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September 10, 2006 7:36 AM   Subscribe

The limits of pop music, and Marxist critical theory, by way of the Gang of Four.
posted by jmhodges (64 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
The second link's omission of "To Hell With Poverty" and "History's Bunk!" are quite telling indeed.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:02 AM on September 10, 2006


Alternatively: your favourite band's political posture sucks.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:30 AM on September 10, 2006


Jiang Qing's vocals are great, but I always thought Yao Wenyuan's drumming was kinda sloppy.
posted by Bugbread at 8:31 AM on September 10, 2006


This is really fun to read. Thanks.
posted by klangklangston at 8:39 AM on September 10, 2006


*averts eyes, puts headphones on, starts jamming to the stones*
posted by pyramid termite at 8:44 AM on September 10, 2006


This Heaven Marxism Gives Me Migraine.
posted by shoepal at 8:48 AM on September 10, 2006


The Gang of Four (band) were great but Shriekback (formed from bits of GoF and XTC) were amazing.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:48 AM on September 10, 2006


*splutters coffee out nose*

GOF not as good as Shriekback??? Are you mad?
posted by mediareport at 9:06 AM on September 10, 2006


what mediareport said
posted by senor biggles at 9:13 AM on September 10, 2006


Huh. Just finished that first article. It did a good job of presenting the band's choices nonjudgmentally, but it's still hard to read to the end and not (again) compare GOF's early career arc with Minor Threat/Fugazi's. King's "I can't imagine a system in which you make music ... [where] you didn't want the music to be sold" justification really falls flat when you do that.

Still, some of the best music of the 20th century. Thanks for the post.
posted by mediareport at 9:14 AM on September 10, 2006


Not being a fan of this kind of music, I probably shouldn't comment....but it seems to me that music is even less able to influence ....um, politics or human's relationship to the engines behind the ethic of material consumption, etc....than other art forms, due to its abstract nature. Of course the existence of lyrics mitigates its abstractness, although how much a band's lyrics alter its fans fundamental beliefs (vs. reinforcing them) is an open question.

For most bands, of courseregarding this quote from pg. 1

If pop music is viewed as contested terrain, musicians can play with the spaces between production and consumption, words and meaning, and the individual and social. Theoretically,

this state will always remail "theoretical." Most bands mine emotional territory for their stance toward life, not political, and don't play around with these "spaces"," which might be a little on the theoretical side themselves.

And to quote Vonnegut "Even in the sixties, when the focus of every artist was focused with laser-like intensity on ending the Vietnam war, it had all the effect of dropping a cream pie from a five-foot stepladder."
posted by kozad at 9:19 AM on September 10, 2006


I've never actually listened to Gang Of Four, but a lot of bands I like speak highly of them, so I might have to check them out. Is the Marxism really shrill or do they maintain a sense of fun? cause that's a must for me.
posted by jonmc at 9:26 AM on September 10, 2006


Metafilter: It's not made by great men.
posted by sparkletone at 9:32 AM on September 10, 2006


I'm surprised as hell you've never heard them, jonmc, but smart lyrics, brutal guitar and jagged funk? What are you waiting for? Entertainment is the one to try; it's got more than enough "sense of fun."
posted by mediareport at 9:34 AM on September 10, 2006


"GOF not as good as Shriekback??? Are you mad?"

I stand by that. GoF were so fucking humourless much of the time - spiky fragments of funk, thought-provoking lyrics, often great tunes (and how did they get through the dourness filter?) and one of the great unsung rhythm sections of the eighties.

Shriekback had much of that plus the self-consciously over the top Barry Andrews.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:43 AM on September 10, 2006


You don't have to be prepared to debate points of dogma in order to enjoy them, yes. They do sound like they take themselves sort of seriously at times, but you have to remember that the punk/new wave ethos of the time valued braininess, and didn't work well with gushy emotions. Fun was something you approached with irony rather than enthusiasm.
posted by gimonca at 9:45 AM on September 10, 2006


I'll obtain a track or two through completely legal means. what's the 'definitive' song would you say?
posted by jonmc at 10:06 AM on September 10, 2006


Great band.
posted by caddis at 10:07 AM on September 10, 2006


but you have to remember that the punk/new wave ethos of the time valued braininess

Tell that to the Ramones & the Dictators. (not that I'm devaluing intelligence in rock and roll, but punk definitely understood the value of Big Dumb Fun as well)
posted by jonmc at 10:11 AM on September 10, 2006


I'll obtain a track or two through completely legal means. what's the 'definitive' song would you say?

