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Phair Comment


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To the editors:

Since when have self-imposed "sassy" North Shore debutantes become the vogue in the tragically hip new north-side music enclave [Hitsville, January 29]? Perhaps we have reached the ugly day when originality and creativity have been subordinated to mimicry and self-indulgence, but I never thought that the Reader would be heralding that new day. Is Liz Phair's debut/tribute/homage/copy of a Stones' classic worth writing about, or worse, a feature article? Or is it that the Chicago music scene has sunk to such depths that all there is to write about are "Sassy-style quasi-good-girl slutty type" artists who have little to say, but can say it with refreshing and shocking carnality (I read that she does a "Joni Mitchell-y ballad," but has taken the form to heights that Joni never could--Liz uses the word "cunt," truly it must be a powerful and dramatic moment on her new double album).

Could it possibly be that I am just expecting too much from today's artists and their agents? Should I perhaps lower my standards and expectations and be content with retreads, copycats, and manufactured artists? The general public has fallen for this trend years ago, maybe the Reader is right and I too should acquiesce and joyfully go along for the mindless ride. At least I won't feel like such a loner. Or could this situation be much worse than I had realized, am I just an aging malcontent, falling into the abyss of another generation gap? Should I put an end to my long-lasting parochial proletarian views and realize that 25-year-old women raised on the North Shore in the well-fed and well-roomed house of a "prominent doctor and an Art Institute docent and educator" may indeed have something to say to me via rock and roll. Maybe brash and gritty "postfeminists" overcome with guilt and angst at having to be the beneficiary of their parents' success should take out their frustrations by assaulting an unsuspecting audience with the horrible images of modern debutante-ism. Perhaps I should re-examine the lyrics, "I want to be your blowjob queen," "I bet you fall in bed too easily" and "I get away / Almost every day / With what the girls call murder," I might have missed something profound the first time around.

Indeed it just may be a good idea for a singer-songwriter to debut with a double-album tribute to the Stones. For some unknown reason I had subscribed to the Victorian notion that an artist should uncover and develop a unique and personal style before copying, I mean, paying homage to an already existing work or established artists. I could be wrong. Why not copy a proven success? I think an "exact song-to-song correspondence with the original Exile" is a great idea. The Stones' album is the product of such a soft and conditioned age that maybe Phair is needed to show us the "dark side of the equation . . . run through a giddy, girl-o-centric grinder." And why not then steal, I mean borrow, the title of a classic album and combine it with a colloquialism stolen, I mean borrowed, from another band. Maybe on her next album she could pay tribute to the Beatles, enlighten us to the real intent of John and Paul, and (re)write "The Not So White Album." After that maybe a truly ambitious task (don't forget that the double album has already been done) of a dual tribute to Olivia Newton-John and Led Zeppelin is "Let's Get Physical Graffiti" on the horizon. The advantages to copying, or paying tribute, are limited only by the existence of previously recorded material. Theoretically once the copying, make that tribute, begins it can perpetuate itself indefinitely.

No, on second thought I'm not a relic of another age. I shouldn't be expecting too much when I seek creativity and originality from my artists or periodicals. I think that what is happening here is the destruction of the integrity and standards of a paper that I once enjoyed and really got a kick from on a weekly basis. There was always, and will always be, prepackaged candy rolling off the "cliquesville" assembly lines. But these treats were never before legitimized as being truly meaningful or representative of creative movements. The Reader, now, is not at all bashful in pushing an artist who admittedly doesn't take pride in her work, openly insulting anyone that just might like the work, and is more concerned with success and being "hot shit" than with the medium and the message. That whole article smacked of yuppie self-indulgence and a reckless pursuit of success that was uncharacteristic of the Reader. I realize that artists have to be savvy and self-aware in business dealings, but when I read, "I'm going to make the fucking product first, and then I'm going to see where it should go. Bottom line," I felt that I was reading a Wharton business school marketing paper, not a quote from a recording artist. Midway through the article, after reading, "if she learned one thing from Exile, it's that a good double album needs to include reach . . . ," I had to remind myself that Phair did not write Exile, she is merely following the format of the original album. Music, and all art for that matter, shouldn't be judged on how well a formula is followed. It's beginning to sound as if the Reader actually believes that talent can be learned at Wharton, in Talent 101. If your Reader is actually serious about accepting frustrated copycats as original artists then maybe Rick "Elvis" Saucedo really is the King, and I'm just a Monkees U.N.C.L.E.

Kevin Doherty

N. Southport

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