REGARDING STALINIST AESTHETICS....

REGARDING STALINIST AESTHETICS. Of course Noam Scheiber's all wrong about Stephen Colbert's performance on Saturday, but his invocation of "Stalinist aesthetics" provides the pretext to discuss another burning politico-cultural issue: Neil Young's new album. I've been having this argument offline with my cubicle-mate Fast Leon ever since he plugged the album on Tapped, and had thought it judicious to keep my thoughts offline given that it's off-message and wankerific to disparage the righteous Bush-bashing efforts of an iconic rock star. But no more: This album is awful.

Scott Lemieux, among others, has written eloquently before about the right's weakness for hyper-philistinism on questions of culture; aesthetic considerations are completely abandoned and art is reduced entirely to politics -- and usually politics on the vulgar, daily-muck level of the latest RNC talking points. It�s anti-art in basic ways. The Right Brothers are basically the perfect embodiment of this tendency. (Recall their early masterwork.) It strikes me that if one takes that critique seriously, the likes of Neil Young don�t get a free pass when they put out music that has better politics but similar aesthetic offensiveness. Young's lyrics are graceless, goofily literal screeds -- HuffPo posts set to music. "Let's Impeach the President" features poetic lines like "Thank god he's cracking down on steroids, since he sold his old baseball team!" and a huge chorus chanting �Flip!! Flop!!� On �Lookin� For a Leader,� Young actually sings the line �Maybe it�s Obama, but he says that he�s too young.� This is embarrassing.

It�s of course a token of Boomer hegemony that Young can automatically jump to the head of the Bush protest music line with material this bad. But that's an injustice. Matt�s commented before on the rich array of hip-hop and indie rock protest music (I�d add Rilo Kiley�s �It�s a Hit� to the list). Out on commercial radio there was Eminem, then Green Day, and now (perhaps) Pearl Jam. And since I�m not the inveterate Boomer-hater that Matt is, I can even point out that Bruce Springsteen wrote a song last year that was expressive and affecting in its portrayal of an American soldier in Iraq, and has included in his new album an old Irish anti-war folk song that resonates powerfully in its new context. There's genuinely no need to embrace shoddy protest work when good stuff abounds.

--Sam Rosenfeld

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