"Contract"
"At Home He's A Tourist"
"Anthrax"

The entire "Entertainment!" album is worth getting - definitely their best record
posted by JeffL at 10:11 AM on September 10, 2006


Ha! I'm 'obtaining' the second track on your list as we speak.
posted by jonmc at 10:13 AM on September 10, 2006


Another vote for Entertainment. Angst, angst, relationship angst, angst, and the music is great.
posted by caddis at 10:14 AM on September 10, 2006


Ha! I'm 'obtaining' the second track on your list as we speak.

They wouldn't necessarily have a problem with that, jonmc, subverting the commodification process as it does.

GoF's first two records changed everything. "Armalite Rifle," "Anthrax," "I Found That Essence Rare," right down to "I Love A Man In Uniform" - all such crucial, revelatory sides that they get a free pass forever for all lapses in judgement committed in their wake.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:16 AM on September 10, 2006


Plus, nobody's a bigger partisan of Big Dumb Fun than I am, but it has its limits.

When Big Dumb Fun is the orthodoxy - is the hegemony - a band like GoF is more than a welcome astringent. It's a reminder of what we can actually achieve when we commit ourselves to meaning what we say.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:19 AM on September 10, 2006


what's really interesting is that 'punk,' which is often characterized as a monolith could accomodate artists as different as Gang Of Four, The Dictators (obtain 'I Stand Tall' which maybe the polar opposite of most political punk), and Stiff Little Fingers or The Modern Lovers. It wasn't so much a unified sound or idea as simply Rock And Roll 2.0
posted by jonmc at 10:21 AM on September 10, 2006



When Big Dumb Fun is the orthodoxy - is the hegemony - a band like GoF is more than a welcome astringent. It's a reminder of what we can actually achieve when we commit ourselves to meaning what we say.

Oh, agreed, but BDF has to always exist, one: simply because it's neccessary for sanity and two, as Mother Jones said 'If I can't dance, I don't want your revolution.'
posted by jonmc at 10:22 AM on September 10, 2006


Go listen to "I Love A Man In Uniform."
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:24 AM on September 10, 2006


"Contract"

That'd be my first choice, too. Oh, and "I Love A Man In Uniform" isn't representative of their best, earliest work at all, though it's a fine song.
posted by mediareport at 10:36 AM on September 10, 2006


Haha im on ur site obtaining all ur trax!
posted by Balisong at 10:37 AM on September 10, 2006


" The limits of pop music, and Marxist critical theory, by way of the Gang of Four."

I like the old-school Gang of Four as much as anybody, but apparently Marxist critical theory and the limits of pop music are extended to allow for re-forming a band twenty years after the fact solely to make a huge wad of cash on exorbitant ticket prices.
posted by koeselitz at 10:38 AM on September 10, 2006


My vote's for "He'd Send In The Army."
posted by sourwookie at 10:42 AM on September 10, 2006


I'm listening to a few tracks ('At Home He's A Tourist' 'Damaged Goods' 'Essence Rare' '..Uniform') now, so far not bad:

Musically, pretty damned good, kind of like Suicide if they knew how to swing. The vocals are a little wan for my taste (again, matter of taste, I prefery blustery gruff ones, which is why Joy Division, The Cure, Smiths etc are dead to me) and the lyrics are a little didactic and dour, but overall I like 'em, thanks. 'Essence Rare' is my favorite of them, but the soul style backround vocals on 'Uniform' are a very nice touch.
posted by jonmc at 10:44 AM on September 10, 2006


jonmc, you really want to watch GOF's performance of He'd Send In The Army on URGH! A Music War. Andy Gill is more punk and angry just standing there looking like he's about to explode than any pink-mohawk'd-Doc-Marten-wearer you can think of, and the performance is great - they meant that shit. Seriously. GOF were an incredible band.
posted by biscotti at 10:47 AM on September 10, 2006


I saw nothing about singletons, decorators or factories. I'm disappointed that the article seems to have left out all of their best work.
posted by greensweater at 10:48 AM on September 10, 2006



Oh, agreed, but BDF has to always exist, one: simply because it's neccessary for sanity and two, as Mother Jones said 'If I can't dance, I don't want your revolution.'


