To get a sense of how criticism is off the tracks in other fields besides the literary game, look at the various “Greatest” lists put out by Rolling Stone magazine. A “Greatest” rock guitarists list without Ted Nugent on it? From his time with Amboy Dukes alone, Ted Nugent qualifies. No Nugent, but instead, more approved names like John Lennon, Joni Mitchell(!), Paul Simon, and Bruce Springsteen. A p.c. popularity contest.
Bruce also made the Rolling Stone “Greatest Singers” list, at #36. Bruce Springsteen is many things. One thing he’s not is a singer. A shouter. Not a singer. The man never carried a tune or hit a note in his life.
Which isn’t all a bad thing, if raw authenticity is what you’re offering. Rock n’ roll was a reaction to polish and craft. It was a response to intellectual consensus about precision and talent.
Rolling Stone magazine is caught in a contradiction, because they, as New York-based cultural elitists, see their task as giving rock music intellectual respectability. A hopelessly mutant, deformed task as ever there was. Rock n’ roll music is instinct. It comes from the heart and the gut and the crotch, not from the brain. But there you have it. Without the pseudo-intellectualizing, the posing, no Rolling Stone magazine, with all that entails.
Note that on their lists, they don’t attempt to make a case for their choices. They give instead, appreciations. Ruminations centered upon how the person speaking was personally affected by the modest guitar playing of Joni Mitchell, or the impassioned caterwauling of Bruce Springsteen.
THE VALUE of a Bruce Springsteen isn’t in his objectively considered talent, at guitar, voice, or otherwise. There are millions of Americans with better voices—and likely quite a few better guitar players. Springsteen has always been the quintessential bar band guy. The value of a Bruce Springsteen comes in his anti-polish, his anti-talent. In his grittiness and authenticity. In show after show, album upon album, authenticity is what Bruce Springsteen is selling.
But here comes the problem. To make the leap from saloon to big time, Bruce became the creation and packaged product of monopoly media.
What do we make of the information that the album “Born to Run” took fourteen months in the studio, and huge sums of money, to create? (Six months for the title song alone.)
Six months for a song intended to encapsulate the rock n’ roll essence of simple emotion, working class life, and the street?
It sure wasn’t plopping the fellow down in a room with his guitar and letting him have at it!
By contrast, Elvis Presley recorded his version of “That’s All Right, Mama,” in his first day in a recording session, at tiny Sun Records in Memphis. A song that many regard as the primal blend of country with r & b. A song that also exhibited Presley’s pure, natural voice.
The Beatles’ first album was recorded in one day. One of the truly revolutionary albums in rock history.
“Born to Run,” once finished, became the subject of a massive p.r. campaign which culminated in cover stories in both Time and Newsweek news magazines. The album was news, apparently—but manipulated news. News manufactured by a giant record company in combination with a burgeoning rock music intellectual establishment seeking relevance and credibility. News created to be news, by puppetmasters behind the scenes.
All-in-all, a cynical happening. With “Born to Run” we have the example of manufactured authenticity. The fake genuine. Or, the genuine fake.
When you think of the implications, the notion becomes scary.