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 Everett True

Why Artists Should Stick To Art

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The link between popular music and culture has been well documented. From Andy Warhol’s Factory collaboration with the Velvet Underground in the ’60s to clothes designer Vivienne Westwood’s Sex shop shenanigans along the Chelsea Rd. with the Sex Pistols in the ’70s, through the countless musical references which litter this decade’s best-selling soccer writing by English boy-wonder Nick Hornby (his new book About a Boy actually takes its title from a Nirvana song), artists have long looked toward the musical world for a little added credibility; a little more youth appeal. Check out Turner Prize-winning artist Damien Hirst (famous for cutting a cow in half and sticking the two halves in formaldehyde), and his continued flirtation with the Letterman-sanctionedBlur (whose bass-player Alex James collaborated with Hirst on a U.K. Top 5 single last year, extolling the virtues of yobbism). Yet surely, there’s a massive contradiction in the bedding down together of pop music and culture–even lowbrow culture.

Pop music is ephemeral, throwaway. It’s there to be used one day, discarded the next. If there’s one defining factor linking the 10 artists in this Songbook series, it’s that they’ve all got an inflated sense of self-worth (Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers creator Gilbert Shelton excepted). Almost all of the cartoonists and writers have included tracks on their CDs which feature themselves (for example, Peter Bagge’s own lame-ass approximation of ’60s power-pop, the Action Suits, who close his Rockin’ Poppin’ Favorites CD). Of course they believe themselves to have more importance than the next person, otherwise why would they bother doing what they do? And yet–almost without exception–their musical tastes are rank. If their tastes are a reflection of their own selves, then surely most artists have the same inner, shallow selves as the rest of us.

Take horribly trendy Scottish author Iain Banks (responsible for the densely written The Wasp Factory) and his horribly trendy taste in music. Banks’ taste is so narrow and self-consciously hip (that is if you’re still living in 1983) that it’s stereotypical. Sex Pistols, Radiohead, the Waterboys, Devo! Didn’t this Northern prick ever listen to any music before the age of 18? (Yes, as his inclusion of dour, Northern, flute-wielding Jethro Tull and Bowie’s “Heroes” proves. It’s suspiciously fortunate that all his other favorite records come from after 1976, Year Zero for punk in England: to have chosen differently would’ve shown him up to be less than fashionable–something no self-respecting left-field artist could countenance.) One look at his CD’s track listing should warn you off from buying his unreadable novels.

At least Seattleite Hate cartoonist Bagge has the courtesy to admit that the music he enjoys was mostly created by hacks (the Monkees-style Association, the peerless Spice Girls, the white-fronted funk band KC and the Sunshine Band). Yet what should we read from his sumptuously packaged collection, which includes the Hollies’ brittle “I Can’t Let Go,” the Knack’s paean to underage girls, “It’s You,” and Jan & Dean’s playtime “The New Girl in School”? That Bagge is a fortysomething teenybopper whose idea of a good tune is a production-line, third-generation rip-off of the Jackson 5 or Beach Boys? That he is anally retentive and pays way too much attention to detail? That he’s dangerously obsessed with music originally intended for little girls?

One would never have guessed from his musical tastes that Bagge has made his living over the past decade from exploiting the grunge generation (Hate has sold more than two million copies around the world). Especially since he himself confesses that he can’t stand “post-punk alternative music” (Sonic Youth, Pixies, etc.). Music certainly hadn’t informed Bagge’s art up to very recently–unless, of course, you argue that it gave him the inspiration for the title of his best known work.

In the last year, however, the influence of Bagge’s musical tastes is finally being felt in his art. Not only has Pete come up with some inspired Roundtable Pizza ads (thus giving vent to his deep-rooted feelings of admiration for “hack merchants”), but his new CD comic Yeah is about a trio of galaxy-beating female pop stars, based closely on the Spice Girls. Bagge overcomes the contradiction of pop music being linked with pop culture by being so up front in his acknowledgment that his chosen field is as ultimately throwaway as pop culture–but others aren’t so smart.

(continues overleaf)

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