That was Emma Goldman, supposedly.
posted by stammer at 10:50 AM on September 10, 2006


Andy Gill is more punk and angry just standing there looking like he's about to explode than any pink-mohawk'd-Doc-Marten-wearer you can think of, and the performance is great - they meant that shit. Seriously. GOF were an incredible band.

We'll agree to disagree on that. Musically, like I said, I like them, but I have less faith in politics than a lot of people. So, i'm gonna crank some Sly & The Family Stone, and sip my Lenny Bruce beer while Pips goes shopping with her girlfriends for threads for our impending Vegas nuptuals.
posted by jonmc at 10:57 AM on September 10, 2006


Wow, thanks, biscotti, for that video; I'd only heard the URGH! LP, but that clip is great for anyone who wants to get a sense of what the band was about.
posted by mediareport at 11:03 AM on September 10, 2006


What senor biggles said about what mediareport said.

And jonmc, I'm glad to hear you like 'em—I was waiting with bated breath as I moved down the thread to see how you'd react to hearing them!
posted by languagehat at 11:10 AM on September 10, 2006


Oho, this is fun. To Hell With Poverty live on UK television, 1981. I'm sure jonmc will somehow manage to appreciate the heavy-handed abstruse Maoist politics of a lyric like, "TO HELL WITH POVERTY, WE'LL GET DRUNK ON CHEAP WINE" screamed into living rooms across the land.
posted by mediareport at 11:17 AM on September 10, 2006


They look a lot less...Asian than I would have expected. And younger.
posted by Bugbread at 11:25 AM on September 10, 2006


I like lots of different kinds of music and have been to hundreds of concerts, but best live show I've ever seen was Gang of Four in New Haven, must have been 1981 or '82. And the second best was GoF last spring in NYC. They are just remarkably good, and you can dance to it.

Andy Gill invented a whole new way to play guitar, and it's completely unique. At that New Haven show he smashed a beer can on the fretboard and dragged it up and down, spraying beer foam on the front rows. It sounded great and tasted good too.

Favorite GoF song: Return the Gift.
Please send me evenings and weekends.
Please send me evenings and weekends.

posted by stargell at 12:13 PM on September 10, 2006 [2 favorites]


I saw GoF not that long ago in Portland. One of the best shows I've seen in a long time. Those old guys exuded tons of energy and put on a performance that I have rarely seen in shows of younger bands. I would have paid double to see that show.

A few days after the show, I ran into the bass player (who lives in Portland now). Great guy as well.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:14 PM on September 10, 2006


I, too, am hearing their music for the first time as I type (spent the 80s studying 'other kinds' of music as a kid)--interesting and funky. They sure do like the tritone.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:37 PM on September 10, 2006


I had a former-british-anarchist-turned-expat-socialist political theory prof who frequently cited GOF.
posted by The White Hat at 12:38 PM on September 10, 2006


Also, from the first link:

Adorno lamented the loss of autonomous art.

I mostly agree with Adorno's points of view on this (but disagree that it was entirely a bad thing), but am fascinated by how technology is undoing much of the change he lamented.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:39 PM on September 10, 2006


They sure do like the tritone.

That could be worked up into a GoF title/song with hardly any trouble whatsoever!

mediareport: Thanks much for the video; I've been a fan of theirs for nigh on a quarter of a century now and that's the first time I've actually seen them.

Er, and thanks for the post, mhodges, even though I can't stand Critical Theory and didn't actually read the links—it brought all the fans out of the woodwork!
posted by languagehat at 12:54 PM on September 10, 2006


Completely welcome. I only finished the second link for similar reasons (there's a reason I went into physics instead of philosophy). It's awesome seeing how many mefites love GoF.
posted by jmhodges at 1:29 PM on September 10, 2006


Very Funny, greensweater. No, seriously. Oddly, "Abstract Factory" would probably make a reasonable 80's band name.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:31 PM on September 10, 2006


Youtubefilter for classic era GoF:

"Damaged Goods"

"To Hell With Poverty"

I'm a little leery about posting links to their reunion stuff. I feel the same way about Mission of Burma, FWIW.

