There's no immutable law or anything, but until now pop music has been moving forward and changing, and I think that my book obviously speaks to people who were around during some of the experiences I had, and the people it speaks to most are either '60s people or those who grew up during post-punk. Or people who remember the '90s and the whole rave thing, they seem to figure in as well. And they all see a slowing down of music and a sort of folding in of music history.
IN MUSIC, THERE'S THE SOUND ITSELF, AND THEN THERE'S THE MESSAGE. LIKE I WAS LISTENING TO THIS PIECE ON NPR RECENTLY THAT WAS ALL ABOUT WOODY GUTHRIE AND HIS SONG "THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND". AND THE PIECE GOT INTO HOW THE MUSIC OF THE SONG WAS TAKEN FROM AN OLDER SPIRITUAL, SO THE SOUND AND THE MUSIC WEREN'T NEW, BUT IT WAS THE MESSAGE AND THE ATTITUDE THAT WAS, AND THAT RESONATED WITH PEOPLE AND MADE IT "CLASSIC." SO YOU CAN GO THROUGH POP MUSIC AND GO "THE SOUND IS ALL A PASTICHE," BUT DO YOU THINK THE MESSAGE IS ALSO A PASTICHE? OR IS NEW MUSIC USING OLD SOUNDS AS A TROJAN HORSE TO GET THROUGH NEW MESSAGES?
Well, you're right, there's at least two different kinds of innovations: there's the sonic kind, which is what my book is mostly about — the sonic shock of the new being hard to find, and I can think of things that have it but it tends to be things that are far from the mainstream and it tends to be a sporadic occurrence. But then there are interesting things that can be done, lyrically, within a persona, but within quite a traditional sound.
Like I don't think PJ Harvey was particularly innovative, musically — she was very rooted in people she admired like Captain Beefheart, Nick Cave, Patti Smith — I don't think she was a fan particularly of Patti Smith but you can hear it in her music. Some of her stuff, like Rid of Me, sounded a bit like Led Zeppelin. But lyrically, she was very innovative. Another example is Elvis Costello: I don't know if you'd describe him as a musical innovator, sonically he's more of an artful pastiche-er. But lyrically he did all kinds of amazing things. So that's something I didn't really get into in the book, maybe I should have differentiated more in the book as far as these different innovations. I mean, like Lady Gaga, for example —
—I WAS GOING TO MENTION HER IF YOU DIDN'T!
Yeah, the things she's done, like the way she managed her fame. Fame is the thing, really, it's the catalyst in a sense, music is just a support for it, right? You might say "Oh, Madonna did all that stuff first" I suppose.
I really like the band Vampire Weekend, and most of their music you can spot where different things come from, although cleverly and attractively put together. You can say that writing about the lifestyles of rich people is a new thing, there weren't too many people doing that before, right?
LIKE THE WES ANDERSON THING.
Right! But yeah, there probably were people doing unusual things with lyrics though, so it's not just about sonic innovation, per se.