In between genres

Gabriel points me to Simon Reynolds’ “In praise of ‘in-between’ periods in pop history.”  Essentially, Reynolds argues that music history focuses on epic and unusual moments in a small number of movements to the exclusion of the multiple, interesting, and unnamed alternatives that are always percolating.  He begins with an objection that music from 1988 (ish)–Pixies, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.–is considered a prequel to grunge.  This music deserves its own place in music history, according to Reynolds, as does post-disco (these have names: Hi-NRG, freestyle, Italodisco, & electrofunk); post-psychedelic; post-punk; and post-rock (in the postscript).

Reynolds begs the perennial problem of “casing”: when (and why) should we say that one event has ended or another begun?  I agree that music history focuses narrowly on moments of great popularity when musics have names and constituencies in the many thousands and treats all other moments as preludes or afterthoughts.  There are “invisible” musics, for sure.  I guess we can identify them by tracing them out from organizational links (like record labels) and influences and influence (on others), as Reynolds suggests.  But for what purpose do we do so?  Does working with “post disco”, “post rock,” “post punk” and “post psychedelic” get us anywhere new and interesting?
I’m not yet convinced that it does.  Popular artists need to eat, and I don’t think post hoc descriptions of this music as “post” (or ante-, for that matter) are going to revive the careers of musicians who probably long since found other ways to survive.  Some might appreciate the slight improvement to their reputation or catalogue sales, but I don’t see that this helps them all that much.  It might make for better histories but music histories–and I say this from ample experience–are almost entirely written by fans.  Fans-who-are-artists, fans-who-are-critics, and just-plain-fans.  That is to say, as histories, they fail in several respects, and an inattention to social context and event-centeredness are just two.

Of course, I disagree with the author’s claim that his interest in “in-between” periods is novel–this is one of the things that Pete and I were able to generate from primary and secondary texts about musical communities.  We just had to look to find it.  I guess I also disagree that, “Their richness challenges history’s fixation on the “event,” the “turning point,” the “revolutionary moment.””  I don’t think a refocus on “in-betweenness” challenges a fixation on “event”, it just employs a different notion of event.  I also don’t see how it moves away from “turning points” because I’m not sure yet what approach the author recommends to the problem of causality.  If change isn’t explained in terms of “turning points”, how is it explained?

Anyway, I’m sympathetic to Reynolds’ argument–at least enough that I’d like some answers.  Plus, I really liked Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and Pixies at one point.


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One response to “In between genres

  1. I SO loved the Pixies.

    His argument is curious in that he’s simply proposing that we look at more events. The in-between periods, besides being centered around two pivotal events, are probably also anchored by key events that would become defining in some way should we give more attention to them. I think the better question would be, why do we end up focusing on certain events and ignore others? There’s a Fine-ian story of collective memory to be told about the history of rock music.

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