I lurve them. For those who say they didn't have a sense of humor, I kind of agree, but you're missing an important point--you could dance to it (esp. wrt "To Hell With Poverty").

And "Entertainment" is definitely the place to start. I think there's a re-issue out with loads of extras and still pretty cheap.
posted by bardic at 1:35 PM on September 10, 2006


mediareport: there's a ton of Urgh! performances worth looking at (the video is hard to find, but worth finding, and lots of the performances seem to be on youtube): Wall of Voodoo, Devo, Gary Numan, XTC, Echo & The Bunnymen, Dead Kennedys, and the notoriously disturbing pants of Lux Interior and The Cramps.

jonmc: at least we agree on Lemmy.
posted by biscotti at 1:52 PM on September 10, 2006


"Essence Rare" still makes me very happy. But my interest in GoF waned when I discovered The Mekons. I <3 sally timms. from my unabashedly redneck amurrican perspective, british punks spent waaay too much time whining about it and not enough time fucking shit up. *braces for shitstorm* cheers to the youtube links, though. i'd never seen gof perform live, either. small>The only punk bands that ever mattered were The Ramones and The Minutemen, and I refuse to be confused by the facts on this matter.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:53 PM on September 10, 2006


dammit!!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:57 PM on September 10, 2006


Coffee, Fries and a...

Cheesburger to Go!
posted by Windopaene at 2:25 PM on September 10, 2006


But my interest in GoF waned when I discovered The Mekons.

I hate to say this (in this thread anyway), but yeah, the Mekons blow just about everybody else out of the water. There was a time in the Reagan Hell Years when I could hardly stand to listen to anything but Fear & Whiskey.

The only punk bands that ever mattered were The Ramones and The Minutemen


I wouldn't go quite that far, but boy, did they matter.
posted by languagehat at 2:43 PM on September 10, 2006


Coffee, Fries and a...
Cheesburger to Go!


OK, now you've done it:
"Welcome to Der Wienerschnitzel
May I take your order please?"
Yeah, I want:
Two large Cokes, two large fries
Chili-cheese dog, large Dr. Pepper
Super deluxe, with cheese and tomato.
"You want Bill sperm with that?"
NO!
posted by languagehat at 2:45 PM on September 10, 2006


The only punk bands that ever mattered were The Ramones and The Minutemen

most punk bands, especially local ones, didn't CARE if they mattered
posted by pyramid termite at 2:53 PM on September 10, 2006


I personally prefer the punk bands that didn't matter.
posted by Bugbread at 3:03 PM on September 10, 2006


Oh, I am sorry I was out and am procrastinating now. Though I am not sure what I would say in a GoF thread other than agree with several statements: Entertainment is great and gets better the louder it is, and though the Mekons top them, they never made me forget them.
So when is a Mekons thread? Or just a Jon Langford thread?
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 3:24 PM on September 10, 2006


I fail to see that simultaneous love-unto-adoration for the Minutemen, Gang of Four and the Mekons is untenable. Or if it is, uh, then I'm in trouble.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:55 PM on September 10, 2006


I ph34r that new Sony Classics documentary on "American Hardcore," too...though they get points for a poster where you can, like, totally tell it's Greg Ginn from his goofy ol' silhouette.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:59 PM on September 10, 2006


adamgreenfield, it isn't. Not for me. There are few songs I love as much as "Jesus and Tequila"
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 4:28 PM on September 10, 2006


ooh keeyy turned into a cmmercial site.
posted by longsleeves at 8:12 PM on September 10, 2006


Were the Mekons big in America? They had a 25 year reunion gig last year I think.
posted by asok at 2:19 AM on September 11, 2006


Man, I remember when I first heard/got into the Mekons, it was around their Memphis, Egypt days. For the longest time (I think I was in my teens when I heard that... Maybe preteen. My dad had the album) I didn't know what anyone was talking about, calling 'em "punk." Then I found The Quality of Mercy... in a dollar bin, loved it (especially Trevira Trousers, though I have no idea what Trevira is) and proceeded to proslytize to all my friends. Which has been largely ineffective, in that the only friend that liked 'em liked 'em before me (which was a pleasant surprise. He gave me the whole "You like the Mekons?" thing).

And I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the Gang of Four tracks on the Karate Kid soundtrack. Right next to "You're The BEST!"
posted by klangklangston at 6:58 AM on September 11, 2006


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