16
Aug 04

What is the correct response

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 406 views

What is the correct response to the old ‘what are your influences‘ chestnut?

It really should be an interesting question as genuine influence is usually pretty fascinating. Witness, for example, the John Lennon jukebox CD/documentary or, perhaps, the Buzzcocks/Joy Division/Mick Hucknall Sex Pistols gig in Manchester or some such canonical event. Of course, we never get anything like that in interview. It’s all ‘everything from Tchaikovsky to Abba’ or whatever. But, as music history seems to be charted as much in terms of ‘influence’ as anything else, its a pretty key question. This may all sound a little rockist – and it is – but it’s reassuringly general. So, with the blues, rock conciously found itself a history from which to continue a tradition. ‘Dance’ did a similar thing with disco and Kraftwerk. Hip hop had it built in with sampling, doing a similar thing as ‘dance’ by sampling the same disco (Rapper’s Delight) and Kraftwerk (Planet Rock). Being so selflessly NOW!!!, ‘Pop’ may be a little more complicated, but ‘influence’ is still relevant apparently.

But I reckon this role played by influence is a damn strange one. From this point of view, music journalism seems to be ‘Tradition and The Individual Talent‘ style history combined with the lit theory rivals that Eliot tried to usurp. It’s a typically silly loop of lazy journalist/lazy artist/musical snobbery amounting to some weird self-fulfilling fantasy.

So, apparently, good bands are always in the tradition of a certain artist. But these artists are, inevitably, the ones that stand outside of tradition. From the journo point of view, bands are influenced by the mould-breakers and the misunderstood: Velvets, Stooges, King Tubby, whoever. By ‘rejecting’ tradition, these bands are the creators of traditions. So, with reference to the chatter about The Strokes and The Hives in that article, an *obvious* influence, a *recent* influence, is a critical sideswipe. Saying Oasis copied The Beatles was enough. Saying Jet copied ACDC or Lust For Life was enough. Saying The Strokes copied Television was nearly enough. And when Razorlight did it (via The Strokes apparently) it was a double faux pas.

In fact, someone like Television might be a good case study. Even though they seem to be musically at odds with, say, The Ramones or that wave of punk, they are talked about in that CBGBs ‘tradition’ that was started by Velvet Underground. But, back in the day, Verlaine is said to have banned Reed from taping Television shows while mumbling lyrics so Reed couldn’t steal them. Even if that’s not true, it’s indicative. They became a band its okay to cite, both the buckers and the founders of a tradition. So The Strokes could just about surf the wave of Television/CBGB references as a ‘positive’ thing. But, a few years on, that Razorlight are pretty lame is ascribed to them robbing off Marquee Moon rather than anything else. Television are an influential cliche just as they become comfortably ‘traditional’, an accepted ‘influence’. And, of course, its then they decide to tour and pick up Mojo Awards. Indeed, you could probably say the same kind of thing about Mojo Hall Of Famer Arthur Lee, another influenced by Reed. In fact, its this kind of historicizing that leads to Bowie’s ‘everyone who bought VU & Nico formed a band’ crap, with VU as the font of all that is arty and guitary or, it seems, beautifully camp. So, Television are Reed’s sons and heirs rather than the descendants of The Shadows or Les Paul and Sunday supplement articles trace Franz Ferdinand back to Blondie and allow them to deny themselves a history, a tradition, an influence.

Correct me if I’m wrong but, to conclude, the Sunday Times Style magazine is the new Sacred Wood, which makes haute couture swimwear the new sympathising with the Nazis.

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