Tuesday, January 20, 2004



by Wayne Robins

I still enjoy The Onion, the satirical weekly that so adroitly mocks the conventions of daily newspapers. And yet there's a disconnect between the stupefied hilarity of its news pages and the pedantic dullness of the writing in its (non-satirical) arts pages, known as the The Onion A.V. Club.

In the latest issue, the hot British rapper Dizzee Rascal is described, in painfully serious prose, as "a refraction of hip-hop's psychogeographical shadow." Whassup with that? Pick almost any CD review and you'll find the writing stuck in the diligent stiltedness of a rock crit 101 term paper. So the band Camera Obscura "delves into the realm of retro pastiche," which tells the reader absolutely nothing about what the band's approach might be. I suspect I might like them because I'm a fan of Belle & Sebastian, and B&S's Stuart Murdoch is the producer. But describing a song as "Belle and Sebastianesque" is the kind of reference The Onion would make fun of in the front of the paper. And while we're at it, young pundits, any time you are faced with the opportunity to use the word "Glaswegian," try to rethink the sentence so that you can use "from Glasgow" instead.

Then there's a review of the new Mekons CD, "Punk Rock" on which the writer asserts "Mekons would have earned points simply for recording country music when it was the anathema of hip."

Which was when?

When Bob Dylan released "Nashville Skyline" in the 1969? When Willie Nelson got out of Nashville on a fast train in the early 1970's and headed back to Austin to convene the "outlaws," whose music was played on the Austin radio station so self-consciously hip its call letters were KOKE-FM?
When Asleep At the Wheel rediscovered western swing, when Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen played psychedelic rockabilly?
When the Grateful Dead made "Workingman's Dead"?
When Janis Joplin sang "Me and Bobby McGee"?

Or was it when Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe were recording for Stiff Records, George Jones in their heads, or when Elvis Costello recorded "Almost Blue," George Jones in his head, or when Wilco recorded "No Depression"?

Or when Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton recorded "Trio," or when Loretta Lynn stood up for birth control in "The Pill," or when the Dixie Chicks stood against the war. (Both got banned from country radio for doing so).

Or when Gram Parsons OD'd, or when the Diesel Only label started up in Brooklyn? When Steve Earle cleaned up and continued creating the most underrated body of work of the last 20 years? When Johnny Cash spent his dying months, at the top of his game in the depths of his soul, recording with Rick Rubin?
I mean, when exactly was this cultural moment as, The Onion A.V. club says, “when country music was the anathema of hip?”

(c) 2004. Wayne Robins. All rights reserved.

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