Dec 05

The Afterlife Of Pop

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Frank Kogan’s Real Punks Don’t Wear Black is a devastatingly good book. The first evening I read it I found that it shook me up a lot – I recognised the ideals and ideas Frank was chasing, even if I couldn’t have articulated them, and I was ashamed of my own inability to follow then. Not that Frank is appealing for ‘followers’. Not that I want to ‘follow’ him. But the first chapters made me feel tentative and timid. After that initial cold splash, the rest of the book has been exhilarating: I’ve been reading it in a more positive mood, feeling stimulated and inspired. I’m not sure I’m ready to respond yet to the ideas in the book – either intellectually or by example (though the rest of this post has turned into a partial response).

Partway through the book, in the chapter discussing “Superwords”, I get quoted, a quote from this odd piece, which I’ve not dared read since I wrote it. My reluctance was based around my never finishing it – I never wrote the subsequent parts, and after a couple of weeks I’d forgotten what was meant to be in them. I was also afraid I’d read it again and think it was wrong – which I now do, but it’s not wrong in any terrible or humiliating way so I don’t know why I was so fussed.

The ‘death of pop’ piece sits as one of my most grievous examples of that Kogan bugbear, not following through ideas. I’m never sure how seriously I take this – I think a lot of ideas are un-follow-through-able, or rather than if you try to follow them through you get ground down and tired, so it’s better to just spray them out and see if anyone else can do anything with them. This was always a guiding notion behind ILM, which I actually started half-based on a description I’d read of a Frank Kogan zine (its other parent was the “Question of the Month” box on 80s Marvel editorial pages). But maybe when I say “better” I simply mean “more fun” or “lazier”.

This actually ties in a bit with what I was talking about in the Death of Pop piece. The bit I like most in the piece now is the section near the end about stage magic and pop existing in the same precarious showbiz state. In stage magic, pretending that it’s all for real (i.e. that you actually possess supernatural powers) is seen as vulgar or a cheat; showing the wires is also frowned upon. A magic performance, in other words, is an idea that refuses – or cannot survive – a follow-through. Somewhere in the tangle of the article I’m suggesting a similar thing about manufactured pop.

Except stage magic is – or used to be, I don’t know enough about how it works these days – a stable form where this refusal is built-in and understood by performers and to an extent by audience. Pop is unstable, judging by the continual movement of its performers towards perceived autonomy and credibility (which very rarely translates to achieved cred). The ‘death of pop’ I was getting worked up about four years ago is always with us, a constant career trajectory. So the question is: why? And also – to paraphrase a question Frank Kogan asks a great deal – what do the performers gain by that? What does the industry gain? What do we listeners gain?

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