It’s the end – but the moment has been prepared for! The last fifteen Poptimist columns with notes, because I can. Includes my favourite one.
31. The Heart Of The Crowd: An example of the type of piece where you take a concept – in this case, things being “generic” – and fiddle with it until a hinge pops open and something interesting comes out. Hopefully. I was pleased with this one – a lot of times I’d tried to write pieces which unravelled a nuanced idea with something approximating logic, and I’d ended up getting bogged down or reducing stuff, but I think this managed it.
32. An Alphabet Of Arguments: This is my favourite Poptimist! Also probably the longest and hardest (though also most fun) to write – 26 miniature thinkpieces or pointlets, which could interlock in longer thematic ways. This was sort of written with hypertext in mind – a kind of pop criticism choose your own adventure – but I gave up on that idea and never suggested it to the editors. I was also thinking in terms of movie/pre-season TV trailers – the idea of chopping together the “good bits” of all the columns I was going to write coming up. I am really proud of this one.
33. The Wardrobe: Like any liberal smart alec I am a big fan of Adam Curtis, and this wore his influence very heavily (and openly) – an attempt to imagine Britpop as a Curtisian tragicomedy of unintended consequences, weaponised ironies and gothic unleashed forces. Re-reading this, it looks like it’s going somewhere really interesting for the first three sections and then I don’t think it gets there. Of all of them this would be the one I’d be most tempted to rewrite.
34. RIP Walkman: The only “commission” I ever did – Scott emailed to suggest it as a topic and I fell on it like an idea-eating wolf, since I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to cover. It ended up being a very enjoyable piece to write though I don’t think I concluded anything very much, but it still reads as though I did.
35. Everything’s Gone Green: By this point I think Poptimist was as regularly good as it ever got – this is another one I’m really pleased with, where a bunch of things I’d half-thought about dealing with (James Blake, Eno, Facebook) turned out all to cohere and connect. When it happens this is an amazingly good feeling. I also think by this point I’d worked out how to integrate the “social media” and “pop” sides of my writing so they fit together smoothly.
36. I’m So Fucking Special: Mazy piece talking about Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Fleet Foxes, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and the Facebook v Google split. Again, a bunch of stuff I’m trying to knit together with a story about “self-actualisation” and its discontents. Again, a long piece which runs into a certain degree of fog towards the end, but I’m still pleased with it. (This was the piece where I was most conscious of being a well-off 30something white bloke who is quite self-actualised enough, thankyou very much.)
37. Joe Chip, What’s On Your iPod?: Worst title! This one explores what cultural death/decline feels like from the inside – not a gradual process or a sudden collapse, but a series of small, discrete step changes. (I suspect economic decline feels like this too to the middle class: we shall see!) By this point I’d decided it was time to finish the column so I was working through a handful of things I’d planned to write about and never got round to – the “death of the album” in this case.
38. The Milton Point: Like the last column this one is about subjective experiences of macro trends – in this case the “retromania” idea of a pop culture strip-mining its past. There’s a wider question behind these which I don’t fully know the answer to: how visible are network effects within a network? (I think “tangible” is a better way of putting it though)
39. Continuing Backwards: I have only just noticed that this isn’t called “Counting Backwards”, oh well! Anyway as I freely admitted on Tumblr this was a “write about a bunch of unconnected shit I’m listening to” post knitted together with a conceit about the specifics and contexts we lose touch with as we go backwards in time. Does it work? I dunno, I think the conceit overwhelms the possibility of saying interesting things about the records.
40. To Be Of Use: The “Very Special Episode” of Poptimist, about my experiences with depression. It was well received, and something I’d wanted to write about for a while: it was also a springboard for some people to talk about their own experiences which was interesting and moving. I’m so unused to writing “personal” stuff that I had no frame of reference to work out if this was good or not, so I was thankful that people responded to it.
41. We Hurt Ourselves In Our Confusion: Emo title! The last (well, almost) “music-lite” column, about POKEMON! I love Pokemon, best of all the child-exploiting collectables. I knew my Pokemon playing had gone too far when a particular questioning strategy in the Murdoch’s select committee session reminded me of the move Stealth Rock. The message of this column is about the unity of fandom – I should have been ballsy enough to use Mark S’ “critical theory pokemon” observation but he explains it better than I (ask him in the pub sometime).
42. Bands Won’t Play No More: Pop and the riots. Not the only piece to be written on this topic, certainly not the best, but not idiotic either. And it would have taken far more will than I had to have sat down and written about anything else at the time!
43. Imaginary Stories: Another take on pop’s conflicted relationship with its past – this time returning to the idea of pop as a kind of fictional continuity (a la Marvel or DC) and the possibilities for musical “retcons”: ‘influence’ as a role-playing game. Very unusually for one of my columns I wonder if this one wasn’t abstract ENOUGH – it felt while I was writing it like a list of examples in search of some glue, but perhaps it reads better than that.
44. Sonic Cathedrals: I’d wanted to write something for ages about ROCK MUSIC and the reluctant way I responded to a certain type of it. A trip to America seemed a good excuse, especially with the (tedious) Coldplay and Florence albums on the iPod. The best thing about this was getting approvingly cited and quoted by Christian blogs – as with music, if the specialists take what you’re doing seriously it’s usually a good sign.
45. Take Me To The River: Double-size finale imagining web culture as a kind of pop in itself, which I finished a couple of weeks ago and have no real perspective on. A worthy finish? You decide.
Thanks to everyone who edited these, commissioned them, read them and most of all inspired them or contributed ideas. It was incredibly enjoyable.