. And the intonation is wavering, too, with the pulse in the finger on the amplified string. This is the delicacy of rock-and-roll, the bodily rhetoric of tiny increments, necessary imperfections, and contingent community.
He adds: "Rock-and-roll works because we're all a bunch of flakes. And that's something you can depend on..." 

I'll offer this simple hurricane of noise. Turn it up:

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