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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

1993 Chicago Music Kerfuffle!

I wasn't a huge fan of any of the "Pandering Sluts," although I did  buy and enjoy Smashing Pumpkin's first record, "Gish," I do remember avidly reading the music-press "Stooge," and I have some sympathy for him. I mean, I never had a problem with him as a writer, or a person, or a critic. I didn't always agree with him, but  I kind of understood where he was coming from, which is good enough.

There's a great article in the latest New City by former Reader Music Critic - (Hitsville!) -   Bill Wyman writes about the Chicago music scene in 1993. Bill finally addresses one of the great Chicago Music Biz kerfuffles. 

He brings up great, and maybe, significant issues, certainly quite interesting questions like: how do you define "alternative" music, vs. "underground" music? What is "commercial" music? Does the methodology of the creation of the music, the motives of the music-makers count when we try to evaluate music? Who has "artistic integrity," and "street credibility?" Who is pandering, and who is doing good work? Who is making records of value, that should be listened to?

Or does none of that really matter? Do we like a record? Does it rock? Or whatever? Wyman tries to navigate all of this with humor, intelligence and grace. On the other side of the kerfuffle is Steve Albini: a legendary character, writer, Producer, music-maker, who is all about method, and a strict aesthetic code. Sort of a "Stalinist" when it comes to the rules of how to make a record, how to live your life, and how to interact with the music biz.

This all goes back to Wyman's "Notes from the Undergound: 1993 in Review/Hitsville Top Ten."  Albini objected to the inclusion of Urge Overkill, the Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair to Wyman's 1993 Top Ten list.  Albini's response was a letter to the editor: "Three Pandering Sluts and their Music-Press Stooge."

It's all sort of entertaining. A long-ago feud, a collision between definitions and aesthetics - what's good and valid, and whats not good and valid. Now all these borders, and lines in the sand, seem pretty irrelevant. But then, maybe, it seemed important. And there are issues to think through. And I'd like to expand the horizon a bit by broadening the question beyond Chicago's scene. Are you a cooler person, a better music fan if you like bands that are found in a book like Michael Azerrad's "Our Band Could Be Your Life," (Black Flag, Minutemen, Big Black, Fugazi) or Chuck Klosterman's "Fargo City Rock?" - (the Pandering Sluts of Hair Metal)!?!

Klosterman has been writing about this subject his whole career. Think of a kid growing up in Fargo North Dakota, listening to, and loving KISS and Motley Crue, and Poison and Cinderella, and then later becoming a hip, New York, music writer, digging Radiohead and Wilco and then trying to defend how he could both love Motley Crue and or Guns N Roses vs. Radiohead and Nirvana, and try to explain why that's totally possible and coherent and maybe even logical. Cultural dissonance!

Anyway, Klosterman has written about Albini too. He has a great little essay about Nirvana's "In Utero" in his "Eating the Dinosaur,"  it's all about Kurt Cobain's patented "Guilt Rock," how he was an alternative kid, who became rich and famous, and felt terrible about it, and tried to make an "uncommercial" record with Steve Albini - Cobain was in the ridiculous position of trying to make a record people wouldn't like and wouldn't buy. Cobain was crucified on the cross of Alternative Nation vs. Commercial Success. He embodied the contradictions. And suffered for it all. He tried to recoil from the success of "Nevermind."  It didn't really work. "In Utero" sold well too, not nearly as well as "Nevermind," but no matter, Cobain was a successful rock and roller, whether he wanted to be or not. And did that invalidate what he was doing?  Was his music any less valid because his record was on a major label, and lots of people bought, listened to it, loved it? Even totally "un-cool" people that Cobain basically hated?!

Anyway, I will give Klosterman the last word, because, he is the funniest writer of the bunch, and in my mind, his funny trumps all:

"The vortex of the controversy stemmed from Cobain's selection of Steve Albini as the In Utero producer - an abrasive, ethical man whose legacy is built on crafting sonically authentic records that normal people hate." 

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