Monday, October 31, 2016

Beach Privilege

In the category of "writing about music that is so bad it is impossible to parody" I think we have a winner! And, for extra schadenfreude goodness, it's in the New York Review of Books. They really should have stuck to books. But no, Ben Ratliff just had to opine about the philosophical problem of the Beach Boys and now we can all laugh until the tears roll down our cheeks. We will get to the music in a minute, but first let's savour just how bad the writing is:
The story of the Beach Boys is a kind of philosophical problem. Not that they didn’t make some albums still eminently worth hearing, if we go by the unit of the album: Pet Sounds, from 1966, is the prize pony, full of confident hits as well as deep-purple self-absorption...
It is the kind of writing that has the feel of being machine-translated from one of the Finno-Ugric tongues--Estonian, perhaps. "Unit of the album?" "Prize pony?" "Deep-purple self-absorption?"

But the most delicious bits come later. After reading this section, I had to sit down and catch my breath:
But time and social change have been rough on the Beach Boys. Their best-known hits (say, “California Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “I Get Around”) are poems of unenlightened straight-male privilege, white privilege, beach privilege. It is hard to imagine that they helped anyone toward self-determination or achieving their social rights.
"Beach privilege?" Hard to imagine why any respectable rock-and-roller from the mid-60s wouldn't see their first priority as being to help folks achieve their, ahem, "social rights." This doesn't deserve a critique, of course, but it does deserve a long hard cackle followed by a bottle of Mogen David perhaps. But let's continue:
A lot of the allure of the Beach Boys may be about not knowing: about us not knowing them, which is pretty common in the relationship between pop stars and their audiences, but also about them—in some way, if only a performed way—not knowing themselves.
And a lot of the allure of this essay is about knowing--or not-knowing--just what it is the writer thinks he knows or not-knows about his own unique literary style. This bit captures the unerring sophistication of his musical understanding:
[Brian Wilson] often brings up “Be My Baby,” and the song’s ability to “make emotions through sound.” You sense that this is where Wilson really lives: in emotions triggered by sound.
My lord that's weird! A musician who lives in emotions triggered by sound? What next?

Sadly, the essay just meanders on to its lame conclusion which we can mercifully ignore. But hey, let's listen to that song "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes.

Well, that certainly brings up the urgent question did The Ronettes fully realise their responsibility to help everyone toward their self-determination, not to mention achieving their social rights?


There is actually a musical answer to that question, and it is by the Beach Boys:


Jives said...

well that was a half-hearted attempt to "problematize" the Beach Boys. Come on, man, hit 'em for that privilege! Your "machine-translated" observation was a hoot, and right on.

Bryan Townsend said...

I do it all for you!

Jack Spencer said...

I guess the writer had to find a way to shame us for daring to grow up white. The shame of it all. Now liberals even have to suck the fun out of the Beach Boys.

Bryan Townsend said...

Amen, Jack.